Have you had dealings with a workplace psychopath? What are the common traits?

Note from the Editor: Janelle Beaudette, a master’s student from Carleton University in Ottowa, Canada, conducted research into psychopaths in the workplace. Below are her preliminary findings.

Backstabbing bosses and callous co-workers: An examination of the experience of working with a psychopath.

Very little research has been conducted on the phenomenon of corporate psychopathy or victims of psychopaths. This study was one of the first to take a victim centric approach to study how psychopaths behave in a workplace.

The purpose of the study was to better understand the effects (mental, physical, financial, social) of working with an individual who possesses psychopathic traits. We also wanted to determine how psychopaths interact with their peers in a work environment.

Several research questions were created prior to data collection to help understand the experience of working with a psychopathic colleague. Based on these questions, we found:

1)     Emotional harm was the most common type of harm reported by participants, followed by physical consequences as a result of working with the psychopath, and financial harm.

2)     The psychopath most often used relational manipulation to harm their colleagues. This refers to any social means used to undermine or control the victim and included behaviours such as: lying, manipulation, deceit, spreading rumours, public humiliation and turning colleagues against one another.

3)     Most participants had a good first impression of the psychopath and described him or her as charismatic, outgoing, sociable, engaging, good looking, and articulate.

4)     Most participants suspected they worked with a psychopath after witnessing the psychopath interact with others in the workplace. Others knew their colleague was a psychopath after being victimized or researching the behaviours they observed.

5)     Most participants reported receiving support from their friends and family. Receiving support from work colleagues was the second most common source of support.

6)     Emotional support was the most common type of support received and other types of support included: tangible support, informational support, spiritual support, and financial support.

7)     Participants with psychopathic superiors have lower job satisfaction than participants with a psychopathic peer or subordinate.

8)     High rates of workplace bullying, perpetrated by the psychopath, were reported by study participants.

The findings revealed that the experience of working with a psychopath is negative and has the potential to be very emotionally harmful to victims. These findings have important implications for human resource personnel as they emphasize the consequences of employing an individual with psychopathic traits. Almost all survivors reported some level of harm due to their relationship with the psychopath, however, coping and support helped to alleviate some of the effects. The results highlight the heterogeneity present in the experiences of victims of corporate psychopaths.

Have you had dealings with a psychopath in the workplace? What are your experiences?

2 thoughts on “Have you had dealings with a workplace psychopath? What are the common traits?

  1. Eleanor Reply

    I am founder/manager of a small charity which is still trying to extricate ourselves from an employee we now know is a psychopath.

    The trustees and I have been left reeling, and are unable to understand or forgive ourselves for not spotting this man for what he was until it was far too late.

    He seemed like the perfect emplyee at first. Charming, funny – so caring. ‘What a nice young man’ everyone would say. He seemed to work hard and shjow real dedication in his work – or so we thought.

    As his boss, I was his target. At first, he befriended me. We seemed to share a number of interests and have a similar ethos – helping the underdog. Then slowly, he began to change. He bullied me whenever no one was looking, shouting at me and jabbing his finger over pretended slights. He exhausted me with his constant dramas and complaints, and proved an expert character assisin. HR consultants were brought in to addess his many and varying issues, and soon became a permanent and expensive fixture. One said he was ‘dangerous’, another member of staff who had trained in counselling said he was ‘poisonous’ to the organisation. The trustees ignored this, as he blamed me for their conclusions – I had ‘brainwashed’ the consultant, his colleague.

    He began to turn our organisation into his own personal fiefdom, using and manipulating our volunteers without our knowledge (volunteer turnover went through the roof) and doing all in his power to ensure the paid staff who might identify him or pose a threat to his position were made to feel so confused and uncomfortable they soon left. Or he lied about them and tried to get them fired. We now believe he was having sexual relations with at least one male volunteer, and thinking about it, (I used to joke about his having ‘groupies’ chosen favourites) there may be others.

    We have now discovered through his recovered workplace messages for indicating he was dealing in drugs and apparently getting involved in violent homosexual trysts (he is married) when he was supposed to be working.

    Whilst complaining endlessly about his heavy workload, it turns out he was doing next to no work at all, but instead pressuring our hapless volunteers to do his admin or lying abut the supposedly amazing results he was getting.

    We are still in protracted and painfully expensive legal proceedings as he tries to ‘blackmail’ our trustees, making ridiculous claims and demanding ‘compensation’. He should really win an academy award for his ability to break down in tears and cry about his ‘abuse’ at work.

    Until this man came into our organisation, we were like a big family. I had a good reputation as an excellent boss and worled hard to ensure our volunteers and beneficiaries were treated with kindness and respect, and received the best possible service. I eventally came to question almost everything I have done and even begin to doubt my own sanity. I am known for being strong and resolutely cheerful in the face of adversity… but I was so depressed and exhausted I almost didn’t recognise myself. I broke down in tears trying to explain to our chairman how I finally realised how this man was bullying and manipulating me, but by then the employee had somehow managed to share an office with our chariman and – by our chairman’s pwn admission – had been daily ‘bending his ear’ about me.

    I still am unable to come to terms that I didn’t spot this man for what he was. I am fairly self-aware, considered street-wise and no one’s fool. Years of providing front line services to the more disadvantaged members of our community have honed my ability to spot those with mental health issue from a mile off – but not this time. Even my husband, who volunteers with our organisation and was a skilled counsellor – did not spot what was going on until it was too late.

    Our poor trustees are all kindly, well-meaning people who have never experienced anything like this.

    We have found a good guide which explains what happened (is still happening) to us, and how to avoid it next time. I will ensure counselling is available to those of us who need it.

    But in the meantime, he still has us in this death grip of greed, determined to drain all our resources.

    More people should be made aware of these people, and the devastation they cause.

  2. Linda Reply

    Hi, I have been the victim of a workplace psychopath too. She came to our organisation, overly charming, giggled at everything,. She changed her hairdresser, beautician, and doctor to mine. She bought the same breed of dog as mine, she started to invite herself into my friends lives, and near all of my friends disliked her as she tried to belittle me to my friends. Years passed and she tried hard to undermine me at work and she wanted my position. When i was promoted, she refused to help me, refused to do her job, she reported me to the anti discrimination group within our organisation for false claims of treating her different as I fought with our HR department to get her to simply do her job. She bad mouthed me to many of my work colleagues. Se discredited me to any manager that would listen to her. When an investigation was kicked off into her false claims I had no one to support nor believe me. I was crucified, I was so naive. Looking back, my boss said to me that she had done a lot of damage, and described her as toxic. Unfortunately my boss had left years beforehand. Fortunately I put in for a transfer just prior to the investigation, and was lucky enough to get out of the office, but I have been very emotionally drained and damaged, even falsely accused of fraud. The workplace psychopath now has my previous position, and does very little of the work, passes it onto another work colleague, and they are of course very unsuspecting . At the moment this person is captivated with the charm of the psychopath. I read a book in all of this which said about the workplace psychopath to get out, don’t think you can deal with these people, take a lessor paid job, chew your leg off if you have to, and this author was correct…. You will not win against them.

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