Suspect You Might Be Working for a Psychopath? Here’s How to Cope

Sept. 26, 2011
As new research suggests that one in 25 corporate leaders may display psychopathic traits, experts at Wake Forest University offer survival tips for employees concerned their own professional fate may lie in the hands of a potential psychopath.

“Leaders who are psychopaths are extremely charming, highly manipulative, see other people as objects and don’t feel guilty about using people to reach their own ends,” said Jamie Dickey Ungerleider, Ph.D, associate professor of Family & Community Medicine at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center “Most people at work have good intentions, but a psychopathic boss does not.”

According to Ungerleider, evaluations and reviews may not reveal a psychopathic boss – after all, these leaders often are seen as charming and trustworthy. Ungerleider also warns employees that when working for such a boss, striving for higher levels of success could actually be a pitfall if the boss feels threatened by your good performance.

“These people use the skills and talents of people under them to shine for their own managers,” Ungerleider said. “If you shine a little too brightly while you’re helping them stand out, that becomes a threat. Most of them won’t hesitate to throw you under the bus.”

Taking Control

Evelyn Williams, associate vice president of leadership development/professor of practice at Wake Forest University Schools of Business, stresses that if employees understand their boss’s work style, they will have a road map to help them deliver work that will please even a difficult boss.

Williams suggests that employees ask themselves the following questions:

· How does my boss like to communicate?
· Does my boss focus on details or big-picture thinking?
· Which is more important to my boss: analysis and data or human relationships?
· Does my boss use introverted or extroverted discussion patterns?
· When it comes to decisions, does my boss like quick resolution or decision by committee?

“Knowing the answers to these questions allows you to take control of your working relationship and do a good job of managing up,” said Williams. “You won’t feel like the victim and will have control of how to manage the relationship since there are multiple ways to accomplish these tasks.”

Both Ungerleider and Williams encourage employees to seek validation from their coworkers and learn whether others share their concerns. This can include networking outside of an employee’s own department to tracking decisions and assignments so the employee and boss can agree on terms of workload and delivery.

Remember: You might have a difficult boss, but that doesn’t mean he or she is a psychopath. Employees might be quick to label an overwhelmed or nasty boss as “psycho” even if the boss truly does not exhibit psychopathic traits.

“Sometimes people put a boss in that category because they’re being treated badly, but those are bad actions or bad decisions, not a personality disorder,” Ungerleider pointed out.

The original study regarding corporate professionals with psychopathic traits, “Corporate Psychology: Talking the Walk,” by lead author Paul Babiak, was published in Behavioral Sciences & the Law.

About the Author

Laura Walter

Laura Walter was formerly senior editor of EHS Today. She is a subject matter expert in EHS compliance and government issues and has covered a variety of topics relating to occupational safety and health. Her writing has earned awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), the Trade Association Business Publications International (TABPI) and APEX Awards for Publication Excellence. Her debut novel, Body of Stars (Dutton) was published in 2021.

Sponsored Recommendations

Free Webinar: ISO 45001 – A Commitment to Occupational Health, Safety & Personal Wellness

May 30, 2024
Secure a safer and more productive workplace using proven Management Systems ISO 45001 and ISO 45003.

ISO 45003 – Psychological Health and Safety at Work

May 30, 2024
ISO 45003 offers a comprehensive framework to expand your existing occupational health and safety program, helping you mitigate psychosocial risks and promote overall employee...

DH Pace, national door and dock provider, reduces TRIR and claims with EHS solution

May 29, 2024
Find out how DH Pace moved from paper/email/excel to an EHS platform, changing their culture. They reduced TRIR from 4.8 to 1.46 and improved their ability to bid on and win contracts...

Case Study: Improve TRIR from 4+ to 1 with EHS Solution and Safety Training

May 29, 2024
Safety training and EHS solutions improve TRIR for Complete Mechanical Services, leading to increased business. Moving incidents, training, and other EHS procedures into the digital...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!