Diary of a Bully – Corporate Psychopaths

imagesWorkplace bullying is an insidious beast. It is not always physical bullying, although it can be that too. It can subtle, unseen and extremely manipulative. Of course workplace bullying can take many forms. It can be harassment or discrimination. It can be verbal abuse or physical abuse. While no bullying is good, in some ways the more obvious bullying can be easier to deal with. For example physical bullying can leave physical damage and can be witnessed. In this way there is evidence that forces action. The bullying that is hard to deal with is the subtle, conniving and systemic psychological abuse.

Typically such psychological abuse is carried out by managers in offices but it is not limited to these places. In many workplaces there are what is known as corporate psychopaths. Mckenzie Friends describes corporate psychopaths as, “ …deceitful, cold hearted manipulators bent on obtaining power for its own sake. Devoid of empathy they are reckless and leave a trail of corporate destruction, wrecked careers and a legacy of fear.” More alarmingly Mckenzie Friends claims that one in ten managers are corporate psychopaths. [1]

Friends provides a vivid description of the corporate psychopath; “Corporate Psychopaths are typically articulate, charming and confident, and thrive in businesses with autocratic management cultures where they can curry favour with peers and superiors while causing misery for those who report to them. Corporate Psychopaths get rid of good productive staff, claiming them to be deadwood. Because the psychopath is a glib non performer he must remove anyone who could recognise him for what he is. He will introduce meaningless reforms and endless reviews to cover up lack of productivity. It is typical that the psychopath will leave a position before the damage they have done is revealed.”

When one meets a corporate psychopath for the first time they often will find them typically charming. They smile at you and are warm and welcoming. They might introduce you to the workplace as if you are their new best friend. They might even have a slap bang lunch for you to introduce you to your new workmates. At the start they make the new worker feel like a million dollars.

If you have a disability the corporate psychopath will often preen over you like a doting parent for a while. Your every need is their command. No stone is left unturned. The motive of the corporate psychopath is not as pure as it seems. They have an ulterior motive and that motive is to protect themselves from any sort of complaint that could unhinge their otherwise perfect world. Paul Babiak calls this the façade.[2] Of course not all managers are like this. Most are just decent people who want to make sure that you are set up for work.

The other motive might be that they want the person with a disability to feel indebted to them. Because the corporate psychopath has ensured the worker with a disability has their workplace needs met they expect a certain amount of gratitude. They see having invested the time to set up the support as a sort of power game. From that time on they expect subordination. They have “helped” and the worker with a disability is now forever in their debt. Babiak believes this behaviour is common in the corporate psychopath, mainly a grandiose sense of their own worth.

Of course sometimes the support that is needed might actually be provided by the manager. For example for a worker who is deaf and uses captioning or Auslan interpreters for large meetings taking notes is difficult. If one of the tasks is to minute meetings then assistance is required. Some managers, if they are part of the meeting, might offer to take notes that the worker can later type up as minutes.

But the corporate psychopath is conniving. They might actually resent having to take notes. It’s another responsibility that they would rather not have. They might use the assistance they are providing as a means to control the worker who is deaf. Requests for the completed notes so that the minutes can be completed might be ignored. There may be several requests for the notes and the manager might say that they, “just need to tidy them up” What actually often can happen is that the notes are deliberately provided at the last minute so that the deaf worker is frantically scrambling to get them out on time. The corporate psychopaths then blames the worker who is deaf for the lateness and berates them for being disorganised. It is a sly game that they play.

The worker with a disability is often simply excellent at their job. So good, in fact, that their manager is taken by surprise. The worker with a disability might actually have enormous influence and be promoting positive change. Rather than embrace and celebrate this influence and success the corporate psychopath feels inadequate. How dare this disabled upstart kick goals that the manager cannot get credit for. How dare they have influence that might actually involve spending money. God forbid that the manager will have to argue for and explain this expenditure to their superiors.

Babiak explains that many corporate psychopaths are hell bent on causing damage, they prey on people that they think are weak and vulnerable. They try to keep these people down in the pecking order. If these people look like making waves the corporate psychopath will seek to keep them in their place, even if this prevents positive progress.

This can manifest in different ways. The corporate psychopath may take credit for work that actually isn’t theirs. They will purport to be the author of plans and papers when in fact these documents were largely developed by their ‘victims’. This is how they curry favour with their superiors. Such behaviour can make the victim feel undervalued and worthless.

Sometimes a corporate psychopath may bully by consistently refusing to read the ‘victims’ work or suggestions. Sometimes the corporate psychopath may seek to demoralise the ‘victim’ by refusing to approve funding or give permission to carry out certain tasks. They may refuse to offer these approvals for months at a time making it virtually impossible for the ‘victim’ to meet deadlines. In delaying these approvals the corporate psychopath offers no apologies nor will they acknowledge the difficulties that long delays in these approvals is causing. In this way they single out and isolate their ‘victims’.

