Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Bad Apples DO Spoil the Bunch

One of the biggest hits an employer takes is the cost associated with employee turnover. Show me a business with low employee turnover and I'll show you a thriving business. Show me one with employees coming and going like a revolving door and I’ll show you a business bleeding cash. It is also well documented that employees tend to leave jobs for reasons other than compensation. Employee dissatisfaction is more often tied to perceptions of management, coworkers and workplace conditions.

So it was fascinating to listen to Will Felps’ interview with Ira Glass on This American Life a few weeks ago, discussing the effect of “Bad Apples” on the performance of workgroups. The lessons of Felps’ study are valuable for the workplace. The study is published at How, When, and Why Bad Apples Spoil the Barrel: Negative Group Members and Dysfunctional Groups, Felps, Mitchell and Byington in Research in Organizational Behavior, Vol. 27, by Barry M. Slaw, Elsevier, 2006.

Felps created a study in which groups of competed on a short project. For one set of groups (the non-control), an actor played a ‘bad apple’ in one of three ways: “the jerk,” “the slacker” or “the depressive pessimist.” Not surprisingly, the performance of the groups with the bad apple were consistently worse than the control group teams.

The lesson is that employers need to be sensitive to the workplace dynamics of their shop. There are lots of ‘toxic bosses,’ and plenty of employers who support them without any though to whether these managers are affecting their bottom line. Felps’ lesson is that these managers probably are bad for the bottom line --- no matter what kind of ‘productivity numbers’ they appear to generate.


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