Monday, 14 January 2013

The Office Psychopath

This post is going to have a very personal flavor to it and is probably a little off the usual blog topics for a Virtual Assistant.

A friend came to me recently describing some issues she was having with a new employee at her company.  Issues that were to me, hauntingly familar.  This new employee was stealing her work and passing it off as her own, lying to her manager and colleagues, making unrealistic promises to customers and destroying my friend’s credibility and reputation within the company.  The new “star employee” was very good at destroying any evidence and positioning themselves always in the rosiest light with management.  My friend’s complaints were falling on deaf ears with her boss and her boss’s boss and she was seen as being petty and simply feeling threatened by a good performer.

Many years ago in my corporate life, I was unlucky enough to encounter  an  “Office Psychopath”.  What on Earth is an office Psychopath?  Let’s be clear here.  I’m not talking about the average pain in the backside or difficult person that you encounter in every office or life in general or a simple personality clash.   Not all difficult to work with/for people are psychopaths.  

It is estimated that true psychopaths only make up 1-3 percent of the population, so your chances of encountering one are pretty slim.  These people have very specific behaviours and characteristics that distinguish them from your average pain in the arse.  And the worst part… there is no cure.

An office psychopath is is cold, calculating and not able to feel any empathy for another human being, largely unable to distinguish between right and wrong.  Usually highly intelligent, they operate purely to satisfy their own pshycological gratification.   If you have been lucky enough to go your whole working life without meeting one, consider yourself lucky.  

The term was coined in a book by John Clarke entitled “Working with Monsters”.  A book I read after having worked with one.  If you haven’t read the book, get it.  It’s a fascinating read.  If you think you might be in the same boat as my friend definitely read it.  It will help you understand what you are dealing with.

John Clarke is a trained psychologist and criminologist by trade.  He now works as a consultant to corporations experiencing problems with suspected workplace psychopaths and repairing the damage just one of these individuals can wreak in an office.

If you think you might be working for one, I’ll offer you the same advice I gave my friend “Get out, get out now” .  The only “cure” for the situation is to leave.  These people destroy careers and destroy self esteem.  As painful as it might be to leave an employer you really like, you cannot win this battle. 

John Clarke gives much the same advice, as often by the time management wakes up to ‘who’ the problem is, too many good staff have left and the ones that stay are miserable.  If you are an employer who has staff leaving in droves and can’t understand why, maybe you need to read this book too.  You are probably going to need professional assistance to resolve the problem.

Now that I am a Virtual Assistant I have a lot more say in who I decide to work with.  Should I ever be unluckly enough to encounter another one I will give them a wide berth.  Sadly for my friend she does not have the same flexibility and she is looking for a new position.

To anyone else in the same situation, I wish you luck with your search.

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