If you look around any organization, chances are you’ll be able to find at least one person whose negative behavior affects the rest of the group to varying degrees. Just one negative person in an office or other organization can have powerful and often detrimental influence on the others. Where in the US are workers happiest? The UNhappiest workers are in the Middle Atlantic states (NY, NJ and PA), with the West South Central region (TX, OK, AR, LA) coming in second. The most content workers tend to reside in the Mountain states (MT, ID, WY, NV, UT, CO, AZ, NM), where 56% percent of all workers say they are satisfied with their job.

Researcher William Felps was inspired to investigate how workplace conflict can be affected by one’s co-workers after his wife experienced the “bad apple” phenomenon. Felps’ wife was unhappy at work and characterized the environment as cold and unfriendly. Then, she said, a funny thing happened. One of her co-workers who was particularly caustic and was always making fun of other people at the office came down with an illness that caused him to be away for several days.

“And when he was gone, my wife said that the atmosphere of the office changed dramatically,” Felps says. “People started helping each other, playing classical music on their radios, and going out for drinks after work. But when he returned to the office, things returned to the unpleasant way they were. She hadn’t noticed this employee as being a very important person in the office before he came down with this illness but, upon observing the social atmosphere when he was gone, she came to believe that he had a profound and negative impact. He truly was the ‘bad apple’ that spoiled the barrel.”

Following his wife’s experience, Felps got together with management expert Terence Mitchell, and together they analyzed two dozen published studies that focused on how having bad teammates can destroy a good team. They found that the vast majority of the people that were surveyed could identify at least one “bad apple” that had produced organizational dysfunction.

Felps and Mitchell also found that negative behavior outweighs positive behavior: a single “bad apple” can spoil the barrel but one or two good workers can’t unspoil it. Maybe workers in the Mountain states know how to get rid of their bad apples.

Art credit: freeimages.co.uk

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