Psychopaths are not just found in serial killer movies and crime novels – they stalk corporate corridors too. Picture: Pexels
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
Ground yourself
  • 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
Protect yourself
  • 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