By Miriam Hall
An Australian psychotherapist is urging employers to watch out for workplace psychopaths, who he says are more common than generally thought.
Doctor John Clarke says workplace psychopaths exist in most large organizations and can isolate and mentally destroy the staff around them.
Speaking at the Tasmanian Work Health & Safety Conference, Dr Clarke said the only way to win the war against these psychopaths is to refuse to tolerate their damaging behavior.
“When people think of psychopath, they think of a serial killer or a rapist. And they are fairly similar things,” he said.
“The workplace psychopath is somebody who psychologically destroys the people they work with to feed their need for a sense of power and control and domination over other human beings.
“They don’t suffer any guilt or remorse, or in fact they enjoy the suffering of other people.”
Dr Clarke consults with employers who have a psychopath working for them.
He says between 1 and 3 per cent of the adult population is a psychopath.
“From a business point of view they cause very high staff turnover rates, which is expensive to the organization,” he said.
“From an employee point of view, they cause things like anxiety disorders and depression. I have had a number of cases where the victim has taken their own life.”
Dr Clarke describes workplace psychopaths as difficult to identify, usually because they are generally well-liked and competent at their jobs.
But he says for victims, working with psychopaths is intolerable and those psychopaths must be dealt with.
“There’s two angles that workplaces should do. Number one, they should look at screening – not for psychopathy per se, but psychopaths will generally lie about their job experience, etc.” he said.
“So workplaces need to be far more vigilant in screening or checking employees in their organization so you don’t employ to psychopaths to start.
“The second thing workplaces should do is put a management position strategy in place – maybe not giving the psychopath access to highly vulnerable people or victims, so that they’re protecting the majority of employees in the organization.”
While Dr Clarke is warning about psychopaths in workplaces, he does caution that they are sometimes over-diagnosed.
“The majority of people who come and see me and say, ‘I work with a workplace psychopath,’ do not. There’s a whole range of other reasons why people don’t get on,” he said.
Sociologist and workplace bullying consultant Caroline Dean says workplace bullying is endemic in its size and affect one in four people in Australia.
But she stresses people should not mistake bullying with standard staff conflict.
Ms Dean describes Australian organizations’ approach to bullying as a “too reactive”. She says bullying should be addressed before it happens, just like physical dangers in the work place.
“There’s always going to be danger zones and risk factors in organizations that could lead to a bullying situation,” she said.
“If people look at those and put preventative things in place, it’s less likely to happen. And if it does happen, or when it does happen, then people … an organization will have the capacity to deal with it better.”