The Bad Apple in the Team

Not doing their fair share of the work, being aggressive or bullying, frequent pessimism . . . we have all experienced a ‘bad apple,’ someone who causes major group disharmony.

Not to be mistaken for the colleague who doesn’t follow the crowd but thinks  outside the box, the bad apple has a much more devastating impact on a team:

  • Frequent negativity can lead to poor team moral and undermine trust.

  • The positive team culture is destroyed.

  • Team members disengage.

  • Group goals and outcomes are negatively impacted.

So, how can we keep an eye out for the bad apple that brings the rest of the team down?

Signs of a Bad Apple within the Team

Types of Bad Apple


Negative Employee

Rarely smiles

Makes negative remarks

Resists new procedures

Frequently complains

Predicts failure



Sees challenges as obstacles


Deliberately ‘slacks off’

Lacks desire

Does the bare minimum

Acts busy when not

Chooses unnecessary tasks over critical tasks

Leaves least favourite tasks for others

No sense of urgency


Conflict Creators

Thrives on conflict

Leaves others feeling anxious, angry,

intimidated, resentful, low in morale/motivation

Intensifies problems

Challenges decisions

Makes accusations


There are three ways in which group members tend to react to a bad apple.

1)      Motivational Intervention: express concerns; ask the person to change.

2)      Rejection: removal of the bad apple.

3)      Defence: if a member lacks the sufficient power to express their concerns or remove the bad apple, a common consequence is defence (e.g. denial, social withdrawal, anger, anxiety).

Defence is the most ineffective and destructive method of coping with a bad apple, whilst   attempting to motivate the negative person is usually the most successful strategy.

Additional coping techniques include:

  • Inform your Manager as soon as possible, before the problem becomes harder to eradicate.

  • Managers should talk to the individual in private.

  • When challenging a bad apple, start with a positive statement so as not to evoke immediate defensiveness from the individual.

  • Be specific when noting any of their negative behaviours.

  • Determine any underlying causes, such as a need for further training.

  • Use staff appraisals to monitor team dynamics.

  • Do not lose sight of the positive aspects of the team. Other members need to continue to praise one another’s efforts in an attempt to strengthen those areas that are being overshadowed by a negative team member. In turn, this demonstrates to the bad apple appropriate team member behaviour.

Ideally, a bad apple will be identified before they are employed, but in the real world this isn’t always possible.  I hope this blog has helped you to identify ways to cope with a bad apple at work.  Does anyone have any other strategies they could share?


Categories: Business

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4 replies

  1. Hi Nicola,
    There’s only one thing to do with bad apples, kick them out of the applecart, and into the bin. It’s true how one bully or negative person can upset the whole workforce. Usually it’s because they have a deep rooted problem of their own and need therapy, or a good telling off.

  2. A rotten apple can surely spread, Susan. The problem is that it isn’t always possible to kick them out the applecart. Then there is the challenge of trying to remain upbeat and team oriented when someone is bring the team down.

  3. What do you do if the bad apple is your boss?

  4. Christine, this certainly makes things more difficult! Some of the same ‘rules’ apply in terms of how to cope with the situation (i.e. focus on the positives, don’t stoop to the same level), but whether the boss should be approached all depends on the extent of how ‘bad’ they are. If their behaviour enters into the realms of bullying then another superior should be approached (even if this is done anonymously). Chances are, if the bosses behaviour is negatively impacting you, it is having the same impact on others.

    I would like to put this out there for others? Has the bad apple ever been your boss and how have you dealt with this?

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