BULLIES IN THE WORKPLACE
A collection of articles followed by a selection of websites
A COLLECTION OF ARTICLES
(1) 6 Signs You Have A Bad Boss
(2) Bosses from Hell
(3) Going Postal-USPS and TAD Similarities
(4) Is There A Bully In Your Workplace?
(5) Is Your Boss a Psychopath?
(6) Quiz: Is Your Boss a Psychopath?
(1) 6 Signs You Have A Bad Boss
Learn How To Handle A Bad Boss In Your Life
Are you trying to interpret some of the classic signs you
have a bad boss? If you feel like your boss has no respect for you, your needs,
your career, or your life outside of work, then you may be justified in feeling
the way you do. You may be new to a job and are just trying to feel out your
employer. Maybe you are a seasoned veteran who is feeling like your new manager
just is not what a manager should be. It is easy to get frustrated when you
work for someone who you don’t respect. Use the following six signs to
determine whether your supervisor is the problem or if you just need an
It is important to remember that the problem might not be your boss. Occasionally, we need to examine our roles within our jobs and change the way we approach our daily tasks. While a bad boss can certainly make your job miserable, you need to make sure that you aren’t making your job a miserable place to be for both you and everyone else.
1. You Do It
Does your boss ask you to do things that she is not willing
to do herself? One of the most frustrating things in the world is a boss who
doesn’t work her way into her position from the bottom up.
Whether she was given her managerial role because of some advanced education or because she knew the right people, employees often find it difficult to take orders from a boss who has never had to experience the more difficult aspects of working up the ladder in a company.
This can be especially frustrating when your boss begins to
give you tasks that she has never had to perform. It is even more maddening
when the tasks are something you know the boss would not be willing to do at
all. If your boss hands over the phone to you when a mad customer calls telling
you to deal with it, you can be pretty sure that you have a bad boss.
This can also be a difficult situation when your boss does not have a good grasp on how long it takes to complete tasks. Your boss may expect you to compile reports in 30 minutes, but she may not realize just how long it takes to do the reports if she has never had to do the task in the past.
2. Taking Credit Where No Credit Is Due
Does your boss take credit for your work without giving you the recognition you deserve? Imagine that your boss’s supervisor is looking through the work that you have done. As the supervisor views a project or report, he offers praise for a job well done.
You are anxiously waiting for your boss to tell the supervisor just how hard you and the rest of the team worked on the project, but your boss takes all of the credit without mentioning your name.
Does this make you mad? It should. A good boss is always
willing to spread the praise around because it builds morale, confidence and
inspires people to work hard. A boss who personalizes all of the successes of
your office is only looking out for himself. One of the classic warning signs you
have a bad boss is when he takes credit for your work without giving you
3. Missing In Action
What would your boss say to you if you were late? Granted, being on time is part of being a good employee, so you should not feel like you have the right to be late, but this can be much harder to adhere to when the boss is always late. Some employers abuse their power and think that they do not have to follow rules. Coming in late, leaving early and making up random schedules is disrespectful to everyone in the office. While rank does have its privileges, there is no excuse for tardiness, especially when it affects the day-to-day tasks that are required to keep an office running smoothly.
Has your boss ever asked you to lie or to make up a report
to cover for a mistake that he or she has made?
Some high-level managers and supervisors spend their time figuring out how to keep their jobs instead of actually doing them. A small compilation of mistakes is often enough ammunition for management to replace a supervisor.
If your boss is consistently making mistakes, missing
deadlines and then asking you to help make excuses, then you are in a bad
situation. There is no excuse for an employer who is not willing to stand up
and face his or her own mistakes. Not only is it unethical, but it destroys any
respect that you and your co-workers may have had for the person.
5. In the Background
Sometimes employees make mistakes, but good bosses will
defend them and their mistakes in public. If it is a costly mistake, you can
probably expect an earful once you get behind closed doors, but in public, your
boss should always be on your side.
In some cases, bosses may be intimidated by customers or superiors and point the finger at you. This is the most obvious sign that you have a bad boss. If your boss gives in to the urge to point the finger and cannot step up and take the heat with you, you really have little reason to respect the person as an authority figure.
The workplace can feel like a battleground these days and every soldier wants to follow a general they can trust.
Is your boss the kind of leader who will stand well behind the battle lines and give orders, moving troops in and out of harms way, hoping only for her own good? Most of us want to follow a leader who will walk out to the front lines with us and help us fight the battle. It is easy to respect a boss who is willing to get dirty with you.
Employees will always work harder for a boss who works
alongside them, who understands the difficulties of the day-to-day routine and
who is willing to help them do the hardest and most grueling parts of the job.
