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Beware: Psychos at Work

People are a company’s greatest asset, but some may be its biggest threat.

Monique Verduyn




The nature of psychopaths in the workplace has been revealed by psychopathy expert Robert Hare and industrial psychologist Paul Babiak in a riveting read entitled Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. Here we look at some important lessons to be learnt from the book.

Publishing mogul Robert Maxwell rose from poverty to build an extensive empire, which collapsed after his death. His lavish lifestyle and his business had been supported with hundreds of millions of pounds from his employees’ pension funds, leaving thousands of them destitute.

He is just one example of the psychopath that lurks in the world of work – a person without conscience and incapable of empathy, guilt, or loyalty to anyone but themselves. People who are psychopathic prey ruthlessly on others using charm, deceit and even violence to allow them to get what they want.

Robert Hare has devoted most of his academic career to the investigation of psychopathy, its nature, assessment, and implications for mental health and criminal justice. He is the author of several books, including Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us, and more than 100 articles on psychopathy. He is the developer of the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised and is also a consultant to the FBI.

Paul Babiak is an industrial and organisational psychologist and president of HRBackOffice, an executive coaching and consulting firm specialising in management development and succession planning. His work has been featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Harvard Business Review, and Fast Company.

Together, Hare and Babiak have extended the theory and research on psychopathy to the business and corporate world, developing tools to screen for psychopathic traits and behaviours.

In Snakes in Suits they explain how psychopaths manipulate their way into lucrative jobs and promotions, the effects of their presence on colleagues and companies, and the superficial similarities between leadership skills and psychopathic traits. Interlaced with a fictional narrative illustrating how the facts apply to real-life situations, it’s a fascinating and at times terrifying exploration of everyday psychopathy where it’s least expected – in the workplace.

Psychopathic Traits

So how do you spot the psycho among your work colleagues? The most reliable, widely used instrument for assessment is the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R). It rates a person’s psychopathic or antisocial tendencies. The symptoms include: lack of a conscience or sense of guilt, lack of empathy, egocentricity, pathological lying, repeated violations of social norms, disregard for the law, shallow emotions, and a history of victimising others.

The Hare PCL-R covers two key aspects that help define the psychopath: selfish and unfeeling victimisation of other people, and an unstable and antisocial lifestyle. It scores 20 items that measure central elements of the psychopathic character:

  1. Glib and superficial charm
  2. Grandiose (exaggeratedly high) estimation of self
  3. Need for stimulation
  4. Pathological lying
  5. Cunning and manipulativeness
  6. Lack of remorse or guilt
  7. Shallow affect (superficial emotional responsiveness)
  8. Callousness and lack of empathy
  9. Parasitic lifestyle
  10. Poor behavioural controls
  11. Sexual promiscuity
  12. Early behaviour problems
  13. Lack of realistic long-term goals
  14. Impulsivity
  15. Irresponsibility
  16. Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  17. Many short-term marital relationships
  18. Juvenile delinquency
  19. Revocation of conditional release
  20. Criminal versatility

When properly completed by a qualified professional, the PCL-R provides a score that indicates how closely the test subject matches the “perfect” score that a classic psychopath would rate. A prototypical psychopath would receive a maximum score of 40, while someone with absolutely no psychopathic tendencies would score zero.

Lurking Amonst Us

Less reassuring is Hare and Babiak’s estimate that 1% of a population – about 487 000 people in South Africa – are psychopaths. This number suggests that we are likely to come across at least one in the course of a typical day. Worse yet, they found that among high-potential executives psychopaths make up 3,5%.

Modus Operandi

Psychopaths are skilled individuals. According to Hare and Babiak, they have a talent for reading people and for sizing them up quickly. Smooth as silk, they identify a person’s likes and dislikes, motives, needs, weak spots and vulnerabilities. They know exactly what buttons to push, and they’re always ready to push them.

Many seem to have excellent communication skills; they will jump right into a conversation without being held back by social inhibitions. They make up for lack of substance and sincerity by adopting a confident, aggressive delivery style. They believe they deserve whatever they can take and will use the information they glean against the person they are talking to.

They are also masters of impression management and will change personas to suit the situation.

“In the great card game of life,” say Hare and Babiak, “psychopaths know what cards you hold, and they cheat.”

Some will take advantage of almost anyone – from the secretary who runs the boss’s diary, to the CEO of the company.

Because they believe they are superior and that others exist to serve them, they believe that their victims deserve what they get. Typically, they begin by assessing their prey, manipulating them to get what they want, and then abandoning them once they are no longer useful.

