The Bad Apple

Ever had an encounter with Debbie Downer (aka The Bad Apple) in your workplace? You know who I’m referring to. It’s the person who resembles eeyore whether it’s Monday at 8 am or Friday at 4:55 pm. They complain constantly, create more work for you and the rest of your team, consistently show up late and leave early, and finds a way to get out of work or produces substandard work without consequences.


A bad apple can have more influence on the team or group than the other team members combined, a study shared in the early 2000s discovered from research that looked at groups of five to 15 employees in the manufacturing, fast food, and university sectors.

Why? Humans tend to put more emphasis and pay more attention to the negative impacts in their lives (work and personal) than the positives. And once the negativity begins, it has a way of infiltrating the organization and rubbing off on others. 


In a recent study completed by HBR, these bad apples may be giving you a hint that they’re getting ready to leave. After extensive research, they were able to determine 13 pre-quitting behaviors. Some of which might have been predicted with a pre-hire assessment. Here are five examples:

  1. They have acted less like a team player than usual. We can measure whether someone is driven by a collaborative approach. Was this employee always a team player and is now reacting to a stressful event or were they never a team player and got burnt out by adapting to be one?
  2. They have expressed dissatisfaction with their current job more frequently than usual. Was the individual’s natural talent not a match for this role? Were they hired with the promise of being promoted or moved into the right job when it became available but then they were forgotten?
  3. They have expressed dissatisfaction with their supervisor more frequently than usual. If you understand where your communication style connects with that of your employee, even under stress, you’ll be more effective in communicating with them in all situations. 
  4. They have shown less interest in working with customers than usual. We can measure whether someone is driven to work in a customer-facing position. Was this employee always someone who preferred to work with internal teammates and is now reacting to a stressful event or were they never customer-focused, to begin with?

When you accurately measure talent and match it to what the job needs, you are in a better position to predict performance and anticipate the impact gaps will have on everything and everyone the job touches.  When a candidate’s natural talents don’t match those the job needs it can cause them to become that Bad Apple who can slowly impact and erode an entire team.

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