So, what is a “workplace psychopath”? Believe it or not, this is not merely a derogatory term used to describe someone you don’t like at work. It is in fact a label used to describe a destructive personality type that occurs in the workplace. Common characteristics include manipulation and victimisation, and not surprisingly, not much good comes from having one in your workplace!
I have personally had the misfortune of coming across at least one (if not two) in my career and was fascinated to come across the book “The Pocket Psycho”, a compact book with tips and advice on how to deal with “workplace psychos”. The book is written by a consultant that specialises in this phenomena and he has some interesting insights to share. Basically, a workplace psycho makes your life hell. Victims report feeling isolated, intimidated, wronged and many can’t cope which only leaves one avenue and that is to leave, either voluntarily or through stress-related illnesses.
My experience was with a woman who at first meeting, was very personable, friendly and helpful. I had in fact been warned that this person was “difficult” and had a history over several workplaces for being difficult but initially, I could see no evidence of this. Over the course of several years however, I was witness to this “workplace psychopath” at work as one after another of this woman’s colleagues was victimised. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to why each victim was chosen but I’m sure a trained consultant would have no difficulty identifying the pattern. However, the outcome in all cases was the same – severe and lasting psychological damage to the victims, loss of productivity in the organisation, loss of valuable employees, destroyed morale and more.
It is easy to play the blame game and ask why did management not do anything about it? This is where the “workplace psychopath” excels – at manipulating situations and developing defences to protect themselves. This person was eventually moved on but lasting damage had been done and without a doubt the cost to the organisation would take a long time to repair.
The book suggests various strategies to manage a “workplace psychopath” depending on whether you report to one, are a colleague of one or manage one. I believe that these strategies, while helpful, at best make a bad situation bearable. Just ask any victim.
If you happen to have one in your business, the investment in trying to rehabilitate a “workplace psychopath” isn’t worth it. Do your best, allowing for due process, to remove this toxic influence.