Corporate bullies may make spellbinding film leads for a couple of hours — think Michael Douglas’ Gordon Gekko or Leonardo Di Caprio’s Wolf of Wall Street—but in real life, they wreak havoc on workers and businesses.
Miranda, a journalist for a Dutch news agency for 20 years, who did not want her last name used for fear of harming professional relationships, said she once worked for a tyrannical, manipulative manager. “Everyone would get blamed if things went wrong,” she said. “There were overnight emails copied to everyone, where a person would get humiliated.”
His actions undermined stability and trust. “Middle managers and editors were fighting between themselves to be his favourite,” she added. “He was very Machiavellian, playing everyone off [against] each other.”
Though these office monsters are often portrayed on-screen as mostly harmless anti-heroes, there is growing anxiety over a large crossover between bullying in the workplace and what’s being termed ‘corporate psychopathy.’
Psychopaths loot corporations. — Oliver James
Post global financial crisis, a growing body of research has accumulated on the bad behaviour of corporate bullies — in particular in the banking sector. The research is beginning to pinpoint traits that are no longer deemed just nasty and disruptive, but altogether psychopathic, experts suggest.
The clinical list of common psychopathic traits — which include a lack of remorse, charm that can be turned on and off like a spigot, egocentricity, lying, manipulativeness, impulsiveness and emotional poverty — are prevalent among people drawn to positions of power.
It is important to make the distinction between psychopathic behaviour and psychotic. Psychosis is a symptom of mental illness. Broad speaking, it means someone has lost contact with reality. When psychologists talk about psychopaths, however, they are talking about a person with a personality disorder showing a distinct set of characteristics such as ruthlessness, charm and extreme coolness under pressure, as well as a lack of empathy and conscience. These traits often crop up among personality types looking for wealth, glory and the need to control others, the experts say.