Although they will work almost anywhere, psychopaths have a particular predilection for jobs in companies where they can take advantage of others, make a killing, and hide as well. This makes the world of the medium and large business most attractive. Hare and Babiak point out that it’s of great help to the psychopath that the corporate world, with its often questionable norms and behaviours, may well be the perfect hunting ground for the psychopath.

Like all predators, the authors maintain, the psychopath goes where the action is. They commit fraud, steal and abuse co-workers. But first, the initial challenge for any psychopath is to be hired.

Don’t Be Fooled

The face-to-face interview is where the psychopath has an advantage. Their ability to come across as smooth, talented, bright, ambitious, sensitive, self-confident and assertive enables them to present a compelling package to the business owner or department manager – after all, this is what every employer is looking for.

With so many people being hired on the basis of perceptions, the unsuspecting interviewer can quite easily fall for the psychopaths’ technique: their convincing communications style may lead the interviewer to believe that the candidate has leadership potential well beyond the knowledge, skills, and abilities listed on their CV. So skilled are psychopaths at the interview process, that it’s not unusual for them to be hired on the basis of their perceived future contribution to the company. As a result, they will often be hired in the belief that they are “better” than the job they are applying for.

Before You Employ

The hiring process aims to assess the qualifications of candidates and determine who will be best able to do the job. Hare and Babiak suggest following some strict rules.

1. Check the résumé. With the advent of the Internet, a job advertisement can lead to piles of résumés from interested candidates. Snakes in Suits warns against using the résumé as a screening device. It is common knowledge that many contain distortions or even outright lies. While many applicants tailor the information on the CV’s to position themselves more appropriately, the psychopath’s CV will likely contain fake degrees and diplomas, jobs the applicant never held and promotions that never happened. That’s why it’s essential that every piece of information contained in a CV be verified, from education to employment history, to professional memberships. Take nothing
for granted.

2. The first screening interview. Candidates who make it to interview stage are expected to offer examples of work experience and skills that advance their candidacy. Psychopaths, however, will pick up what the interviewers need to hear and will begin to manipulate them accordingly. It’s almost impossible to differentiate them from legitimate candidates at this stage. Do watch out, however for flowery language, inconsistencies, distortions and bad logic.

3. The second screening interview. At this stage, regular applicants will really want to get the job; psychopaths will have a hidden agenda – they want the job so that they can take advantage of the company. And because psychopathy is not a mental illness, but a personality disorder, psychopaths will come across as particularly sane – not even exhibiting the insecurities and neuroses that plague the rest of us.

HR and key staff who conduct face-to-face interviews must be formally trained in interview techniques, and they must prepare for each interview. Draw up a list of questions and ensure you obtain an answers for every question on the list. Failing this, the psychopath will take control of the process.

4. Asking the right questions. A seasoned interviewer will begin by asking questions about the candidate’s background, experience, expertise and education, including a look at career moves. The interviewer will listen out for three levels of responses: the overt answer to the question, the impression the candidate is making, and the underlying competencies, motivations and values reflected by the overt answers. Hare and Babiak point out that many interviewers focus only on overt answers, and the impression the candidates make on them, rather than delving deeper into competencies, motivations and values.

Retain Control of the Interview

Psychopaths avoid answering questions directly and will introduce topics that are of interest to the interviewer to distract them. Because they are not daunted by the interview situation, they will be extremely convincing and know all the jargon. If pressed on a detail, they will simply change gear and divert the conversation.

Hare and Babiak offer these guidelines to prevent this from happening:

Stick to the interview plan

  • Ask for work samples
  • Focus on action and behaviour
  • Clarify details
  • Look for appropriate feelings
  • Take notes
  • Do not decide alone
  • Know thyself

Lying is hard to detect so verify facts. Hare and Babiak caution that casual diagnosis of psychopathy is impossible for the layperson, but the first line of defence lies in hiring and selection.

Here are some examples of the type of overt questions to ask:

  • What did the candidate really do in this job?
  • What role did they play – supportive or leading?
  • How did the candidate handle problems that came up?
  • The answers to the following questions may reveal underlying competencies:
  • Does the person communicate well in a somewhat stressful face-to-face situation?
  • Did the candidate exhibit good judgement in the career choices they made?
  • Did the candidate take on more responsibilities over time or did they just do the same thing over and over?
  • Did the candidate demonstrate leadership, integrity and teamwork?

Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.

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Managing Staff

How To Listen To Your Employees Better So You Can Improve Your Business

Create ‘Hero relationships’ with your workers so you foster a team environment that helps fix mistakes and makes your business stronger.

Jeffrey Hayzlett




Years ago, I was in a business where we were shipping product constantly to get things out on time: “Get the stuff out the door so we can make revenue and meet our quotas now.” With our Operational Excellence seemingly hanging in the balance, we did what we were told.