6. Standing Water is Poison
Does your boss encourage your professional growth? A good
manager or boss shares the successes of those she manages. Setting up
subordinates for success whether it is through mentoring or continued learning
to reach the next level should be every manager’s goal. If your boss ignores
your requests for further training or tells you that you are wasting company
time, she is not being supportive of her staff. Personal professional
growth within the company should be encouraged, not discouraged.
What to Do if You Have a Bad Boss
The first thing you should do is take a hard, honest look at
yourself. Do you find yourself engaging in less than professional activities
like gossiping, taking the easy route or backstabbing? A bad boss may inspire
you to do less than stellar work. Instead of under performing, make every
effort to focus on your job. It is difficult to work in a negative atmosphere
that lacks positive reinforcement so seek your kudos where you can. Refrain
from complaining about your manager to colleagues. This behavior may heighten
the problems you already face.
Each time you are assigned a project or task, write down exactly what the expectations are. Ask your boss to repeat instructions if necessary. Sign and date the document and refer to it if anything changes.
By documenting the exact instructions you are covering your
back in case the bad boss comes back claiming you did not perform the task he
set before you. Always repeat instructions back to your boss; if this bothers
her simply inform her that you want to be sure you know what is required.
Keep a journal of the incidents that you feel most affected by. Document the facts leaving out emotions, but include how the situation affected your work performance. By documenting negative situations created by a bad boss you relieve stress from the incident.
Seek a mentor in the company especially if you truly enjoy your position and the company. If you need to, go outside the department you work in to find someone to mentor you. A mentor can become a valuable resource if you desire to move up in the company. A good mentor listens and becomes a sounding board for subordinates.
You may have the urge to report the bad behaviors of your boss, but think twice before you take this drastic step. The company may feel differently than you and label you as a whiner or troublemaker. This action could put your job at risk.
Your last resort is to leave the position after finding a new job. A position that affects your health and emotional well-being just is not worth it. Start networking, dust off your resume and seek a job where you will feel better about yourself and your job performance.
If your employer displays all six signs of a bad boss, you
may want to consider a new course of action to improve the quality of your work
environment. This may mean changing jobs, speaking up, or simply sitting down
to discuss matters with the person. Often, people don't realize that their
behavior is unpleasant to others and bringing the matter to light may resolve a
bad work environment completely.
Bad bosses are the reason most people leave a job or position and move on. Bosses come in all sizes and shapes with varying philosophies about how to manage. From the control freak to the corporate narcissist, a manager with poor managerial skills will cause a drop in work production that benefits no one. Learn the six signs of bad bosses and then do what you can to stay in the position. Just keep in mind that a job is not worth risking health and sanity when a bad boss becomes too hard to handle.
Is It Time for a New Job?
You love your coworkers but hate the huge workload. The commute is crazy but the pay is great. So what makes a job a keeper? If you've been contemplating switching jobs, you should be confident in your decision, not conflicted. But how do you know if it's best to send off that letter of resignation or stick it out? Take this quiz to find out if it's truly time for a new job.
Quiz: Is It Time for a New Job?
(2) Bosses from Hell
A rogue's gallery of the manipulative, abusive, grandiose -- and downright crooked -- executives who have strutted their way across the stage of American business.
John D. Rockefeller
So self-righteous that he claimed, "God gave me my money." The most corrupt mogul of the most corrupt era, he masterminded a grand, cruel conspiracy in 1871 with the railroads to double the price of transporting oil for all producers except his cartel.
Henry Clay Frick
On July 6, 1892, Frick's private militia of 300 Pinkertons fired on a crowd of striking steelworkers and their families. Then he had them evicted from company-owned houses, blacklisted, and tried for murder.
Ford used shadowy henchmen to run "secret police" who spied on employees. He had machine guns, tear gas, and a private army at the ready to deter union organizers. He cheated on his wife with his teenage personal assistant and then had the younger woman marry his chauffeur as a cover.
The man behind the Mouse was a suspicious control freak -- a dictatorial boss who underpaid his workers, clashed with labor organizing efforts, made anti-Semitic smears about the other Hollywood studio heads, and wouldn't give due recognition to Mickey's real creator, animator Ub Iwerks, who was supposedly his oldest friend.
He also spied prodigiously for J. Edgar Hoover and cooperated with Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1960s.
Bribed his way through the oil business. Laundered money for Soviet spies. Forced his mistress to alter the way she looked to throw off his wife. Reneged on promises to support his illegitimate daughter. Forced his board members to give him signed resignation letters that he could accept if they ever dared to oppose him. Then promoted himself for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Perhaps history's most dictatorial accountant, Geneen ran the huge ITT in the 1960s and 1970s. His method: publicly humiliating his top 120 executives every month at grueling, four-day, 14-hour-long meetings that made some of them physically ill. Geneen liked to see the pained expressions on their faces as he tore into them.
