#MTtalk: Why Good Employees Go Bad » Mind Tools Blog
MTtalk: Why Good Employees Go Bad

#MTtalk: Why Good Employees Go Bad

August 9, 2016

I don’t think anybody starts out in their career with the intention to ruin it. You start with the best intentions: you’re going to work hard, be a good employee, make some money, get promoted, and maybe even own your own business one day. You’re not going to be that good employee who goes bad, and then life happens. You get passed over for the promotion you thought that you deserved. Your life partner loses his or her job. The company merges and you’ve got to take a drop in salary and position.

We build our reputation on our behavior. Behavior comes down to a series of small, daily choices that we make. Over the last few years, we’ve seen many public examples of high-powered people making wrong choices. Eventually those choices broke their careers.

While we know reputation can make or break your career, why do some people choose behavior that may ruin their reputation? During our latest #MTtalk Twitter chat, held on Friday (August 5, 2016), we wanted to know why good employees go bad.

Questions About “When Good Employees Go Bad”

Question 1: What do you understand by the phrase “going bad” as we’re using it in this chat?

@JulieMRodriguez: When an employee goes bad, their behavior has turned negative, even if metrics have not, and they’ve become a cancer to the team.

@LizCookMT: When you thought you could trust someone and then suddenly they behave in an unprincipled way.

@WayneWWhitehead: Does not support vision or goals of organization and becomes a negative, high maintenance person.

Question 2: What’s the worst example of “going bad” that you’ve ever had to deal with?

@Dwyka_Consult: As previous HR manager I’ve seen a lot. Worst: an employee breaking and entering, stealing money. (Caught on camera)

@amypen64: Myself: Management change, not a good fit, coworker who played not worked.

Question 3: What distinction do you make between someone making mistakes and someone “going bad?”

@balakayeee: People who make mistakes can typically learn. People who are “going bad” are spiraling out of control.

@harrisonia: “To err is human…” To keep making mistakes and losing motivation to do the right thing is when someone is “going bad.”

Many people seem to realize that a good person going bad is often not about the work only.

Question 4: What could cause someone to become a bad apple?

@TwisterKW: Feelings/perceptions of unappreciated, not recognized, not rewarded. Or unrelated personal circumstances.

@eburdge: People’s unexamined/unresolved personal issues manifest themselves in toxic thoughts and actions. It’s not only about the work.

Question 5: What are some warning signs that suggest a good employee is “going bad?”

@Singh_Vandana: If a star performer becomes silent, stops communicating: 1st signal.

@risktakermdu: They will not do or complete tasks on time; not showing up for work or appointments.

@MicheleDD_MT: Lots of noise with relationships – conflict, loss of customers. Arrogance.

Many participants alluded to the same issues, but sometimes it’s all about knowing your employees well coupled with the power of observation.

Question 6: Can you guard against bad apples at recruitment or can this happen to anyone?

@balakayeee: Bad apples are both recruited and fostered in organizations. Therefore you can prepare but not prevent.

One of our participants has quite a controversial view on bad apples:

@Ganesh_Sabari: Bad apples are a mere reflection of bad soil – the management!

Question 7: How can an organization’s culture cause a good employee to “go bad?”

@ankitapoddar: Not trusting its employees, excessive bureaucracy, focusing on competition vs. collaboration.

@limha75: Lack of supervision and peer support; lack of opportunities to play to people’s strengths; hoping issues will resolve themselves.

Question 8: What strategies can an organization put in place in order to encourage positive behavior?

@SayItForwardNow: Clear and well-communicated policies, procedures AND articulation of what happens when they are not followed.

@dreamydoodle: Give team members a sense of belonging; s/he should believe that it is his/her company.

Repairing reputation is not the easiest thing to do but, according to our participants, it’s definitely possible.

Question 9: How can an employee repair their reputation after it has been damaged?

@Midgie_MT: Repairing reputation can be tough, yet consistent efforts to demonstrate that they have ‘mended their ways’ might help.

@amypen64: For me I could not repair it. It was time to go. Happily I landed in a better place.

Thanks for sharing with us so honestly, Amy!

Question 10: If an employee gets a second chance, how can you best support them?

@temekoruns: Speak optimistically about them in front of others with a defense of all the good that they have done.

@eburdge: Work with the second chancer to set short-term goals toward the desired long-term outcome with accountability and support.

