Psychopaths are not just found in serial killer movies and crime novels – they stalk corporate corridors too, where their trail of destruction might not include murder but can mean the death of productivity, motivation and profits.
The manipulation, deception, inflated self-opinion and back-stabbing of the corporate psychopath or narcissist can often cause work-related depression, anxiety disorders, burnout and physical illnesses: conditions which cost the South African economy more than R40-billion annually.
Corporate Mental Health Week this week turns the spotlight on work-related stress that accounts for more than 40% of all workplace-related illnesses in South Africa, with at least 1 in 4 employees diagnosed with depression.
Dr Renata Schoeman, Psychiatrist and Associate Professor in Leadership at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), says it is often the leaders - who should be at the forefront of reducing workplace conditions that lead to stress and burnout - who contribute to the problem, rather than the solution.
“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.
“The bullying tactics of corporate psychopaths increase conflict, stress, staff turnover and absenteeism; reduce productivity and collective social responsibility; and erode corporate culture and ethical standards – diminishing shareholder value and returns on investment,” Dr Schoeman said.
Workplace bullying is a major cause of work-related stress, Dr Schoeman said, pointing to a 2017 survey in the USA which found that adults were being bullied at levels similar to teenagers – 31% of adults had been bullied at work and almost half believed that bullying behaviour was becoming more acceptable in the workplace.
The strategies for dealing with a narcissist boss or colleague:
Ignore their actions
Stay neutral, calm and professional
Resist the urge to challenge or confront them
Don’t offer or give any personal information or opinions
Realise it is not personal
Realise their insecurity
Accept that change likely won’t happen
Build a supportive network
Reach out for help
Know your legal rights
Set clear boundaries (be assertive but not aggressive)
Have a witness
Get everything in writing
Be alert: when a narcissist can no longer control you, they will try instead to control how others see you
Disarm the narcissist (this is perhaps the most difficult strategy as you might feel dishonest)
Always empathise with your boss’s feelings but don’t expect any empathy back
Give your boss ideas, but always let them take the credit for it