People thought Gulf & Western was predatory and
acquisitive under Charles Bluhdorn, who earned it the nickname "Engulf
& Devour." But when his tough-as-nails protege Davis ascended to the
top position, a visitor asked why half of the offices were empty on the top
floor of the company's
Scorching and short-tempered, Dick "Nice Guys Finish Last" Snyder ran Simon & Schuster beginning in the 1970s, when the office joke was: What's the difference between the Ayatollah Khomeini and Dick Snyder? Answer: the Iranian mullah took only 52 hostages, while Snyder had 700 -- the number of employees at the book pubblisher.
Scroogelike employer who routinely screamed at his staffers
and made them all work the Friday after Thanksgiving, when he called many times
to make sure they were still at the office. Proclaimed "Greed is
healthy" in a 1986 commencement address at UC Berkeley, the inspiration
for the Gordon Gekko speech in Wall Street. Served prison time for securities
fraud but reemerged as a tanned
Her most brilliant business move was having an affair with elderly real-estate baron Harry Helmsley, whom she conned into leaving his wife of 33 years by buying herself an engagement ring -- then telling him it was from a rival. Running his hotel empire, she became the "Queen of Mean" to the hundreds of employees she berated and fired on the spot, allegedly for things like a misaligned lampshade. Convinced that taxes were for the "little people," she wound up in prison for evasion.
As CEO of Sunbeam during the late 1990s, Dunlap charged a bulletproof vest and a handgun to his expense account -- understandable given the delight he took in laying off thousands of workers and subjecting his executives to profane, abusive tirades. He threw a chair across the room at his head of human resources, allegedly threatened his first wife with guns and knives, and failed to attend the funerals of either of his parents.
Fastow could be so hot-headed that he once got into a punch-out with a taxi driver over 70 cents. Pocket change indeed compared to the $24 million of illicit gains the Enron CFO agreed to give back when he pleaded guilty to securities fraud -- or the billions of dollars lost by shareholders when his secret schemes ultimately triggered the company's collapse.
(3) Going Postal-USPS and TAD Similarities
When I took the part-time Christmas job working for the USPS
many years ago it became quite apparent rather quickly why the act of killing
one’s supervisors and co-workers in sudden act of frenzied violence was
synonymous with working for the USPS. I used to marvel at their hiring and
firing practices and the way in which they treated subordinates. And the sheer
stupidity of management.
The night we had a mandatory standup on how to properly flush a toilet was the night I decided my days working there would be numbered and I quit the day before the next Christmas season began. By this time JESD had been swallowed alive by TAD and I discovered there really are two completely dysfunctional governmental organizations in the world.
The similarities between working for the USPS and TAD are striking. Both have similar hiring and firing procedures and many of the same rules. The one big difference is that the USPS does not allow supervisors and managers to strike or touch employees in any way. We all have stories of TAD managers manhandling employees.
So why do I bring this up? The story I did the other week on the suicide of a former employee, who by the way apparently left a suicide note stating he did it because of what happened on the job, has resulted in many conversations with employees of various county departments. Something that I have never heard before that I am hearing now is that employees fear that we will have a co-worker “go postal.” Everyone seems to be talking about the stress in the workplace and the amount of hostility from supervisors and management toward employees.
I witness the level of anxiety and frustration employees have with supervisors and managers every day. I think what is surprising me most, though, is the professions represented. It’s no longer just low-level employees, but also well-educated professionals that seem to be at their wit’s end with county management. Even those in professions where their services are highly sought after despite our economic situation seem to be experiencing high levels of anxiety on the job. There have been several instances that I know of recently in a couple of departments where one employee has hit another. I might add that the workplace violence policy is not enforced uniformly. Whether or not an employee is fired depends on whether management likes the employee or not, not the level of violence.
Anyway, this is a post I never thought I would be writing. But I also never thought that county management would treat employees the way they are being treated now nor did I ever think that we would have a union that supports the physical and mental abuse of county employees by county management. I, for one, can hardly wait for next year when we will be represented by an international union rather than the Chicken Man and his cowardly chickadees.
This entry was posted on Saturday, January 3rd, 2009 at 6:38 pm and is filed under County of San Bernardino, SBPEA, TAD. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site
4 Responses to “Going Postal”
January 4th, 2009 at 7:24 am
that has been a fear at tad for years…..i’m sure other work sites have the same concern…it is a sad sign of the times….but i hope it is not brought about by continually writing about suicide and workplace violence….could this be fodder for the unstable employee?
January 4th, 2009 at 2:39 pm
I think the unstable employee will do it whether they read about it or not. I think it is more important that the concern be documented so that when it happens, and I believe it will happen, the county can’t act surprised. How often does something like this happen and everyone claims surprise but when fully investigated there were a gillion warning signs that everyone chose to ignore? Look at the Santa Clause murders on Christmas Day. Most of the time this stuff is premeditated at least to the point that the perpetrator has been thinking about it for a long time if not planning it for a long time. And how often do we find out that the perpetrator showed many signs by asking for help that were ignored until he was driven over the edge?
