We probably have published half a dozen articles in as many years about psychopaths in the workplace. A couple focused on determining if a boss was a psychopath and if so, how to deal with that person. A couple talked about psychopaths in terms of workplace bullying. All of them were well-received.
A month ago, our senior editor, Josh Cable, wrote an article summarizing a session he attended at the recent National Safety Congress. That article, "How to Spot a Psychopath in Your Workplace," blew up! Thousands and thousands of hits on www.ehstoday.com, hundreds of shares on social media; I've never seen anything like it.
I'm not trying to take anything away from Josh – the article was well-written and interesting and certainly had a catchy title – but what in the world is going on?
No article – news or feature – has captured readers' attention like this article. At times, that one article probably received more hits in a day than everything else on the website combined. All I can think of is that a lot of people want to know how to spot a psychopathic co-worker.
I don't know about you, but I find that worrisome. Are there more psychopaths in the world? Are there more psychopaths in the workplace? Should we add "spotting psychopaths" to our lists of training topics?
After giving it a lot of thought – after all, I can't ignore the popularity of the article or the topic – this is what I think: Sometimes work and co-workers make us crazy.
There probably are a few true psychopaths lurking in workplaces across America. Most serial killers had jobs, after all. I don't think I've worked with one. (And no, I don't think I am one, but maybe we should ask Josh about that.)
But I have worked with some people who made co-workers (and me sometimes) crazy. My first job out of college, I was 22 and working at a small newspaper. All the reporters worked at desks in the newsroom. The desks were lined up in two rows of six or eight desks. At that time, people could smoke at their desks.
I've always been a non-smoker, and the reporter who sat behind me not only chain smoked and left cigarettes burning while he got up and walked away from his desk, but had stacks of newspapers 2 to 3 feet high that would topple over onto me and my desk at least once a week. In other words, he made me CRAZY.
After several months of asking him to clean off his desk and to not leave cigarettes burning with no change in behavior, I saw my opportunity to teach him a lesson. A stack of newspapers fell over on his desk while he was in the bathroom. They happened to fall onto his ashtray, which contained a burning cigarette. I did nothing but watch the newspapers catch fire. Once they were burning pretty well, I yelled "Fire!" and our boss came running up with a fire extinguisher and doused the desk. I still smile when I think about it.
Fast-forward a few years to my job as an editor at Penton. Some 10 years ago or so, a water-main break and subsequent damage caused us to have to relocate to temporary office space for a year. We went from having individual offices to very small cubicles. We quickly discovered one co-worker baby-talked to herself as she worked and another co-worker was very hard of hearing. One day, while the one co-worker was (loudly) baby-talking to herself and the other co-worker was engaged in a very loud personal conversation, a third co-worker, who had reached her limit, stood up and started yelling, "Shut up! Shut up!! SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!"
So, the next time you wonder if you work with a psychopath, ask yourself this question: Is my co-worker a psychopath, or am I making my co-workers crazy?"