Every company has at least one bad apple. These are the people who don’t respect the organization or their coworkers, are negative, don’t carry their own weight, or sabotage the work of others.
A bad apple is like a bad virus—their attitude can affect morale, trust, and productivity. If not addressed, people can quickly become resentful, jaded, and unproductive. So, how do you deal with these people? If the bad apple is a co-worker, try these six strategies:
1. Avoidance. Try not to interact with this person any more than necessary.
2. Humor. Try to look at this person as funny/absurd. Not the most gracious approach, but sometimes if you can find the humor and the innocence in a situation, it can help you get through it (sexual harassment, of course, is not funny).
3. Consider the political landscape. Is this person really connected? If so, the reality is that you may have to work a bit harder to find a way to deal with this person.
4. Empathy. Most jerks are jerks because there is something deficient about them. Try to find that part of you that would befriend something that is wounded. Try to find some glimmer of humanity. Think Michael Scott from “The Office”—quite possibly the most lovable office jerk of all time.
5. Try to help. Peers and co-workers can play a big role in turning the bad apple around. If the bad apple is a peer, and you feel comfortable doing so, find a way to address the problem tactfully but directly. Explain what you see him doing and your concerns about it. Express that you want to see him succeed but that you are afraid his current behavior may not be the best way to reach his goals.
6. Send it up the chain. If you have the difficult conversation and you continue to see the ill effects of this behavior, then you must send it up the chain. If you’re a manager or supervisor and one or more of your employees comes to you with complaints or feedback about a troublesome employee, and you know with certainty that the complaint is valid, you must take action immediately. There are five steps to take:
Step 1: Confront the person directly. Tell the person exactly what your concerns are with his behavior. Cite examples. Do not make it personal or single out who complained. Don’t say, “Carol complained about you.” Make sure you do your homework and use “I” or “We” statements. Say: “I am not happy with the way you are treating your co-workers.”
Step 2: Describe the impact of the behavior. Use specifics: “When you call your co-workers white trash losers you destroy our teamwork and morale,” or “When you don’t do your weekly reports it adds more work for the rest of your team.”
Step 3: State the change you want to see. Again be specific. Link to corporate values. “I need you to stop that behavior immediately. You must never denigrate a co-worker again.”
Step 4: Be explicit about the ramifications. And don’t hedge: “If you continue with this behavior, you will be terminated. This is your one warning.”
Step 5: Follow up. If the behavior is modified then make sure you acknowledge it. Remember, you get what you reward. If the behavior doesn’t change, then you must terminate.
A note about termination: When you get rid of a bad apple use it as an opportunity to teach and reinforce your corporate value system to the rest of your employees. Jack Welch said if you terminate someone for not exhibiting corporate values then you should make that explicit when you speak of the termination. Don’t soft-pedal it by saying, “Carol wanted to spend time with her family.” Instead, say, “Carol was asked to leave because she was unable to be a good team player.”