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Carreer Connexion by Michele Majul-IbarraWorkplace psychopaths

by Michele Majul-Ibarra, IPMA-ACP

In Hollywood movies, psychopaths are portrayed as serial killers, murderers and even horrible bosses at work. What comes to my mind when thinking about the epitome of a psychopath in the workplace is Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada. You will also recall other characters like Patrick Bateman from American Psycho and Frank Abagnale Jr. from Catch Me If You Can.

New research by forensic psychologist Nathan Brooks and colleagues Dr. Katarina Fritzon of Bond University and Dr. Simon Croom of the University of San Diego looked at the psychopathic traits of people working in the business sector. Their research was presented at the Australian Psychological Society Congress in Melbourne in September of 2016.

Their study found that 21 per cent of 261 corporate professionals in the supply chain management industry had clinically significant levels of psychopathic traits. This rate was comparable to the proportion found in prisons. In the general public, the frequency of people with psychopathic tendencies is one in 100.

A psychopathic person has many traits that are visible to those who interact with them. For some, their pretentious charm and lavish sense of self make them amiable at first meeting. The ability of a psychopath to impress others with entertaining stories about themselves and their accomplishments can result in instant camaraderie. These personalities often make long-lasting impressions, however, not all workplace psychopaths exhibit the same behaviours.

According to one expert, Dr. Kellie Vincent MBA Director at Westminster Business School, there are eight tell tale signs to determine whether or not a person is psychopathic.

1. Charming: They are smooth talkers. You may also think of them as slick entertainers who are highly enigmatic and charismatic

2. They lie a lot: They lie but they manage to talk themselves out of trouble.

3. Manipulative: They show expressions of self-regard, condescending and verbal abuse, without any ability to acknowledge the feelings of others. They are usually very good at defrauding people with the ability to convince people to do their dirty work for them.

4. Arrogant: Psychopaths are highly arrogant with an immense sense of their own value and as such tend to behave above the rules.

5. Lack of remorse: Psychopaths rarely feel bad about their actions and they are ruthless in the way they treat colleagues to pursue their own careers.

6. Shallow and cold: They rarely show any type of emotion.

7. Zero empathy: Self-centered, condescending and verbally abusive, without any capacity to recognize the feelings of others.

8. Lacking responsibility: They blame others for mistakes and take credit for others’ success.

The question now is what if they are just a desk away or a workstation away? How can this person be dealt with? According to Dr. Vincent, one key point to remember is that psychopaths are intelligent people. They have not yet been caught and are alert enough to conceal their actions. The best advice is really to avoid them as long as possible and not to be exposed to their manipulative behaviour. Seeking HR support is also a good way to address the issue.

This article is intended for information purposes only and not to be considered as professional advice.


  • “Do Psychopaths exist in the workplace?”- April 16, 2007 issue of Pilipino Express (Career Connexion)
  • https://leb.fbi.gov/2012/november/the-corporate-psychopath
  • http://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace-relations/one-in-five-bosses-is-a-psychopath-research-reveals-20160913-greyg6.html
  • http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-3673752/Is-boss-psychopath-Expert-shares-fool-proof-guide-spotting-one-workplace-deal-them.html

Michele Majul-Ibarra, IPMA-ACP is an Advanced Certified HR Professional through the International Personnel Management Association. She graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology and a Certificate in Human Resource Management. She also holds the C.I.M. professional designation (Certified in Management). E-mail her at info@pilipino-express.com.

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