What comes to your mind when hearing the word “psychopath”?
Psychopathy has always been part of human society. Not only does exist in fiction movies or novels, but psychopaths are also roaming in the corporate ladder. Babiak and Hare in their book titled Snakes in Suits revealed that about one percent of the general population meets the clinical criteria of psychopathy. It is claimed that the prevalence of psychopaths is higher in the business world than in the general population, with around 3 – 4 percent have been cited working in senior positions.
Workplace psychopaths are often charming to staff above their level in the workplace hierarchy but abusive to staff below their level. They can maintain multiple personas throughout the office, presenting each colleague with a different version of themselves, Prof Renata Schoeman told USB news.
See also: Are Psychopatic Individuals Win at Work?
In other words, workplace psychopaths can put a business at risk due to various reasons. Workplace psychopaths could bully employees which result in higher absenteeism, lower engagement, counterproductive work behaviour, difficult working conditions, increased workload, legal liabilities, and so on. “We are not talking about the ‘difficult’ boss here, but the boss who is a bully – many of who could be defined as corporate psychopaths,” added Schoeman.
Hence, it is important for HR leaders to identify those psychopaths and put the business in a safe mode. To do that, acknowledge yourself with the following information.
A psychopath in the workplace can be divided into two categories: successful psychopath and unsuccessful psychopaths.
For the successful psychopaths, Schoeman said that they have the same core characteristics as those who become criminals. They are good at manipulating situations and become indifferent to the consequences of their actions. That said, successful psychopaths tend to have more privileged backgrounds, high IQ, and little risk of legal penalties.
For the unsuccessful psychopaths, they are often involved in regular crimes but tend to have less privileged backgrounds, low IQ, and a much higher risk of legal penalties. Thus, it will be easier to spot on this type of corporate psycho.
Robert D. Hare in his book Without Conscience discussed that white-collar psychopaths have the following traits.
Psychopaths can be amusing and entertaining conversationalists. They are also able to tell unlikely but convincing stories that cast themselves in a good light. They can be very effective in presenting themselves well and are often likeable and charming.
Psychopaths have a narcissistic tendency that often leads them to see themselves as the centre of the universe, justified in living according to their own rules.
Office psychopaths will probably be more accomplished but just as grandiose (if vague) in their personal visions for themselves. Hare and Babiak explained that psychopaths can be one inmate, not particularly literate, managed to copyright the title of a book he was planning to write about himself, already counting the fortune his best-selling book would bring.
White-collar psychopaths show a lack of concern. They are willing to come right out and say that they never experience regret. This lack of guilt is associated with a remarkable ability to rationalise their behaviour. Therefore, they usually have a handy excuse for their behaviour and in some cases deny that it happened at all.
When caught in a lie or challenged with the truth, corporate psychopaths seldom appear perplexed or embarrassed. They simply change their stories or attempt to rework the facts so they appear to be consistent with a lie.
Just like a psychopath in a movie, most of the corporate psychopaths are also lack of empathy and perhaps they simply cannot imagine the point of view or emotions of others.
Those are some traits of workplace psychopath you can identify. Other traits which are written in Hare’s book are that workplace psychopaths have shallow emotions, impulsive, hot-headed, thrill-seeking, and lack of responsibility.
Ignoring their actions will only result in worse consequences of their behaviour. Thus, when you meet the manager who has a psychopathic tendency, talk to them properly. Equip yourself with a bunch of knowledge such as their traits and their body-language. Hence, you might want to read more book on psychopaths in the workplace.
As an HR leader, it is your responsibility to ensure employee welfare in the workplace. That being said, you might need to be a “workplace FBI” to identify the real problem. Compile as much as information from both lower positioned employees and upper managers. Do the data from both parties suit each other, or is there any blunder? The employees and managers you are talking to can also be the key witness of any psychopathic behaviour happened in your workplace.
When everything is out of your control, contacting your legal lawyer will be very advantageous and helpful. Your lawyer will know better on how to handle legal issues such as the unethical behaviour of employees. They also have better collaboration with psychiatrists to handle chronic situations of workplace psychopaths.
Read also: Should You Blow the Whistle? What to Do When You Suspect Unethical Behaviour at Work