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Category Archives: Corporate psychopaths

By Kate Southam, editor,

March 19, 2009 12:00am

THE targets of workplace bullies are being let down by employers who mount internal investigations that often make the problem worse.

That’s the view of Dr Anne Wyatt and Dr Carlo Caponecchia, from the School of Risk and Safety Sciences at the University of NSW.

“In our experience, bullying issues are poorly understood by managers and so internal investigations are often badly handled, confidentiality is not always maintained and they drag on for too long,” Dr Caponecchia said.

They said allegations of bullying were usually investigated by human resources staff who soon became the “meat in the sandwich” with responsibilities to both the employer and employees. In many cases, the focus is on minimising legal risk to the organisation rather than changing the workplace culture to stamp out bullying.

“Human resources have a clear conflict of interest,” said Dr Caponecchia.

“HR has dual responsibilities to the employer and employee, and at best could be seen as the meat in the sandwich – particularly in cases where the perpetrator of the bullying behaviour is a senior member of staff.

“It is not the fault of HR staff but a consequence of the position that they are in.”

It was vital employers appoint third party specialists to investigate bullying allegations.

Dr Wyatt said employers also needed to view the safety risk posed by bullying as seriously as they do the dangers of faulty equipment. Health issues associated with bullying include anxiety, depression and post traumatic stress disorder.

“We ask workers to report a sharp edge on a door or a missing grate or a broken step, but we haven’t endorsed reporting on things that might impact on mental health,” Dr Wyatt said.

“It is okay to say there is a rung missing from a ladder but it is not okay to say ‘I can’t handle my boss’.”

The academics are impatient with populist views that bullying incidents are nothing more than personality clashes or the work of a rogue “office psycho” and say organisations, not individuals, are responsible.

“People say, ‘if you can’t handle the heat, get out of the kitchen’. No one is yet saying that the kitchen shouldn’t be so hot,” Dr Wyatt said.

Dr Wyatt and Dr Caponecchia are also co-founders of the founders the website that provides resources to stop bullying.

The academics say part of the problem is that bullying is poorly defined and inadequately covered by existing legislation. At the moment bullying is covered by anti discrimination legislation and some occupational health and safety laws.

But Dr Caponecchia said bullying and discrimination were not the same thing, and under OH&S only South Australia specifically used the word “bullying” and explained what it was.

The Council of Australian Governments is currently working on “harmonising” occupational health and safety laws by 2011 to create national standards. Dr Wyatt and Dr Caponecchia want bullying to be given more comprehensive coverage under the revised national laws.

The President of the Australian Human Resources Institute, Peter Wilson, agreed bullying needed to be covered in the new national laws and that employers should use external investigators.

“I don’t think there is a conflict of interest (for HR staff) but you do need very well trained (HR) people in the job and they may need help from an external group,” Mr Wilson said. “Certainly (HR) are in a stronger position if you have a report in your hands.”

According to Beyond Bullying, workplace bullying is defined as repeated unreasonable behaviour where some power imbalance exists. This can include colleagues on the same level but where one has longer tenure or some other perceived power.

Bullying includes name calling, public humiliation, isolating or excluding a co-worker, a manager assigning meaningless or menial tasks, ideas and credit stealing and spreading rumours.,27753,25205355-462,00.html

By Elizabeth Allen
The Courier-Mail
March 05, 2009 12:01am
AUSTRALIAN businesses under pressure have been warned to be on the lookout for corporate psychopaths within their ranks.

Jason Blaik, an organisational psychologist, said yesterday psychopaths created workplace conflict, caused top talent to flee and could damage a company’s reputation.

“Businesses should be vigilant at any time but particularly now when companies are so vulnerable,” he said.

Mr Blaik, of Brisbane-based human resources firm Onetest, said psychopaths were believed to have contributed to some high-profile company collapses in recent years.

Psychopaths’ main failings were that they did not show honesty, modesty and trustworthiness; did not experience emotions such as love, empathy and guilt; exhibited impulsive behaviour; and led anti-social lifestyles.

Mr Blaik said psychopaths were believed to make up 1 per cent of the general population but about 3 per cent of the corporate world.

“While people generally associate the term psychopath with murderers, the majority ply their trade in more subtle ways,” Mr Blaik said.

“They actually exhibit characteristics highly valued by the business world because their lack of empathy and conscience can be seen as an ability to make tough decisions, and they don’t seem to experience stress.”

