While you would prefer that your entire workforce is made up of top talented individuals with strong work ethics, that's not likely to be the case. Most organizations will end up with at least one bad employee. Whether he doesn't aspire to work to his capabilities, or frequently disobeys company policies, this employee represents a problem for management.
In a recent study, researchers wanted to see how a bad employee affected the workplace as a whole. Instead of the majority of good workers positively influencing the behaviors of the bad employee, the study found that the opposite was often true. In the study, researchers examined the records of financial advisors and defined bad employees as those, who were compelled to pay a settlement to clients of $10,000 or more. The researchers looked at the customer complaints against each financial advisor, as well as complaints against their co-workers.
The research found that misconduct was 37% more likely, if the individual was paired with a colleague, who had a history of misconduct. The rate of misconduct was multiplied, when the individual was exposed to co-workers, who had histories of misconduct, suggesting that unfavorable behavior is contagious. For each act of misconduct, employers can expect 0.59 more cases, committed by the individual's peers. The study concluded that social interactions and shared experiences may be one overriding cause of this social phenomenon. This indicates the only way to truly eliminate misconduct is to separate bad employees from the rest of the staff.
Just as stem cell therapy for hair affects more than one hair follicle, a single bad employee can impact more than one good worker. Just one individual is enough to create a tidal wave effect that can affect your ability to competently manage your organization. While an increased frequency of misconduct is certainly a major concern, here are a few more ways that a bad employee can negatively impact your business.
One major and common effect of a bad employee is an overall drop in productivity. While the employee in question is undoubtedly failing to work to his potential, he may also be inhibiting the productivity of others. His behavior, from misconduct to mere slacking, can distract other employees and interfere with their ability to do their own jobs. They may also be tempted to join in the behavior, creating a bigger management problem.
Just as you may have a bad employee, your organization also has its share of good employees and those you consider exceptionally talented. These individuals may react in an opposite manner to the bad employee. Instead of being distracted, or tempted, by bad behavior, they may be annoyed that the behavior seems to be tolerated. Eventually, you run the risk of losing the employees you do value by not dealing with the bad behavior. You may even see a high turnover rate develop, as a result.
It takes years to establish a positive brand image, but one bad employee can destroy that in a very short time. As his behavior is tolerated and other employees become annoyed by it, word will spread about the situation. The behavior may even interfere with the quality of service you provide to your customers. In either case, a bad reputation will soon overshadow your positive image brand, causing you to lose customers.
As the previous points indicated, the bad employee's behavior, and the tolerance of it by management, can upset the other employees. Even those who once participated in the bad behavior may begin to resent the employee. As the situation worsens, it will spread negative feelings throughout your workforce. Employees may become irritable, disgruntled, or depressed. Once morale suffers, it can take significant changes to correct the situation.
So, what do you do about a bad employee? Aside from continuing to tolerate misconduct, you really only have two choices. You can discipline the individual and, eventually, terminate him for his common disruptions, or you can attempt to reform him. While educating and retraining the individual may require an extensive time and labor investment, it may be the best option, if you believe the individual has something of value to offer your organization.