The suicide that I’ve written about a few times lately appears to be one of those instances. When the employee did try to get help for his situation his manager chose to humiliate him to the point that the next time he did not ask for help but instead took his own life. I think it is tragic and criminal that our county administrators allow these managers and supervisors to continue with county employment while line staff are being fired for being late too many times or for sending inappropriate email.
Fed Up Says:
January 4th, 2009 at 3:16 pm
Boy, you hit the nail on the head when you said, “Whether or not an employee is fired depends on whether management likes the employee or not, not the level of violence.” I know an employee in my office who has placed his hands on another employee once and yelled at two others twice and all three incidents were swept under the carpet and nothing was done to this individual because he’s a “gopher” (I’ll use that word instead of the other ones I’d like to), a behind-kisser, and a leg-hanger who does whatever they want him to do, even though it’s out of his job description and he’s not qualified (training others when he’s not properly trained himself). The guy is incompetent but the powers-that-be don’t see it because he’s their you-know-what boy (rhymes with rutt!). He does whatever they tell him because he thinks he’ll eventually get promoted…….and I hate to say it, he probably will, if he applies and we have the same boss we have now. His coworkers don’t respect him and never will and we’re all appalled that this type of person gets ahead in this environment and is placed in a position to “lead” others. However, when you look around, you see exactly that–those who kiss butt, hang leg, and do whatever they’re asked, even if it goes against “their grain” or their morals and scruples, are the ones who get ahead in this County. I sure see it in my Department and everytime the “Promotion” list comes out, it reinforces my belief even more. It’s sad.
January 4th, 2009 at 5:11 pm
Yeah, I’ve told this story on the blog more than a time or two, but my former Kaiser therapist used to joke about how Kaiser needs an office just for county employees because there were so many of us there. There were times when every single participant in the crisis group was a county employee. He said that he has had employees that were forced to get restraining orders against their supervisors/managers. Okay, if the violence is so bad that a judge will approve a restraining order, don’t you think there might be a problem?
And I’ve also talked about my Kaiser shrink a few times. Dr. Bellins delights in showing me the proclamation from the BOS she received after being forced out of the county after 26 years of service. I think she was in charge of all the DBH clinics for the county. She has lots of Mark Uffer stories to tell. I always feel my visits are more therapy for her than for me. Actually, I have an appointment with her this week. Haven’t seen her since returning to work, being suspended, and all the rest. This should be a fun appointment!
(4) Is There A Bully In Your Workplace?
by Elaine Craig SBPEA Voice May/June 2008 volume 60 issue 2
I believe most of us know someone who is a workplace bully. See if the following description brings anyone to mind.
A bully believes he or she is superior to everyone else; constantly interrupts meetings or conversations; has an inflated sense of self-importance; is extremely negative; uses negative comments or put-downs; constantly harangues about someone else’s incompetence; crowds other’s personal space by hovering or touching; is an active participant in and encourages gossip. They lie.
Privately, a bully is a rumor-monger. A bully will talk about you behind your back in an effort to undermine you and your reputation. Typical bullying behavior includes speaking about you negatively in meetings, lunches, and private conversations; calling you incompetent; implying you are lazy or have a bad work ethic, systematically providing misinformation about you to others. They personally criticize aspects of your life that are irrelevant to work, such as your appearance, family, or friends. He or she encourages others to jump to negative conclusions about you, will manipulate others into criticizing you and encourages others to also speak negatively about you.
Recognize anyone? Probably. Studies have shown that 37% of the American workforce has experienced this kind of destructive bullying. It is four times more prevalent than gender or status based discrimination.
What is workplace bullying?
Bullying is a systematic campaign of repeatedly attacking someone verbally or physically with the intent of causing hurt, humiliation, belittlement, and isolation. A bully can be your boss, your co-worker, or even a subordinate. It is not routine conflict. Bullying is, in fact, lowlevel violence in the workplace.
Why Are You A Target?
Usually, individuals are targeted because they pose some sort of perceived threat to the bully. A bully uses these tactics to compensate for their own feelings of inadequacy. More than likely, the victim is more technically skilled than the bully, is better liked, and has emotional intelligence as well as better social skills. Victims are also honest and ethical employees. They are usually non-confrontational. And they are almost always smarter than their bullies!
Being Bullied Increases Health Risks
Being bullied is a traumatic, stressful experience that over time, often results in the mental breakdown or ill-health of the victim. Physical and mental health problems and fatigue are common. Some victims get to a point where they can no longer be productive at work and some are forced to make the decision to choose their health over their work.