The corporate psychopath often comes across as helpful and supportive but they are anything but. There may be times that other work colleaagues are acting unprofessionally. For example workers may simply stop responding to emails for weeks and months at a time. They may constantly cancel meetings. Or they may ask for things within a short time frame, even though they have had plenty of time to requests these things.

When such unprofessional behaviours are raised with the manager who is a corporate psychopath such managers simply refuse to address or acknowledge the behaviour of others. They will place the responsibility and blame on the ‘victim’ rather than address the offending behaviour. When deadlines are not met and projects are not completed on time, because other workers did not follow through as promised, the corporate psychopath will blame their ‘victim’. The corporate psychopath will demand unrealistic time frames for completion of tasks even though they know these tasks cannot be completed until other people fulfil their responsibilities. In this way their ‘victims’ are made to feel incompetent.

And sometimes the corporate psychopath simply sees their ‘victim’ as not worth the effort anymore. It does not matter what the real story is or how good the ‘victim’ might be at their job, the corporate psychopaths sees the ‘victim’ as a threat. Such managers may see their ‘victims’ as a threat because the ‘victim’ simply refuses to comply and sticks diligently to their principles. The corporate psychopath, knowing that they cannot get rid of the ‘victim’ on performance alone, seeks to cast doubt in the ‘victims’ mind. In private meetings such managers might suggest that the skills and attributes of the ‘victim’ might be better utilised in a different job. They might even offer to be the ‘victims’ referee and suggest jobs that might be worth applying for. They do so to make the ‘victim’ feel unwanted in the hope that the ‘victim’ will resign on their own accord.

And all of this behaviour is really hard to prove. The bullying is largely done behind closed doors. It is so subtle that it is hard to detect and prove. When challenged, the corporate psychopath will deny any wrong doing. Indeed many work places, in the absence of any physical evidence, simply refuse to address the issue. Indeed such workplace bullies like corporate psychopaths are largely protected from any action and rarely held to account. Evelyn M Field states that workplace bullies such as corporate psychopaths are rarely:

  • Investigated from a historical perspective (previous bullying or previous jobs).
  • Investigated from a systemic perspective (who else is being bullied by them at work).
  • Have their performance appraisals compared to their staff relationships.
  • Checked against witness reports or videotaped.
  • Referred for a psychiatric/psychological referral (unlike their targets).
  • Given coaching to change [3]

And so they continue on their path of negative destruction until either their ‘victim’ resigns or is psychologically damaged. How this psychological damage manifests will be discussed in the next instalment of The Diary of a Bully.


[1] http://www.mckenziefriends.com.au/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=27

[2] http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/november-2012/the-corporate-psychopath

[3] http://www.bullying.com.au/workplace-bullying/the-workplace-bully.php

Diary of a Bully

untitledThere is a fabulous site on workplace bullying called Bullying Online. It outlines what workplace bullying is and how it manifests itself in the workplace. My previous workplace will deny it until they are blue in the face but the facts of the matter are that I was bullied and victimized in the most horrific way. This series of articles are the diary of a bully. There is not just one bully in this story; rather there are a few. I will use this website to highlight how systematic bullying occurred at my previous workplace. My story will be presented over a series of articles.

The Bullying Online site outlines three ways in which people are bullied in the workplace. These are:

Isolation – This can take the form of constant nitpicking focusing on trivial issues instead of the big picture, refusal to acknowledge the contribution of the worker and undermining the value and worth of the worker.

Control and Subjugation – This includes being constantly singled out and treated differently, being belittled and the setting of unrealistic expectations that cannot be achieved.

Elimination – This includes misrepresenting and distorting what the worker says, being subject to disciplinary procedures for trivial offences, being pressured to resign and being dismissed on allegations that have no basis in fact.

This site was a godsend to me because it enabled me to label the behaviours and actions of the people that bullied me. I encourage anyone that feels that they have been bullied in the workplace to consult this site. I will use these headings throughout this series of articles to describe the bullying that I was subject to. Readers can find this important information at – http://www.bullyonline.org/workbully/amibeing.htm#what_is_workplace_bullying

The core business of my previous workplace is political and very much focused on image. They are focused on ticking boxes, the hierarchy of control and maintaining the status quo. My role has always been as a change agent. I create change and advocate for that. I am not too concerned about image. Besides, what better image can you have than to lead the nation in promoting first class inclusion for people with a disability? That is, and will always be, my focus.

Now my experience in disability is very broad. I have worked with many disability groups and been responsible for a myriad of programs that have promoted and improved the lot of people with a disability. That is over 25 years. I am not, and never will be, a bureaucrat. A bureaucrat is a person that is hell bent on making sure things run smoothly. Having to change how things are done and commit an organization to a process of positive change that requires a significant financial outlay is not something that sits well with them.

