Dealing with the Office Psychopath
By: Beth McHugh 2007
The corporate psychopath is fast becoming recognized as a toxic force in the workplace. Although psychologically they are classified under the category of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, these business bullies go by the common name of Corporate Psychopath.
Let’s look at some examples. Charles is a typical corporate psychopath. He holds a senior position at a major university and displays all the hallmarks of the corporate narcissist. One of his PhD students discussed a new theory based on some of the data that she had been collecting over a period of months. Charles then later recanted her idea as his own, first to her and then to a board meeting for a government grant. Because of his high stature, the PhD student was unable to act on the incident.
Lara works for a woman who can be both charming and venomous. The latter sends Lara witty emails that have an implied level of intimacy that initially suggested to Lara that her boss was both friendly and funny. When a computer glitch appeared and Lara was having problems with her duties because of it, her boss was initially understanding. However, when Lara inquired about how the IT staff was coming along with the problem, Lara saw a side of her boss that had previously remained well hidden. Obviously frustrated at the situation, the woman took out these frustrations on Lara, blamed her for being inadequate, even though it was not Lara’s job to rectify computer problems in her firm. Unable to accept personal responsibility for her actions, Lara’s boss now keeps Lara at arms length as she perceives Lara as a threat. If Lara were to initiate a complaint against her boss, she would find herself personally attacked this office bully.
John Batras, a psychologist from Swinburne University in Melbourne, Australia, described people such as Charles and Lara’s boss as charming but “they don’t give a damn about anybody. They manipulate their way to success by conning those above them and exploiting those beneath them.”
Suggestions for working with corporate psychopaths include:
- Keep extensive records of your own work, including times, dates
and other relevant material that you will need to back up your word
- Be aware that any flattery they offer you is just that; flattery.
It does not mean they like you or value you in the team. It means
that they want you to do something for them, protect them in some
way, or use you as a pawn in plan to better their own position.
- List all dealings with your boss, keep all memos, text messages
and emails so that this material can be presented as evidence should
there be a confrontation between you and your boss.
- If you are working on important issues, such as Charles’ PhD
student was, document and keep dated backups of all your work so that
you can provide evidence of corporate stealing should you need to.
- Minimize your interaction with these people. They are toxic, both
to your health and your employment ranking.
- Be aware of their lack of empathy. When they tell you to go home
as you are obviously unwell, tell others of your boss’ decision.
The “empathy” they exude on one occasion can and probably
will be used as evidence of your slackness and lack of team commitment
on another occasion.
- Remember, your health is one of your paramount gifts. If you find
your stress levels are becoming intolerable, it is time to seek employment