Victims of bullies suffer stress-related health problems such as:
• Immunological impairment: more frequent infections of greater severity
• Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
• Clinical Depression: new to the victim or an exacerbated condition that was previously
• Panic attacks
• Cardiovascular problems
Are You the Victim of a Bully?
• Do you feel like throwing up the night before the start of your work week?
• Does your family demand that you stop obsessing about work at home?
• Does your doctor ask what could be causing your recent health problems, and tells you
to change jobs?
• Is your paid time off is used for “mental health breaks” from the misery?
• Have others at work been told to stop working, talking or socializing with you?
• Do you constantly feel agitated and anxious, experiencing a sense of doom, waiting for
bad things to happen?
• No matter what you do, are you never left alone to do your job without interference?
• Do people feel justified screaming or yelling at you in front of others, but you are
punished if you yell back?
• Has HR told you that your harassment isn’t illegal and that you have to “work it out
• Has everyone – co-workers, bosses, and HR – agreed (in person and verbally) that your
tormentor is a jerk, but there is nothing they will do about it (and then deny saying that
later when asked to support you)?
Why Do Employers Do So Little About It?
• Most bullying is not illegal
• Employers do nothing because they don’t have to
• They’re afraid. Maybe the manager was bullied by the bully too.
• They have a disproportionate fear of a lawsuit if they investigate or sanction the bully.
• Bullies get much of their support from managers and Human Resources because they
• Bullies invented their own reputation as an indispensable high-performer in case they
were ever exposed. If a victim complains, they are then not believed.
• Employers don’t actually know how to stop it and they don’t ask for help.
• Employers don’t recognize bullying as violence and/or harassment in the workplace.
They minimize the problem (erroneously) as a “conflict”.
The reality is that when an employer fails to promote an atmosphere of just plain decency among its employees, they open the door for all types of incivility, hostility, aggression, as well as potential violence. Employers also need to factor in the high cost of employee turnover, health problems, low morale, absenteeism, and non-productive time on the job when they continue to ignore a workplace bully because the bullies seldom move on – the best employees do.
If you see someone being bullied, say something. If you do nothing, you have effectively joined the bully in their personal vendetta. Don’t ostracize the victim or blame the victim or minimize how the bully behaves. After all, their behavior is not normal.
On April 8, 2008, the
(5) Is Your Boss a Psychopath?
by Alan Deutschman
Odds are you’ve run across one of these characters in your
career. They’re glib, charming, manipulative, deceitful, ruthless — and very,
very destructive. And there may be lots of them in
More About Psychopath Bosses:
One of the most provocative ideas about business in this
decade so far surfaced in a most unlikely place. The forum wasn’t the
On that August day in 2002, Hare gave a talk on psychopathy to about 150 police and law-enforcement officials. He was a legendary figure to that crowd. The FBI and the British justice system have long relied on his advice. He created the P-Scan, a test widely used by police departments to screen new recruits for psychopathy, and his ideas have inspired the testing of firefighters, teachers, and operators of nuclear power plants.
According to the Canadian Press and
“These are callous, cold-blooded individuals,” Hare said.
“They don’t care that you have thoughts and feelings. They have no sense of guilt or remorse.” He talked about the pain and suffering the corporate rogues had inflicted on thousands of people who had lost their jobs, or their life’s savings. Some of those victims would succumb to heart attacks or commit suicide, he said.
Then Hare came out with a startling proposal. He said that the recent corporate scandals could have been prevented if CEOs were screened for psychopathic behavior. “Why wouldn’t we want to screen them?” he asked. “We screen police officers, teachers. Why not people who are going to handle billions of dollars?”
It’s Hare’s latest contribution to the public awareness of “corporate psychopathy.” He appeared in the 2003 documentary The Corporation, giving authority to the film’s premise that corporations are “sociopathic” (a synonym for “psychopathic”) because they ruthlessly seek their own selfish interests — “shareholder value” — without regard for the harms they cause to others, such as environmental damage.
Is Hare right? Are corporations fundamentally psychopathic organizations that attract similarly disposed people? It’s a compelling idea, especially given the recent evidence. Such scandals as Enron and WorldCom aren’t just aberrations; they represent what can happen when some basic currents in our business culture turn malignant. We’re worshipful of top executives who seem charismatic, visionary, and tough. So long as they’re lifting profits and stock prices, we’re willing to overlook that they can also be callous, conning, manipulative, deceitful, verbally and psychologically abusive, remorseless, exploitative, self-delusional, irresponsible, and megalomaniacal. So we collude in the elevation of leaders who are sadly insensitive to hurting others and society at large.