Signs an employee might be a corporate psychopath included being smooth and charming, redirecting conversations to themselves, putting down others, telling lies, demonstrating a lack of empathy, creating internal power networks and using them for personal gain.,27753,25138998-5012426,00.html

An executive is someone who manages at a senior level of a major company or government department and earns more than $100,000 a year.

A psychopath is someone with an anti-social personality who has no compunction or guilt in trampling over, or even being violent towards, others to achieve his goals.

And “his” is correct because men make up the overwhelming majority of psychopaths, although there is an increasing number of women.

Men also make up the majority of executives in Australia.

No one really knows how many executive psychopaths there are, but a Canadian academic, Robert Hare, has estimated that one in 100 people in the American workforce is a psychopath.

Psychopaths act out their anti-social impulses at all levels of the workforce and typically seek authority positions to give them power over other employees.

Thus the attraction of becoming executives and gaining control of staff. With executive power, the psychopath can hide behind a mask of legitimacy to hollow-out selected fellow employees.

But they don’t just exist at the top of the tree. Psychopaths can also be ambitious staff who go to pathological ends to unseat in-power executives and take their positions.


University of Sydney psychotherapist John Clarke has made a life-long study of psychopaths in the workforce and is the author of two books on the subject – Working with Monsters and The Pocket Psycho.

He says workplace psychopaths commonly intimidate fellow workers, sometimes behave impulsively, always lack remorse and often are glib and superficially charming.

“About half the people in any workplace won’t be affected.

“If anything, they will think they are good guys because psychopaths go out of their way to cultivate people who they can use,” Dr Clarke says.

“It’s from the other half of the workforce the psychopath selects victims to wage war on. The weapons of war include bullying, putting down, humiliating in front of others, stealing credit for work done by others and spreading false rumours about other people.

“They will tear people apart to get where they want to be,” he says.

Dr Clarke says the influence of psychopaths already in private and public sector executive positions or trying to attain them is way out of proportion to their likely numbers.

“They are attracted to corporations and organisations because they can get power over others and are actually rewarded for their behaviour.

“Companies attract psychopaths without even knowing when they place job advertisements asking for someone to do whatever it takes to get the job done.

“These psychopaths … have no compunction, no pity. They will level people to the ground without feeling. That is what they enjoy,” he says.

Dr Clarke says there are two types of psychopaths who hold down executive positions.

The first is one who has been identified and finds it increasingly difficult to stay on in their job.

“Once their behaviour is discovered and understood, they move off to another job in another organisation (where) … they very quickly resume their behaviour.

“The second type is virtually unstoppable. They are the people who have so much power in an organisation they can’t be touched.

“These people are usually in positions where they can actually head off or successfully counter any attempts to get rid of them.They hang on like grim death and leave their positions when they want to.”

Dr Clarke says it is immensely difficult weeding out executive psychopaths.

He says management and staff have to be educated about the psychopath’s behaviour and develop a united stand so people are less likely to become victims. Psychopaths find it difficult to operate against this sort of united stand, he says.

“Then the employer has to form a corporate strategy to modify this behaviour or get rid of them.

“And the higher the level the psychopath has obtained in the organisation then the more difficult it is forming such a strategy.

“But rehabilitation almost never works. All it does is give them new social skills to manipulate their victims,” he says.

And what about the executive psychopaths’ victims?

Psychologist Don Jeffreys who treats victims of workplace psychopaths, says depression, anxiety, stress and isolation are common symptoms.

“The victims are commonly angry and puzzled about why they have been singled out by the psychopath,” Professor Jeffreys says.

“Concern about their mistreatment at work can take over their entire lives and they often feel trapped with nowhere to go.

“If the situation cannot be relieved at work, the victim should leave their job as soon as he/she can. To stay under continual threat of psychopathic behaviour from senior staff or even work colleagues is untenable,” he says.

What staff should do:

  • Do not try to negotiate – there is little point and it can offer your persecutor new angles for attack.
  • Educate yourself about the behaviour of psychopaths and discreetly find out if fellow workers are suffering similar behaviour.
  • Carefully document everything that they do to you and approach your HR department. Expect it to be extremely difficult to prove.
  • Inform family and friends – they become your support base and they will be affected by your gradual psychological disintegration, which could include anxiety and depression.
  • Consider changing jobs as quickly as possible if no action is taken against the psychopath. Leave no matter how unfair you think that may be.

What organisations should do:

  • Organisations should make themselves familiar with workplace psychopaths’ behaviour.
  • After a complaint is received they should get an evaluation from people working above or below them.
  • If the evaluations are generally negative and in line with a victim’s complaint, get expert advice to see whether behaviour modification would be worth trying.
  • If not the psychopath should be dismissed.