Home' Hospitality Business : HB JUNE 2017 Contents EFFECTIVE WAYS TO HANDLE “BAD APPLE” SYNDROME.
On the Helpline at the Association we often have members asking for
advice on managing the ‘bad apples’....
An article from ‘Management Issues’ which discusses the impact of
a “bad apple” on a team outlined new research which suggests that
it only takes one toxic individual to upset the whole apple cart. Not
so surprising. Look around any business and chances are you will
be able to find at least one person whose negative behaviour affects
the rest of the group to varying degrees. So much so that these “bad
apples” are like a virus to their teams, and can upset or spoil the
whole apple cart.
A research paper appearing in a recent issue of ‘Research in
Organizational Behaviour’, examines how, when and why the
behaviours of one negative team member can have powerful and
often detrimental influence on teams and groups.
Research defines negative people as those who are chronically
unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others.
They found that a single “toxic” or negative team member can be the
catalyst for downward spirals in a business.
Most businesses do not have very effective ways to handle the
problem. This is especially true when the problem employee has
longevity, experience, or power. Owners and managers need to move
quickly to deal with such problems because the negativity of just one
individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly.
SO, HOW CAN BUSINESSES AVOID EXPERIENCING
THE “BAD APPLE” PHENOMENON?
• Take special care when hiring new employees
• Check references
• Try personality tests - so that those who are really low on
agreeableness, emotional stability or conscientiousness are
If you have a case where a bad apple slips through the cracks or you
have inherited the employee through a business sale or change of
management, do not let the problem fester.
HERE ARE A FEW TIPS FROM ‘THE BALANCE’
WRITTEN BY SUSAN HEATHFIELD:
• Inform the employee about the negative impact their negativity
is having on co-workers and the business. Use specific examples
that describe behaviours the employee can do something about
in the workplace. For example, when another employee says,
“Good morning, how are you?” and your response is a 15-minute
monolog on how nothing is right in this workplace, you bring your
co-worker’s mood and optimism down. Explain that they use
15 minutes of productive work time and make their co-worker
unwilling to engage with you in conversation in the future.
• Avoid becoming defensive. Don’t take the employee’s negative
words or attitude personally. They are not directed at you. For
whatever reason, the employee is unhappy with his or her life,
work, or you name it.
• No one likes hearing constructive feedback even when a owner or
manager uses the best, most practiced, approach to minimize the
employee’s defensiveness. And, the majority of managers have not
had a lot of training and practice in dealing with difficult people, so
their approach is uncomfortable for all parties.
• Ask the employee if something negative is happening in her
personal life that is affecting her workplace success. For example,
a divorce affects every aspect of an employee’s life. The loss
of a close family member does, too. You’re not a therapist or
counsellor, but knowing what is happening in the employee’s life
lets you offer sympathy or another appropriate expression of good
or hopeful wishes. It can also help the employee see that you are
interested in and concerned about them as a person. Even as you
offer sympathy, though, you must ask the employee to keep the
personal issues from affecting their workplace performance.
• Ask the employee what is causing his negativity at work. Listen to
the employee’s complaints and concerns until you’re certain that
the employee feels heard out and listened to. Sometimes people
repeat negative sentiments because they don’t feel as if you have
really heard them. Make sure that you have actively listened. The
employee will feel the difference.
• Some of the employee’s concerns may be legitimate. You may be able
to help him solve legitimate workplace concerns. Others, you may
be able to explain why they exist and ask the employee to cooperate
and have patience. Once the employee understands the timeline, the
decision or the reason for the goal, his negativity may improve.
• Focus on creating solutions. Don’t focus on everything that is
wrong and negative about the employee’s outlook or actions in your
approach. This will only cause the employee to dig himself more
deeply into his grievances.
• Focus instead on creating options for how the employee can create
positive morale for himself and his co-workers going forward. If the
person is unwilling to hold this discussion, and you feel you have
fairly heard him out, end the discussion.
• Focus on the positive aspects of their performance and the
potential contributions the individual brings to the work setting,
not the negativity. Help the employee build her self-image and
capacity to contribute.
In the future, when interacting with the employee, try to compliment
the individual any time you hear a positive statement or contribution
rather than negativity. You’ll want to reinforce, as much as possible,
the positive interactions the employee has with other employees and
If none of the above is working and the employee’s negativity continues to
have an impact on productivity, workplace harmony, and team attitudes
and morale, deal with the negativity as you would any other performance
issue. Use a performance improvement plan or alternatively, depending
on the seriousness, begin a disciplinary process.
Remember that these steps are worth your time before you become
mired in the process of disciplinary action. Take heart from the fact
that they frequently work when you hit an employee’s negativity head
on in your workplace.
The bottom line is that in order to build a successful organisation, you
need team spirit. The disharmony caused through throwing out a few
metaphorical bad apples is nothing compared to the damage those
same apples can do to the workplace as a whole.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Restaurant Association NZ
Marisa Bidois - Chief Executive
STIRRING THE POT
38 | June 2017 | Hospitality BUSINESS
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