But wait, you say: Don’t bona fide psychopaths become serial
killers or other kinds of violent criminals, rather than the guys in the next
cubicle or the corner office? That was the conventional wisdom. Indeed, Hare
began his work by studying men in prison. Granted, that’s still an unusually
good place to look for the conscience-impaired. The average Psychopathy
Checklist score for incarcerated male offenders in
On the broad continuum between the ethical everyman and the
predatory killer, there’s plenty of room for people who are ruthless but not
violent. This is where you’re likely to find such people as Ebbers, Fastow,
ImClone CEO Sam Waksal, and hotelier Leona Helmsley. We put several big-name
CEOs through the checklist, and they scored as “moderately psychopathic”; our
quiz on page 48 lets you try a similar exercise with your favorite boss. And
this summer, together with
There’s evidence that the business climate has become even
more hospitable to psychopaths in recent years. In pioneering long-term studies
of psychopaths in the workplace, Babiak focused on a half-dozen unnamed
companies: One was a fast-growing high-tech firm, and the others were large
multinationals undergoing dramatic organizational changes — severe downsizing,
restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, and joint ventures. That’s just the
sort of corporate tumult that has increasingly characterized the
And you can make a compelling case that the New Economy, with its rule-breaking and roller-coaster results, is just dandy for folks with psychopathic traits too. A slow-moving old-economy corporation would be too boring for a psychopath, who needs constant stimulation. Its rigid structures and processes and predictable ways might stymie his unethical scheming. But a charge-ahead New Economy maverick — an Enron, for instance — would seem the ideal place for this kind of operator.
But how can we recognize psychopathic types? Hare has revised his Psychopathy Checklist (known as the PCL-R, or simply “the Hare”) to make it easier to identify so-called subcriminal or corporate psychopaths. He has broken down the 20 personality characteristics into two subsets, or “factors.” Corporate psychopaths score high on Factor 1, the “selfish, callous, and remorseless use of others” category. It includes eight traits: glibness and superficial charm; grandiose sense of self-worth; pathological lying; conning and manipulativeness; lack of remorse or guilt; shallow affect (i.e., a coldness covered up by dramatic emotional displays that are actually playacting); callousness and lack of empathy; and the failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions. Sound like anyone you know? (Corporate psychopaths score only low to moderate on Factor 2, which pinpoints “chronically unstable, antisocial, and socially deviant lifestyle,” the hallmarks of people who wind up in jail for rougher crimes than creative accounting.)
This view is supported by research by psychologists Belinda
Board and Katarina Fritzon at the
The Factor 1 psychopathic traits seem like the playbook of
many corporate power brokers through the decades. Manipulative? Louis B. Mayer
was said to be a better actor than any of the stars he employed at MGM, able to
turn on the tears at will to evoke sympathy during salary negotiations with his
actors. Callous? Henry Ford hired thugs to crush union organizers, deployed
machine guns at his plants, and stockpiled tear gas. He cheated on his wife
with his teenage personal assistant and then had the younger woman marry his
chauffeur as a cover. Lacking empathy? Hotel magnate Leona Helmsley shouted
profanities at and summarily fired hundreds of employees allegedly for
trivialities, like a maid missing a piece of lint. Remorseless? Soon after
Martin Davis ascended to the top position at Gulf & Western, a visitor
asked why half the offices were empty on the top floor of the company’s
In the most recent wave of scandals, Enron’s Fastow displayed many of the corporate psychopath’s traits. He pressured his bosses for a promotion to CFO even though he had a shaky grasp of the position’s basic responsibilities, such as accounting and treasury operations. Suffering delusions of grandeur after just a little time on the job, Fastow ordered Enron’s PR people to lobby CFO magazine to make him its CFO of the Year. But Fastow’s master manipulation was a scheme to loot Enron. He set up separate partnerships, secretly run by himself, to engage in deals with Enron. The deals quickly made tens of millions of dollars for Fastow — and prettified Enron’s financials in the short run by taking unwanted assets off its books. But they left Enron with time bombs that would ultimately cause the company’s total implosion — and lose shareholders billions. When Enron’s scandals were exposed, Fastow pleaded guilty to securities fraud and agreed to pay back nearly $24 million and serve 10 years in prison.
“Chainsaw” Al Dunlap might score impressively on the corporate Psychopathy Checklist too. What do you say about a guy who didn’t attend his own parents’ funerals? He allegedly threatened his first wife with guns and knives. She charged that he left her with no food and no access to their money while he was away for days. His divorce was granted on grounds of “extreme cruelty.” That’s the characteristic that endeared him to Wall Street, which applauded when he fired 11,000 workers at Scott Paper, then another 6,000 (half the labor force) at Sunbeam. Chainsaw hurled a chair at his human-resources chief, the very man who approved the handgun and bulletproof vest on his expense report. Dunlap needed the protection because so many people despised him. His plant closings kept up his reputation for ruthlessness but made no sense economically, and Sunbeam’s financial gains were really the result of Dunlap’s alleged book cooking. When he was finally exposed and booted, Dunlap had the nerve to demand severance pay and insist that the board reprice his stock options. Talk about failure to accept responsibility for one’s own actions.