And if push comes to shove…

@Yolande_MT: Don’t be a hypocrite. If someone doesn’t deserve a second chance, let them go. Maybe that’s the wake-up call they need.

Should a good employee gone bad get a second chance? Please vote on our Twitter poll at

Twitter Poll – Good Employees Gone Bad

Next Time, on MTtalk…

Since you started working in your department, three people have left and they haven’t been replaced. You and two other colleagues have absorbed their duties. Your boss doesn’t like it if you’re not reachable, so you’re online every day, even when you’re on holiday. At the same time, you also have the pressure of making ends meet, spending enough time with your loved ones, and trying to keep fit.

The topic on August 19, 2016 is “Overworked and Overwhelmed.” As always, it will take place at 1 pm EST (6 pm BST). We’d love you to join us on Twitter to share your thoughts, ideas and coping mechanisms.

To participate in the chat, type #MTtalk in the Twitter search function. Then, click on “All Tweets” and you’ll be able to follow the live chat feed. To join the conversation, simply include #MTtalk in your tweet and it will show up in the feed.


In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about good employees going bad, have a look at the following resources:

7 thoughts on “#MTtalk: Why Good Employees Go Bad

  1. Rebel wrote:

    Sometimes people can try and repair their reputation, but there’s always that slight suspicion hanging over them if anything goes wrong. That in itself can be very stressful – maybe it’s better for that person to move on and start on a clean page at a new company. And then they have to keep that page clean!!

  2. Sabari Ganesh wrote:

    I perceive Good Employee & Bad Employee as Engaged & Disengaged Employees respectively.
    Any professional in principle; walks in an organisation to add value & derive benefit out of the association. The mgmt is responsible to make happen the in-principle intention.
    If the in-principle intention of the employee who walks in differ somehow; then the recruiter who is already an employee is at professional fault & guilt.
    #MTTalk is a nice effort pooling resource people across globe & the result is knowledge churning & practical insights. Kudos to team #MTTalk. Regards, SG.

  3. Vandana Singh wrote:

    It was a very insightful discussion. It takes years for somebody to build a reputation and minutes to damage by some impulsive or bad behaviour. Organizations should be proactive to keep the employees engaged that prevents from job burnout or any other issue which leads a good employee to go bad…
    Look forward to yet another engaging session. Keep coming with great workplace topics for discussion that helps us all put our heads together #MTTalk
    Regards – Vandana Singh.

  4. Sharon Kathryn D'Agostino wrote:

    This was an excellent discussion about a critical topic in leading motivated, energized, high-performing teams. While there are many personal or professional reasons why a team member may disengage, the #MTtalk discussion shed light on possible solutions for addressing the situation. Greatly appreciated the perspectives shared.
    Thanks very much!
    Sharon Kathryn D’Agostino @SayItForwardNow @SharonDAgostino @AwakeningTrue

  5. Julie wrote:

    The discussion was so timely for me as it dealt with current issues in our team. Definitions of good vs bad employees seem to differ but I think there is a difference between someone not having a skill vs someone not having the desire. You can coach & train people for the skills they don’t have or they need to improve but when an employee has lost the desire to perform or be a productive team member, it can feel like a lost cause.

    Managers have a duty to explore all reasons for changed behavior or bad behavior. If it can be fixed, the manager should try their best to help but if the person, at their core, is a bad egg, there’s not much a manager to do. In that case it’s best for a person to move on to someplace where they will excel than to stay around & hurt a team with their negativity.

    I enjoyed the chat and the blog post, and I’m looking forward to future topics as they are helping me gain new thoughts on how to handle workplace situations.

  6. Ellen Burdge wrote:

    I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on this topic and participate in the discussion. Employee behavior is often a reflection of the organization’s culture. If there is a cohesive organizational culture with a clear vision and high expectations with accountability, employees are set up for success. If employees aren’t living up to their potential within a healthy structure, there needs to be a support structure in place to address people’s issues and needs. Provide proactive support. I’ve seen too many employees not supported or given the tools (or a chance) to improve. @eburdge

  7. Yolande Conradie wrote:

    Thanks for all the great comments! Over here, as in the #MTtalk chat, our participants make things come alive.
    Something that was very encouraging to see, is that none of our participants outright judged the ‘bad apples’. I feel it tells us something about the empathy, maturity and humanness of the #MTtalk community at large. I think we all agree that if a person’s employment should be terminated then it should be done – depending on the seriousness of the transgression. It’s also quite clear that we’re all for second chances, helping an coaching.

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