Now as an experienced disability person I know my stuff. I have contacts everywhere. I develop strong arguments and back them up with convincing evidence of need. I am not a person that produces booklets about how to communicate with the deaf and CDs showing inspiring achievements of people with a disability. I strive for real and sustainable change. I develop arguments that are difficult to refute and get these arguments backed with evidence from around the nation. For a person who has to supervise me, and one that has little experience of disability, this can be intimidating.

Sure it sounds like I have tickets on myself but I am trying to paint a picture where my immediate supervisor is someone that has a very narrow focus or experience in disability and they have to supervise someone who has far superior experience and knowledge. The focus of these people is often about care and being inspired. It is about people with a disability beating all challenges put before them. It is about a society that “looks after them.” As such people with a disability in these circumstances have little power and are pitied.

Here is someone, me, who is not interested in this sort of melodrama. All I am interested in is real and concrete changes that enhance inclusion for people with a disability. This requires investment of a significant kind. Of course for the bureaucrat this is frightening. Rather than embrace positive change and investment in people with a disability the bureaucrat chooses to control and suppress in the hope of protecting the organization from a significant financial outlay.

There is also the age old disabled and non-disabled power struggle. Recently I met a person who was a previous employee of where I worked. We were having a beer and this person, startlingly, told me she knew what had happened during my job interview. It seems that one of the panel members had breached confidentiality and told her what had happened. Apparently at my interview the panel had been split. There were people who were for me and people who were against me. It seems that they generally agreed that my experience and skills were the best of the people that were interviewed. However, one of the more powerful people on the panel was hesitant. This person felt it would be “too hard” to employ me because communication would be too difficult.

It was apparently argued that this was illegal and discrimination. It was argued that I was the best candidate and that should be it. In the end sanity prevailed and they offered me the job. What this demonstrates is that for people with a disability employment is not an even playing field. The people in power often do not like change. In this situation employing me would entail change. It also entails a certain expense in paying for interpreters. These are the challenges that people with a disability face. It is not just a straight argument about whether the individual with a disability is the best person for the job, other factors like prejudice, ignorance and basic economics come into play.

Clearly it can be an uphill battle for people with a disability to get employment. Indeed the Blog, Heart of a Nation, points out that, “If you say you are disabled on your job application form, you are six times more likely not to be interviewed. If you get an interview, you are six times more likely to be rejected for the job. And if we look at the question of wages, most disabled people are forced into poorly paid, low skilled jobs. That’s the reality of life for disabled people in the job market.”

There is a clear power imbalance to the point where it can be argued that people with a disability are an oppressed minority. It is an unpalatable fact that many people who do not have a lot of experience of people with a disability have a rather warped view of disability. They will let all and sundry know that they believe people with a disability have the right to equal opportunity. But the reality of their view of people with a disability is quite different. To them it is not “normal” for people with a disability to be employed it is “exceptional”. It is an inspiring thing. They believe they are “helping” … Because they are helping they sub-consciously feel an element of power.

I strongly believe that when I was successful in winning this position my direct manager wanted it to be a success. I also believe that by employing me she got what might be called, ‘warm fuzzies’. Now I am anything but warm and fuzzy. I am direct and I take change seriously. I take people on and challenge the system. Incremental change is fine to a point but incremental change is also responsible for the pace of change for people with a disability being excruciatingly slow. I am, to put it mildly, a brute of an advocate.

I have a theory that this shook my manager to the core. By advocating to employ me she felt that she had done her bit for society. She had argued for the employment of a person with a disability. Sub-consciously she probably felt I needed to be grateful to her. Sub-consciously her perception of people with a disability is one where it’s a social contribution rather than a business decision to employ them. That a person with a disability might be her equal, even her superior, is and probably remains a foreign concept to her.

It is all a theory really, but to my mind there are few workplaces where people with a disability are seen as equals. So when I arrived at my place of work there was an expectation that I was being helped, that it was a nice thing to do and that it would be a matter of simply leading me gently, so to speak. It didn’t work out that way and very soon after I started I am pretty sure that my manager knew I wasn’t to be trifled with.

She knew that I had the potential to be a very, very powerful influence. I believe that this scared her and others of her ilk out of their wits. As soon as they realized this they set out on a none too subtle path to control me. Later, because my knowledge and my influence were far beyond what they imagined, they realized that controlling me was going to be difficult. Once they realized this they set on a strategy to force me out. This strategy was one of constructive dismissal.

Over the next few weeks I will outline in detail a horrific story of bullying and victimization that occurred over a period of almost two years. What happened to me is not unique. It has happened to many people. In writing this I will probably have to forgo the possibility of any compensation from the organization that I worked for. But that is not important. What is important is that people should never be subject to the treatment I was subject to. But they are and we have to do everything within our power to stop it.

It will not be pretty reading but it will be a compelling and important to document. I urge you to read and share the articles that will follow as widely as possible. What happened to me should not happen to anyone. Help create awareness of bullying in the workplace, particularly as it relates to people with a disability.