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Psychopaths and Bullying in the Workplace

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Psychopaths and Bullying in the Workplace

Raquel K. Reyes

Research Methods

Amberton University


Personality traits will be measured based on an interview conducted by a licensed psychologist in the form of a 120 question survey. Additionally, the psychologist will then administer a verbal questionnaire of 20 additional questions as outlined in the PCL-R. The participant’s responses will be recorded manually, by the psychologist administering the interview. Furthermore, a licensed sociologist will be present in the room. The sociologist will not engage with the subject. However, he or she will record and later analyze any non-verbal communication displayed by the participant. Collectively, the results of this study will provide a useful guideline for hiring managers to become aware of the warning signs of psychopathy and potential bullies while interviewing candidates.

Psychopaths and Bullying in the Workplace

        Verbal abuse, threats, humiliation, loss of control, exclusion, and intimidation are all signs consistent with bullying in the workplace.  In a perfect world, one would be able to go to work each day without having to worry about whether he or she will fall victim to the workplace bully. No one looks forward to coming to work if the environment is hostile. Bullying in the workplace affects the victims physical and psychological health. Many victims of workplace bullying experience high levels of stress, anxiety, panic attacks, and high blood pressure.

Additionally, workers with lower self-esteem and confidence levels may disengage from their work responsibilities, therefore, decreasing productivity. As a result, when bullying is taking place, an organization may experience higher turnover rates, higher absenteeism, and lower levels of morale. Consequently, workplace bullying costs the company money in the long term.

Identifying potential candidates for new positions who exhibit psychopathic personality traits may enable an organization to make better decisions before the hiring process takes place. The purpose of the study is to determine whether certain personality traits present in clinical psychopathy are predictors of bullying in the workplace. A person exhibiting psychopathic behavior is antisocial, aggressive, manipulative, reckless, and deceitful (Boddy, 2011).  

        As part of the study, the investigation includes one research hypothesis:

1. The more psychopathic personality traits that a person has, the more likely that person will be to inflict or participate in activities of bullying.

Literature Review

Shared traits of bullies and psychopaths

Nowadays the terms ‘workplace bully’ and ‘Corporate Psychopath’ are receiving a lot of the same heat. It stands to argue that this is because the common bully and clinical psychopath share several of the same characteristics and behaviors. Personality traits present in bullies and workplace psychopaths are narcissism, lack of self-regulation, lack of remorse, lack of conscience, taking credit for another person’s work, and the skill of manipulation (Boddy, 2011). Bullying is the act of repeating behaviors that are unreasonable and may cause or have the potential of causing harm (Caponeccia, Sun, & Wyatt, 2012). Workplace bullies and Corporate Psychopaths display behaviors that include social and physical isolation, withholding information or resources from subordinates, undermining others, public criticism, gossiping, assigning unreasonable workloads or deadlines, and excessively monitoring the work of others (Caponeccia et al., 2012).

Verschuere et al. (2017) conducted a study that consisted of two groups within the United States and a sample that resided in the Netherlands. The sample groups included 1,559 prison or mental health offenders that resided in the National Institute of Mental Health, 3,954 offenders in the Wisconsin state prison, and an additional 1,937 Dutch offenders that resided in the Netherlands who were considered violent and mentally disordered (Verschuere et al., 2017). All of the members in each group were predominantly male with an average age of 30 to 39 years old (Verschuere et al., 2017). However, it is important to note that within the study, the sample group of participants in the United States generally contained non-mentally ill prisoners, and the Dutch sample contained primarily forensic psychiatric patients (Verschuere et al., 2017). The study resulted in a positive correlation in all three groups between psychopathy and the central personality traits for the lack of empathy and remorse (Verschuere et al., 2017).  