While knaves such as Fastow and Dunlap make the headlines,
most horror stories of workplace psychopathy remain the stuff of frightened
whispers. Insiders in the
Most criminals — whether psychopathic or not — are shaped by poverty and often childhood abuse as well. In contrast, corporate psychopaths typically grew up in stable, loving families that were middle class or affluent. But because they’re pathological liars, they tell romanticized tales of rising from tough, impoverished backgrounds. Dunlap pretended that he grew up as the son of a laid-off dockworker; in truth, his father worked steadily and raised his family in suburban comfort. The corporate psychopaths whom Babiak studied all went to college, and a couple even had PhDs. Their ruthless pursuit of self-interest was more easily accomplished in the white-collar realm, which their backgrounds had groomed them for, rather than the criminal one, which comes with much lousier odds.
Psychopaths succeed in conventional society in large measure because few of us grasp that they are fundamentally different from ourselves. We assume that they, too, care about other people’s feelings. This makes it easier for them to “play” us. Although they lack empathy, they develop an actor’s expertise in evoking ours. While they don’t care about us, “they have an element of emotional intelligence, of being able to see our emotions very clearly and manipulate them,” says Michael Maccoby, a psychotherapist who has consulted for major corporations.
Psychopaths are typically very likable. They make us believe
that they reciprocate our loyalty and friendship. When we realize that they
were conning us all along, we feel betrayed and foolish. “People see sociopathy
in their personal lives, and they don’t have a clue that it has a label or that
others have encountered it,” says Martha Stout, a psychologist at the
Of course, cynics might say that it can be an advantage to lack a conscience. That’s probably why major investors installed Dunlap as the CEO of Sunbeam: He had no qualms about decimating the workforce to impress Wall Street. One reason outside executives get brought into troubled companies is that they lack the emotional stake in either the enterprise or its people. It’s easier for them to act callously and remorselessly, which is exactly what their backers want. The obvious danger of the new B-Scan test for psychopathic tendencies is that companies will hire or promote people with high scores rather than screen them out. Even Babiak, the test’s codeveloper, says that while “a high score is a red flag, sometimes middle scores are okay. Perhaps you don’t want the most honest and upfront salesman.”
Indeed, not every aberrant boss is necessarily a corporate psychopath. There’s another personality that’s often found in the executive suite: the narcissist. While many psychologists would call narcissism a disorder, this trait can be quite beneficial for top bosses, and it’s certainly less pathological than psychopathy. Maccoby’s book The Productive Narcissist: The Promise and Perils of Visionary Leadership (Broadway Books, 2003) portrays the narcissistic CEO as a grandiose egotist who is on a mission to help humanity in the abstract even though he’s often insensitive to the real people around him. Maccoby counts Apple’s Steve Jobs, General Electric’s Jack Welch, Intel’s Andy Grove, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, and Southwest Airlines’ Herb Kelleher as “productive narcissists,” or PNs. Narcissists are visionaries who attract hordes of followers, which can make them excel as innovators, but they’re poor listeners and they can be awfully touchy about criticism. “These people don’t have much empathy,” Maccoby says. “When Bill Gates tells someone, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard,’ or Steve Jobs calls someone a bozo, they’re not concerned about people’s feelings. They see other people as a means toward their ends. But they do have a sense of changing the world — in their eyes, improving the world. They build their own view of what the world should be and get others recruited to their vision. Psychopaths, in contrast, are only interested in self.”
Maccoby concedes that productive narcissists can become “drunk with power” and turn destructive. The trick, he thinks, is to pair a productive narcissist with a “productive obsessive,” or conscientious, control-minded manager. Think of Grove when he was matched with chief operating officer Craig Barrett, Gates with president Steve Ballmer, Kelleher with COO Colleen Barrett, and Oracle’s Larry Ellison with COO Ray Lane and CFO Jeff Henley. In his remarkably successful second tour of duty at Apple, Jobs has been balanced by steady, competent behind-the-scenes players such as Timothy Cook, his executive vice president for sales and operations.
But our culture’s embrace of narcissism as the hallmark of admired business leaders is dangerous, Babiak maintains, since “individuals who are really psychopaths are often mistaken for narcissists and chosen by the organization for leadership positions.” How does he distinguish the difference between the two types? “In the case of a narcissist, everything is me, me, me,” Babiak explains. “With a psychopath, it’s ‘Is it thrilling, is it a game I can win, and does it hurt others?’ My belief is a psychopath enjoys hurting others.”
