If you work with someone who constantly complains or who mistreats fellow employees, you may dread coming to work even if you like your job. Employees have a profound impact on their co-workers’ job performance and job satisfaction, and a poor work ethic and attitude can drive colleagues to other employers. Behavior can be contagious in the sense that employees often model — whether consciously or unconsciously — the actions and attitudes of their workplace peers.
When employees witness their co-workers being bullied, the experience hurts morale throughout the company or department. A study monitoring nurses at 41 hospital units found that those who worked in a bullying environment were more likely to want to quit their jobs even if they weren’t bullied. In extreme cases, bullying by one employee can lead to widespread bullying because if management doesn’t step in, employees may feel no one is going to call them on their behavior.
In his “Inc.” article “Managing Difficult Employees: Does Your Rock Star Have a Bad Attitude?” John Treace warns of the danger of what he calls the “high-performing bad apple.” This kind of employee is consistently negative, belittling the company, challenging authority, and complaining about everything. This attitude usually spreads, Treace said, with even normally happy, satisfied employees adopting the attitude of the “bad apple” and turning against the company.
Employees influence the productivity of their co-workers, with peer pressure playing a significant role in how well employees perform. When surrounded by hard-working, high-achieving colleagues, employees are more likely to perform better because they feel pressure to measure up to their co-workers and because they see the level of achievement possible through hard work. Likewise, if they work in a low-output environment, performances may suffer.
The influence of co-workers often inspires professionals to start their own businesses or shift to freelance work or independent contracting, as researchers from Stanford and Harvard universities discovered after studying workers in Denmark who became first-time entrepreneurs between 1990 and 1997. The researchers found that the new entrepreneurs were more likely to have worked with former entrepreneurs before going out on their own. Even if the former entrepreneurs had failed at their enterprises, they still influenced colleagues to give it a shot, perhaps because they could provide insight into what the experience was like, researchers speculated.