Antisocial Behavior in the Corporate Environment: Prevalence and Implications

A few years ago I heard a fragmented comment on a radio station, while driving home from the office, about a study by an American psychiatrist regarding the incidence of behaviour psychopathic in the corporate environment. I did not withhold the name of the author or the title of the study, but one of the statements cited by the commenter caught my attention: “Politics and the business world are the two fields with the highest prevalence of psychopaths in leadership positions.”

Although I am not a behavioral professional, I found the subject intriguing, and although I am not certain that I have found the same study, my further investigations and findings seem to corroborate the claim.

The most prominent available studies agree that, as in the political exercise, in the business sphere, the lack of empathy or a moral compass (distinctive features of an antisocial profile), could, in certain circumstances, provide a significant competitive advantage.

Psychopathy and Sociopathy are terms frequently used interchangeably, although academics establish subtle differences in their traits and attribute psychopathy to genetic factors, considering sociopathy as an acquired condition. Despite the differences, both conditions are characterized by manipulation, an inability to accept responsibility for actions, disregard for the well-being of others, and an obsessive need to control.

An antisocial behavior does not automatically carry the label of psychopath or sociopath, conditions whose diagnosis requires the competence of a specialist, but the reiteration of certain behaviors, in a professional environment, should activate certain alarms.

In a career spanning more than 25 years, serving primarily manufacturing companies, I have seen employers behaviour “suspicious” are frequently ignored or minimized, sometimes strengthening, within organizations, the position of those who exhibit them.

In “Corporate Psychopathy: Talking the Walk”, a study by Paul Babiak, Craig S. Neumann, and Robert D. Hare (published online April 6, 2010, in Wiley InterScience), researchers examined psychopathic traits and their correlates in a sample of 203 corporate professionals from seven Business. 158 participants held management positions (managers, directors, vice presidents), 45 were individual contributors considered by their managers as potential leaders.

Scoring was based on the PCL-R, a 20-item rating scale that uses semi-structured interviews, medical history information, and specific scoring criteria to rate each item on a three-point scale.

In the model, the total scores can range from 0 to 40 and reflect the degree to which the person matches the prototypical psychopathic profile.

Psychopathy is supported by four correlated dimensions: interpersonal (superficial glibness/charm, exaggerated sense of self-esteem, pathological lying, cheating/manipulation); Affective (lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affect, callousness/lack of empathyfailure to accept responsibility for actions); Lifestyle (need for stimulation/prone to boredom, parasitic lifestyle, lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsiveness, irresponsibility); Y Antisocial (referred, in the context of the study, to “poor behavioral controls”, although other specialists use the term “antisocial personality” to encompass the characteristics of a psychopathic or sociopathic profile).

Results were compared to the community sample from the MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study, one of the few studies of psychopathy conducted in an urban community. The community data in the MacArthur assessment represents a stratified random sample of 514 people between the ages of 18 and 40 who were assessed on the PCL:SV Psychopathy Checklist, an equivalent tool.

In the corporate study, the PCL-R total score ranged from 0 to 34, with a mean of 3.64. The majority of the scores (80%) were between 0 and 3. However, nine of the participants (4.4%) had a score of 25 or more, eight (3.9%) had a score of 30 or more (the common research threshold for psychopathy; Hare, 2003), two had a score of 33, and one had a score of 34.

A PCL:SV score of at least 13 is considered an indication of “potential” or “possible” psychopathy (eg, Coid et al., 2009; Monahan et al., 2000). In the corporate sample, 5.9% of participants scored 13 or higher, compared to 1.2% in the MacArthur community sample. Additionally, 3% of participants in the corporate sample had a PCL:SV score equivalent to 18 (comparable to a PCL-R score of 30), compared to only 0.2% in the MacArthur community sample.

In their conclusion, the researchers state that “the results provide evidence that a high level of psychopathic traits does not necessarily impede progress and advancement in corporate organizations. Most of the participants with high psychopathy scores were in high-ranking executive positions and had been invited by their companies to participate in management development programs…”.

In an earlier section, the study states: “It is easy to confuse psychopathic traits with specific leadership traits. For example, charm and grandiosity can be confused with self-confidence or a charismatic leadership style; Likewise, presentation, communication and perception management skills reinforce that image. The manipulative ability of the psychopath may appear to be the ability to influence and persuade, the mark of an effective leader… even those traits that reflect a severe lack of human feeling or emotional poverty (lack of remorse, guilt, or guilt). empathy) can be put in the service of corporate psychopaths, where being ‘tough’ (making difficult and unpopular decisions)… could work in their favor. In short, the same characteristics that make the psychopath undesirable in society can facilitate a career in business…”.

A more recent study, “Will we serve the Dark Lords? A Meta-Analytic Review of Psychopathy and Leadership” by Karen Landay, PD Harms (both from the University of Alabama), and Marcus Credé (from Iowa State University) published by the Journal of Applied Psychology in August 2018, used statistical techniques to merge data from previous research and, acknowledging its limitations, “considering the small number of empirical studies available…and the lack of agreement on a common metric” concluded that “people with psychopathic tendencies are, in fact, somewhat more likely to emerge as leaders.” In addition, the analysis suggested that gender conditioned these links, so that “women are penalized for showing psychopathic tendencies, but men can be rewarded for similar behaviors.”

Could people with marked psychopathic tendencies contain their impulses in a healthy work environment? Whether this is plausible or not, companies should at least establish mechanisms to identify and address behaviour antisocial.

In a former employer’s Performance Evaluation Form, a section, titled “Self-Awareness and Adaptability,” included questions that were intended to induce both raters and raters some reflection on the individual’s ability to “step into the shoes of the individual.” of the other”, accept responsibility for their actions, or place the general interest above their own interests.

The rush and immediacy in the business environment often induce superficiality, so personnel evaluations can be heavily influenced by perceptions built on the basis of hasty interactions. Therefore, the inclusion, in the formal evaluation processes, of chapters that highlight the relevance of traits of behaviour that are not always obvious, could serve to turn them into a topic of discussion.

In essence, the organizational culture of a company could be the fundamental aspect to encourage or stop potentially harmful behaviors.

In a work environment where unfair internal competition, islands of power, and coercive practices are the norm, intimidation, grandiosity, and manipulation can be mistaken for courage, leadership, and commitment.

In a collaborative, trusting and servant leadership environment, the behaviour egocentric or dissociative hardly go unnoticed.

make of the empathytransparency and introspection central themes of the training and mentoring programs of companies, as indicators of integrity instead of signs of weakness (as is sometimes inferred), can contribute to forming a healthy organizational culture.

Being inherent in the nature of a significant part of the population, the idea of ​​suppressing the behaviour antisocial (be it psychopathy or sociopathy) of the corporate environment seems unrealistic. Acknowledging it, however, could help contain its impact.


Antisocial Behavior in the Corporate Environment: Prevalence and Implications