Every organization has at least one: the so-called bad apple, who, by dint of neediness or narcissism or supreme impatience, manages to make every task more trying. This isn’t exactly a new development. There were likely bad apples in ancient Sumer. They’re everywhere.
What appears to be evolving, however, is the way that higher-ups address the productivity lapses and feuds sparked by bad apples. Supervisors and psychiatrists alike have rethought the best strategies and tactics when the problem employee is too valuable to fire. Here, top dos and don’ts for managing a bad apple.
DO…stop making excuses: Too often, says Employee Performance Solutions founder and practice leader Jamie Resker, office malfeasants are given a pass, in the form of “that’s just how she is” or “he’s a big producer.” What that does, Resker believes, is further demoralize already weary coworkers. “Realize that those excuses represent a choice to accept and condone bad behavior. Make the choice to do something,” she advises.
DON’T… attack the individual: Or maybe that should be “don’t poke the dog with a stick.” According to psychiatrist David M. Reiss of DMR Dynamics, “Most problematic behaviors and dysfunctional personality traits are ultimately based in vulnerable self-esteem.”
To that end, managers hoping to tame bad-apple employees should confront the behavior, not the person. “It is important, as much as possible, to avoid direct attacks upon the person’s self-esteem and pride,” he says, recommending that managers use mature, adult language (as opposed to addressing the bad apple as one would a child or subordinate) and avoid both platitudes (“It must be frustrating.”) and repeating the individual’s complaint (“What you’re saying is you feel like you’re being treated unfairly.”). As an example, Reiss favors somewhat impersonal statements (“As a supervisor, it’s my responsibility to make sure this department functions efficiently.”) to loaded personal ones (“I expect more from you.”)