Is a "corporate psychopath" lurking among your ranks?
"Corporate psychopaths" create workplace conflict and cause top talent to flee, but there are ways to recognise and remove them before it's too late, says organisational psychologist Jason Blaik.
"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 appear to experience stress."
Psychopaths are generally thought to make up about one per cent of the general population, he says, but it's more like three per cent in the corporate world. They are equally represented among men and women, and Blaik predficts the female corporate psychopath will become a bigger feature of the corporate world as more women break through the glass ceiling.
Warning signsUnfortunately for employers, very little can be done to reform a corporate psychopath, because they tend not to believe they have a problem and they don't want to change, Blaik says.
To avoid damage from their actions an employer must identify behaviour that breaches workplace policies and ethical practices and remove them from the organisation using the appropriate performance management and disciplinary procedures.
Some signs that an existing employee might be a corporate psychopath include that they:
Avoid hiring mistakesA corporate psychopath will generally charm the hiring team into selecting them for the job, and once inside the organisation will identify a potential support network of employees, along with people who can be manipulated, Blaik says. During the "ascension phase" the psychopath works his or her way into positions of power.
But, Blaik says, there are ways to identify these people before they join your organisation.
Corporate psychopaths often appear to recruiting staff as "ideal" candidates, he says.
They present extremely well at interview, coming across as charming, highly intelligent, confident, calm and slick. They appear to have all the right experience and command the respect of everyone in the room but, "sometimes when a candidate seems too good to be true, he or she probably is".
While many candidates' resumes contain falsehoods, Blaik notes, the corporate psychopath is more likely to embellish their skills and to change employment dates to hide some experiences, so particular care should be taken during background and reference checks to validate their claims.
Corporate psychopaths perform at their best in free-flowing, conversational interviews, so structured interviews are better for identifying gaps in their experience or knowledge.
Blaik also recommends complementing the selection process with objective measures such as work samples and psychological assessments.
He says recruiting personnel should keep in mind that if a candidate seems too good to be true, he or she probably is, "and if he seems perfect for the job, he probably isn't".
Blaik says it's important to note that if someone displays some of these behaviours occasionally, it doesn't mean they are a corporate psychopath. Anyone can "lose it" from time to time and "not all 'toxic' employees or bosses are psychopathic".
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