How to spot the office psychopath
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:
- Avoid contact
- 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