Bad Apples at Work

January 3, 2009 at 7:37 am Leave a comment

(from martinsphotoart at flickr)This American Life (TAL), the podcast and long-running public radio show, did an episode recently called “Ruining It for the Rest of Us.”  The main story was about an outbreak of measles in San Diego among infants and unvaccinated children; patient zero was at a charter school where 10 percent of the children were not vaccinated because of parental concerns that the vaccines themselves are worse than the risk of the disease.

What I want to focus on is the episode’s prologue, as summarized at the TAL website:

A bad apple, at least at work, can spoil the whole barrel. … Will Felps, a professor at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, [looked at] what happens when a bad worker joins a team. Felps divided people into small groups and gave them a task. One member of the group would be an actor [hired by the professor to behave] either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. And within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple.

Felps does think there’s some evidence that there may be a way to counter the bad apple’s poison pill effects (to mix metaphors). Listen to the first 13 minutes of the stream available here for an entertaining story about the problem and the potential antidote. You can also get the drier versions online by searching for “Felps bad apple”…

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