We've all heard it being said that one bad apple spoils the barrel. We've heard stories across the media and entertainment industries of rogue agents and undesirable, non-conforming elements. But just how true is it? Can one employee acting out of step really corrupt those around them? As a business owner or manager, it's a premise that needs to be considered.

Research published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) proves to be depressing reading. Drawing from a wide sample across multiple workplaces, the study found that misconduct would increase amongst previously exemplary employees if a they were situated with someone committing malpractice. What's worse, cases where malpractice decreased due to positive influence were few and far between, showing that bad behaviour is more easily learned than good.

The research

The HBR used financial advisors as their research sample, particularly cases where firms merged or absorbed smaller competitors and employees would have no say in picking their co-workers. Misconduct was defined as a customer complaint which resulted in a settlement of at least $10,000 or a ruling against them at arbitration.

Financial advisors from different branches of the same firm were compared, as it allowed researchers to monitor behaviour within the same incentive structure across all subjects within the sample.

Originally published 17th June 2020.

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