Intriguingly, Babiak believes that it’s extremely unlikely for an entrepreneurial founder-CEO to be a corporate psychopath because the company is an extension of his own ego — something he promotes rather than plunders. “The psychopath has no allegiance to the company at all, just to self,” Babiak says. “A psychopath is playing a short-term parasitic game.” That was the profile of Fastow and Dunlap — guys out to profit for themselves without any concern for the companies and lives they were wrecking. In contrast, Jobs and Ellison want their own companies to thrive forever — indeed, to dominate their industries and take over other fields as well. “An entrepreneurial founder-CEO might have a narcissistic tendency that looks like psychopathy,” Babiak says. “But they have a vested interest: Their identity is wrapped up with the company’s existence. They’re loyal to the company.” So these types are ruthless not only for themselves but also for their companies, their extensions of self.
The issue is whether we will continue to elevate, celebrate, and reward so many executives who, however charismatic, remain indifferent to hurting other people. Babiak says that while the first line of defense against psychopaths in the workplace is screening job candidates, the second line is a “culture of openness and trust, especially when the company is undergoing intense, chaotic change.”
Europe is far ahead of the
The good news is that we can do something about corporate psychopaths. Scientific consensus says that only about 50% of personality is influenced by genetics, so psychopaths are molded by our culture just as much as they are born among us. But unless American business makes a dramatic shift, we’ll get more Enrons — and deserve them.
(6) Quiz: Is Your Boss a Psychopath?
The standard clinical test for psychopathy, Robert Hare's PCL-R, evaluates 20 personality traits overall, but a subset of eight traits defines what he calls the "corporate psychopath" -- the nonviolent person prone to the "selfish, callous, and remorseless use of others." Does your boss fit the profile? Here's our do-it-yourself quiz drawing on the test manual and Hare's book Without Conscience. (Disclaimer: If you're not a psychologist or psychiatrist, this will be a strictly amateur exercise.) We've used the pronoun "he," but research suggests psychologists have underestimated the psychopathic propensity of women.
For each question, score two points for "yes," one point for "somewhat" or "maybe," and zero points for "no."
 Is he glib and superficially charming?
Is he a likable personality and a terrific talker -- entertaining, persuasive, but maybe a bit too smooth and slick? Can he pass himself off as a supposed expert in a business meeting even though he really doesn't know much about the topic? Is he a flatterer? Seductive,but insincere? Does he tell amusing but unlikely anecdotes celebrating his own past? Can he persuade his colleagues to support a certain position this week -- and then argue with equal conviction and persuasiveness for the opposite position next week? If he's a CEO, can he appear on TV and somehow get away without answering the interviewer's direct questions or saying anything truly substantive?
 Does he have a grandiose sense of self-worth?
he brag? Is he arrogant?
 Is he a pathological liar?
Has he reinvented his own past in a more positive light -- for example, claiming that he rose from a tough, poor background even though he really grew up middle class? Does he lie habitually even though he can easily be found out? When he's exposed, does he still act unconcerned because he thinks he can weasel out of it? Does he enjoy lying? Is he proud of his knack for deceit? Is it hard to tell whether he knows he's a liar or whether he deceives himself and believes his own bull?
 Is he a con artist or master manipulator?
Does he use his skill at lying to cheat or manipulate other people in his quest for money, power, status, and sex? Does he "use" people brilliantly? Does he engage in dishonest schemes such as cooking the books?
 When he harms other people, does he feel a lack of remorse or guilt?
Is he concerned about himself rather than the wreckage he inflicts on others or society at large? Does he say he feels bad but act as though he really doesn't? Even if he has been convicted of a white-collar crime, such as securities fraud, does he not accept blame for what he did, even after getting out of prison? Does he blame others for the trouble he causes?
 Does he have a shallow affect?
Is he cold and detached, even when someone near him dies, suffers, or falls seriously ill -- for example, does he visit the hospital or attend the funeral? Does he make brief, dramatic displays of emotion that are nothing more than putting on a theatrical mask and playacting for effect? Does he claim to be your friend but rarely or never ask about the details of your life or your emotional state? Is he one of those tough-guy executives who brag about how emotions are for whiners and losers?
 Is he callous and lacking in empathy?
Does he not give a damn about the feelings or well-being of other people? Is he profoundly selfish? Does he cruelly mock others? Is he emotionally or verbally abusive toward employees, "friends," and family members? Can he fire employees without concern for how they'll get by without the job? Can he profit from embezzlement or stock fraud without concern for the harm he's doing to shareholders or pensioners who need their savings to pay for their retirements?
 Does he fail to accept responsibility for his own actions?
Does he always cook up some excuse? Does he blame others for what he's done? If he's under investigation or on trial for a corporate crime, like deceitful accounting or stock fraud, does he refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing even when the hard evidence is stacked against him?
If your boss scores:
| Be frustrated
5-7 | Be cautious
8-12 | Be afraid
13-16 | Be very afraid
A SELECTION OF WEBSITES
Workplace Bullying Institute