The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) outlines characteristics used to determine whether a person is considered psychopathic. The PCL-R assessments are in-depth interviews completed by trained personnel that use the pre-determined rating scale (Walsh, T. & Walsh, Z., 2006). The PCL-R includes questions that relate to factors such as fearlessness, callousness or lack of empathy, detachedness, level of manipulative, pathological lying, poor behavior control, and antisocial traits (Verschuere et al., 2017). The PCL-R assessment consists of 20-items and uses a three-point scoring system that ranges from 0-40 (Walsh, T. & Walsh, Z., 2006). Subjects that score 30 or higher are considered psychopaths (Walsh, T. & Walsh, Z., 2006).

Boddy’s (2011) study consisted of 346 well educated, white collared workers (53.8% male), between the ages of 21 and 60, with 60.5% being over the age of 40 all of whom completed a self-reported questionnaire. Based on the results, there was a strong correlation between the occurrence of workplace bullying and the presence of a Corporate Psychopath (Boddy, 2011). Consequently, an astounding 93.3% of employees witnessed unfavorable bullying behavior when working in organizations where corporate psychopaths were present (Boddy, 2011).

Comparatively, Valentine, Fleischman, and Godkin’s (2018) questionnaire of 356 sales professionals, who were on average 39 years old and predominantly white (70%) males (59.9%) revealed that bullying experiences and psychopathic attitudes are positively related.

Personal and organizational impacts

        The target of a bully will experience both physical, emotional, and psychological side effects of the exposure to the adverse treatment. Caponecchia et al. (2012) point out that many victims falling prey to such acts experience depression, feelings of anxiety, signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sleeplessness, nausea, and fatigue. Furthermore, Parker (2014) linked several emotional responses that included shock, despair, anger, and helplessness to bullying. Moreover, employees who are victims of bullying are at high risk for suicide, have negative attitudes towards work, experience lower psychological health, and are at a higher risk of general health issues (Parker, 2014).

As a result, a target of workplace bullying has an overall decrease in his or her performance and diminishing levels of workplace morale and motivation; which, in turn, reduces productivity and increases turnover (Parker, 2014). Additionally, the research study by Valentine et al. (2018) revealed a positive relationship between unethical corporate values and bullying.

Unfortunately, research also shows that a person who is a receptor of bullying is more likely to bully others in retaliation, especially when his or her attitudes are consistent with latent psychopathy (Valentine et al., 2018). These findings are significant when assessing the overall effect that both Corporate Psychopaths and bullying have on the organization as a whole. For example, when a member of management bullies a person, the retaliation put forth by the victim of being counterproductive at work ends up hurting the organization rather than the specific instigator of the bullying. Boddy (2011) brings to the forefront, for example, the costs to a company that bullying and Corporate Psychopaths inflict citing that bullying costs the United Kingdom economy £13.75 billion per year; which equates to approximately 18.4 billion US dollars. Consequently, the organization may experience damage to its reputation (Parker, 2014).

Regrettably, most of the participants in Parker’s (2014) study described the workplace bully as ‘the ultimate silencer’ as most of the women’s supervisors employed verbal tactics aimed to shut down the women’s complaints by either ignoring the comments or making fun of the person in public. The women described their bully bosses as ridiculing and threatening and often reprimanding the women when their differing opinions were shared (Parker, 2014). In light of this type of environment, the women did not feel safe or welcome within the organization. It is no wonder why their fear of retaliation increased their levels of anxiety and insecurity about the working environment (Parker, 2014).

Leadership involvement

        Parker (2014) pointed out that as of 2007, 72% of bullies in the workplace were members of leadership and outranked their targets by at least one level. Although 72% is a shocking statistic of workplace bullies, it does not mean that all members of leadership portray bullying behavior. Leadership that is tough and demanding of its staff is acceptable to employees. However, if leadership singles out a subset of employees to receive severe treatment, most will consider the tactic as bullying (Parker, 2014). It makes sense that a Corporate Psychopath uses the tactic of bullying to intimidate subordinates, as psychopaths typically have no regard for others and they quite enjoy the act of hurting others (Boddy, 2011).


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