We forgot about our dedication to quality and our promise to do the best for our customers. We also forgot about what it was doing to our people, from the top of the organisation to the floor. Concerns about what was going on were acknowledged, but never pursued. Head down, pedal to the metal, nothing to see here.

We’ve all lost our way like this at some point. The question is, does anyone have the courage to speak up, and will anyone listen before it brings the culture and the company down? Our company culture had been good up to this point. We were a “Good Co.” But no one was listening to our people anymore. We were now “Bottom Liners,” and if we kept going, we would soon be sliding toward “Zero.”

Then we had a company meeting with the CEO, and I watched as the senior leaders turned on their people and told the CEO what they thought he wanted to hear. They spoke about how great things were going and how everyone was stepping up. That’s when one of our people – an hourly worker – had the courage to speak up. He said things weren’t great — that we were breaking our brand promise and cheating our customers:

“We’re not doing the right things, and we might be putting a product out that’s not quite ready or not checked for quality in packaging and shipping. Is that OK if I raise my hand and say, ‘No, that’s not acceptable’?”

Related: The Value Of Employee Growth

The senior leaders were shocked, and I wondered what the CEO was going to say. He had to be surprised, given this was the first he had heard of this. I wondered: Would he be willing to listen, really listen to what this person had to say? “Absolutely, that’s OK,” our CEO said, looking around the room at everyone but focusing hard on the leaders. “Does that mean we’re going to lose revenue and make customers unhappy short term? Yes. But we’re going to fix this. And in the end, we’ll get a better customer for any we lose, because we did the right thing.”

Our CEO was right. The company took a hit but recovered within the year to achieve record revenue and profits. And what if we hadn’t recovered? Well, at least it wouldn’t be because we failed to do the right thing and listened.

What can you do to listen? Start by doing what that hourly worker had the guts to do:

Speak up and ask questions. Get your butt out of your chair, walk over to a desk, and ask a question to someone’s face.

Not a demand, like, “Where’s the report I asked for?” or a yes/ no question. One that opens people up and requires a thoughtful answer – the more personal and less work-driven, the better. Anything that shows you care about their well-being. Maybe try to find out one thing you don’t know about them:

  • What did you do this weekend?
  • Who’s that in the picture on your desk?
  • Where do you like to eat dinner when you go out?

Then listen to the answer and ask at least two more follow-up questions before saying anything about you. This is what’s called “active listening.” But it only works if you stop thinking about yourself and genuinely care about others – and let them ask questions of you, too.

A big part of listening is asking questions to understand. You want your people to do that, so you need to model this behaviour, which is why I’m always happy for my people to ask good, thoughtful questions when we launch a new program so they can execute better.

Related: Dealing With Employee Misconduct

The more you do that, the more you not only show your people you care but also connect and begin to form real relationships with them. When an employee feels that connection, it makes them want to work harder to serve you and deliver better results. By listening to others, you also learn to put yourself in the other person’s shoes to ask bigger and more important questions, like:

  • What does this potential customer want?
  • How can I help my boss do more?
  • What is the other party in our joint venture or partnership trying to accomplish?

Of course, questioning can cross a line. Leaders can never tolerate questions designed to undermine authority, prove what they don’t know, or make excuses. I’m intolerant when my people keep questioning why the company is doing what we’re doing and attacking it, as if I didn’t consider all sides before making the decision. Any question like that sounds like it’s really saying, “Jeff, you know that makes you an idiot, right?” is the worst kind of entitlement: Thinking you know better.

This article was originally posted here on

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Managing Staff

How To Make Your Team Feel Safe Bringing You Problems

Advertising an ‘open door’ isn’t enough.Team members need to truly believe that you’ll hear them out and take action.

Liz Kislik




Plenty of leaders say they offer an “open door policy” to encourage employees to bring them problems or concerns. Many of these leaders also ask that employees voicing concerns come prepared with solutions in order to take responsibility for the problem rather than just “dump” or “vent.”

But employees in those scenarios may get the idea that it’s unacceptable to raise problems in the business if they don’t know how to fix them. In fact, in a study of a phenomenon  they dubbed “employee silence,” professors from New York University’s Stern School of Business demonstrated that 85 percent of their respondents felt they couldn’t raise important issues to their management at all.

Is this happening at your company? If you’re not regularly hearing about your team members’ challenges and frustrations, you can’t conclude that all is well: In fact, you might be missing out on vital information that could help you make crucial decisions about your business. You might also end up losing employees who would otherwise be able to make significant contributions.

