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The dangers of bad apples in the workplace

By Nick Peacock, Owner and Managing Director of Ascendant Recruitment

Youve probably worked with one, you may have even hired one.whatever path you have taken in your career, at some point you will have almost certainly encountered a bad apple at work. If these people are not identified and dealt with appropriately, they can potentially cause real harm to your business.

One issue employers often face is that their bad apples can sometimes be amongst their longest-serving employees, making it more difficult to address the issue and creating a fear of legal repercussions. Often bad apples are around from one department to another as no-one wants to take responsibility for them!

Bad apples come in different disguises but here are some ways you can spot them:
1.       They dont do their fair share of work: It is not uncommon for bad apples to spend more time complaining about work than actually doing it! However, not all bad apples are necessarily underperformers. In cases where they are doing their job well this can make them slightly trickier (but not impossible) to manage, as I will discuss further on.

2.       They often appear unhappy and mercurial in nature: You can recognise this bad apple as the person who is always having some kind of crisis; this is someone who is never happy unless they are unhappy! They can take up a disproportionate amount of their Managers time with their ongoing dramas if not managed carefully.

3.       They bully or attack others: Bullying comes in different forms. Passive aggressive behaviour, putting people down, constantly sniping at someone, speaking negatively about colleagues or Managers behind their back or simply being cold and uncooperative are all forms of bullying and completely counterproductive.

4.       They are excellent manipulators: When confronted, bad apples will do whatever it takes to try and draw your attention to their more positive traits or distract you by criticising their colleagues. They will rarely take responsibility and admit something is their fault!

5.       They change the atmosphere: Bad apples are not just negative, they spread their negativity amongst their colleagues.  They can often be found complaining about work or colleagues and generally lower staff morale. It may not be until your bad apple is absent from work that you realise the office has suddenly become a happier place to work.

How to deal with a bad apple
So now we know how to spot a bad apple and the potential damage they can cause, what can we do about them?

1.       Performing bad apples: You may find yourself in a situation where a bad apple has a negative impact on your staff but is performing well and has skills that are difficult to replace. Before removing them entirely from your business, you could try isolating them from the rest of the team by seating them in their own office or away from their colleagues. This way you will still keep their skill-set and their positive contribution to your company, whilst limiting their negative impact.

2.       Underperforming bad apples: If you are using performance management techniques and setting clear KPIs and your bad apple is still underperforming, it is more straightforward - you need to let them go. They are not making any positive contribution and you owe it to your company and your staff to find someone who will.

3.       Entrenched bad apples: For those long-serving bad apples who have been passed between departments for years, the situation will not change until someone in your business takes ownership.
By having robust recruitment procedures you will massively reduce your chances of recruiting a bad apple. Hiring first and foremost for talent, values and character is crucial. Attitude is innate and much harder to teach whereas skills can be learned. Before hiring your next employee, be sure to obtain character references. This should help reassure you that you have made the right decision.
Even if you have been extremely thorough with your recruitment procedures, there is still a slim chance a bad apple may find their way into your business. The key is to deal with them quickly and efficiently before they start to infect your business and drive away your best staff, your customers and your sanity!

Nick Peacock is the owner and Managing Director of Ascendant Recruitment, a leading recruitment agency for Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire and the surrounding areas. Ascendant Recruitment has specialist divisions in: Office Support, Sales and Marketing, Human Resources and Finance.  To find out more visit

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