Is One Bad Apple Ruining Your Team's Morale?

Last Updated Jun 4, 2008 4:02 PM EDT

2189164888_c9b52b6ba2_m.jpgA friend of mine is having a problem with a member of his team.

This employee (we'll call him Ned) is an hourly worker who has been fudging his time sheets while arriving late and leaving early. He isn't getting his work done by the required deadlines, which impacts other team members waiting for his contributions.

He's also sloppy about his projects and reports, so his co-workers often have to clean up his work before presenting stuff to the big boss lest they all look bad.

If it were me, I'd have fired this guy long ago. Unfortunately, for several reasons (none of which I can publicly share) that's not an option. But he's a big problem. Aside from the obvious issue of this guy being bad for business -- or in point of fact stealing from the company with his faked time sheets -- he's wreaking havoc on morale.

The other team members are grumbling, angry that they're getting stuck fixing his mistakes, annoyed that he's unreliable, and worried that he's making them all look bad. Instead of being enthusiastic about new projects, they predict gloom and doom since they expect to have to carry Ned's workload as well as their own. Plus, they're frustrated that he's been getting away with his short-hour shenanigans.

Ned has had a few meetings with his manager in which he's been told to shape up. But instead of apologizing and cleaning up his act, Ned becomes surly and passive-aggressive, which makes things worse for the rest of the team.

Clearly, my friend has a dilemma: How can he contain Ned so he does the least damage, and help the rest of his team raise its morale?

My suggestions are these:

  1. Meet privately with the other members of the team to acknowledge the negative impact of Ned's behavior, and assure them it hasn't gone unnoticed by you. Thank them for their efforts.
  2. Set up some sort of reward system to acknowledge good work (a paid half-day off, lunch on the company) and use it to re-energize the team.
  3. Meet again with Ned and put him on notice that his behavior is unacceptable and from now on will be part of a performance record. He might not be fireable right now -- but that can change, and it doesn't hurt to subtly remind him of that (and to have a written record if and when the time comes).
  4. Require Ned to check in and check out with his manager (or a senior team member) every day to thwart the time-sheet fraud.
  5. When assigning projects, make Ned's contributions minor or not time-dependent, so other team members have more control over their assignments and aren't stuck waiting on him.
Will this approach work? Are there other ideas to try? Weigh in with your two cents (or your own experiences with bad apples!) by clicking the comments link.

(Image by alison e dunn via Flickr, CC 2.0)

  • CC Holland

    CC Holland is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of national magazines. Online, she was a columnist for AnchorDesk.com and writes regularly for Law.com and BNET. On the other side of the journalism desk, she's been a managing editor for ZDNet, CNet, and KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, where she earned an APTRA Best News Web Site award.