This comes from SHRM Online:
The coughing, sneezing and malaise of flu and cold season can impact the workplace, but bad vibes from one employee are just as contagious, infecting and hurting the rest of the work team, says a new study.
The effect of the “bad apple” employee on co-workers is the subject of a research paper appearing in the December 2006 issue of Research in Organizational Behavior.
“If only for bottom-line reasons, you should pay attention to it because it will have a dramatic impact" on co-workers' job satisfaction, the group's ability to function over time, and the group's productivity and performance,” lead researcher and University of Washington doctoral student William Felps told HR News.
There's a difference, though, between bad apples and employees whose thinking challenges the status quo, something that's not always appreciated, caution Felps and co-researcher Terence Mitchell.
Unlike bad apples, “positive deviants” help spark organizational innovation, they note. “People with divergent ideas can be a real asset to the company or organization. They need managerial protection, not prosecution,” Felps said. Don’t single someone out just because he or she is different, he warns.
Bad apples are employees who do not do their fair share of the work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or verbally attack people around them, according to Felps and Mitchell.
Check out the whole article. I am guessing that we all knew this and felt this, but this is just more reinforcement that chronic bad behavior - like negativism, complaining, and lack of engagement - affects the whole workplace and is a valid performance problem that needs to be fixed - one way or the other. It is not OK to have people who are destructive to the vibe of the workplace just because they do some other aspects of their jobs very well.
The information in this article is good, but their suggestions seem quite wimpy. They suggest ways to ensure the bad apple has less power over the group. Sure, if you must keep a bad apple, then these coping techniques are worth trying. But as managers and leaders, it is our jobs to ensure that these bad apples become good apples or they become bad apples for someone else.
I have seen this happen MANY times. We finally (months or years late) let the bad apple go and a fog lifts from the entire organization. Think about the opportunity costs that were lost. Being a productive member of the organization is a job duty and requirement. Counseling and/or letting someone go for a destructive communication style is job related and valid. We work in organizations, not collections of individualized work pods.
What if the bad apple is the owner or CEO? Work somewhere else. Don't fool yourself that things will change.