The good news is that there are ways to reduce these risks. Try the following techniques to encourage employees to speak their minds and feel confident that you’ll take their comments into account.

Tell them why you need to hear from them as a matter of business

Emphasise that your openness isn’t because you’re nice or merely want to placate them. Instead, explain that you recognise the downside of not understanding employees’ opinions or acknowledging the risks of having a disengaged workforce, i.e., high turnover.

Research backs up this concern: A Harvard Business Review study by James R. Detert and Ethan R. Burris found that”

“When employees can voice their concerns freely, organisations see increased retention and stronger performance.”

Teach employees to use code words

These will signal to you when they’re coming in with an important matter and want you to hear them out. For example, many of my clients now tell one other to “put their seatbelts on” to signal that they need to have a tough conversation and want to cue the other party that it’s important to keep cool and maintain an open mind on the issue.

Research from Fierce Conversations and Quantum Workplace found that although about half of employees studied didn’t speak up regularly, the employees who always or almost always “speak their minds reported being more engaged at work than those who said they never or almost never did so.”

A mutually agreed-on process for ensuring attentiveness goes a long way toward helping employees speak up.

Go and seek them out


If you haven’t heard from crucial individuals for a while, or you suspect there’s an issue brewing no one has talked to you about, create the forum for a discussion yourself.

This doesn’t have to mean summoning people to your office. One of the CEOs I work with says, “I don’t know what I don’t know,” and periodically walks the floor, chatting with everyone and lingering longer and probing more deeply with influencers and opinion leaders to learn what’s really going on.

Show that you act on their input

Refer to times when you took someone’s opinion and were able to improve a situation. Be explicit, so that the participants and other employees can tell you mean it. You could say something like, “Once Sally told me what was going on, it got me thinking. So I reevaluated that supplier’s performance, and asked them to improve their level of service. Now we’ve got a better deal.”

Use a meeting and report structure

One of my clients was slow about taking action on employee concerns. As a result, her employees stopped informing her of problems altogether, and instead ratcheted up the conflict among themselves.

This outcome matched the findings of the Journal of Business Ethics study, When Employees Stop Talking and Start Fighting, whose authors wrote that:

“Negative consequences are particularly likely to occur when employees perceive the opportunity to voice opinions to be … given by managers who do not have the intention to actually consider employee input.”

To correct the problem, this leader started holding weekly meetings to ask employees what was new or bothersome and to make public lists of the issues that needed attention.

Create an advisory group or process

Another of my clients knew he wasn’t hearing enough candid feedback from his team. He created an advisory council that collected concerns from the entire group and met with the leader quarterly to share them. This felt less risky personally to the individual employees and helped create a consistent feedback loop.

Overall, employees may always have some nervousness about raising tough topics to their leaders. But if you take the time and trouble to make clear that you care about their feedback and intend to take it seriously, they’ll be much more likely to share their concerns and deepen their commitment to you and the company.

This article was originally posted here on

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Managing Staff

Reduce Turnover Of Hourly Workers With These 7 Tips

Employee turnover can be costly for businesses that rely on hourly workers.

Desmond Lim




Hourly workers play a significant role in today’s economy – from running operations at restaurants, to transporting goods from one place to another, to getting people to their destinations. Companies from Amazon, Uber and Instacart to local retail, food and logistics businesses are raising wages and offering better benefits in order to attract and retain hourly workers. At the same time, the demand for hourly workers has increased significantly, as the number of job openings in the United States has exceeded the number of job seekers.

At the same time, companies face the challenge of high turnover of hourly workers for their businesses. In a survey of 1,200 hourly workers by FSG and Hart Research Associates, the majority of respondents wanted to leave their current positions within less than 12 months. The average cost of a turnover in the company includes the cost of interviewing and screening, the cost of on-boarding, cost of training and lost productivity and engagement of current employees, which can be significant.

Therefore, it is important for business owners and entrepreneurs to recognise the importance of engaging hourly workers, to reduce turnover and to increase productivity. Therefore, in this publication, I hope to offer some tips to reduce the turnover of hourly workers for your business.

1. Start with a great onboarding process

Onboarding is a prime opportunity for employers to win the hearts and minds of new employees. It is important to have a well-structured onboarding process to provide employees with the information to succeed in their work, and to also integrate them into the culture of the company. The few weeks before employees start and after employees join is the best time to engage with new hourly workers, as they are most receptive to new structure, processes and ideas.

As an employer, it is important to come up with a well-structure onboarding process to share the values, mission and processes of the company and to ensure that each manager reinforces them. Hourly workers who experienced a robust onboarding process are more likely to stay with the company for a longer period of time and also exhibit higher productivity.

Related: HR Management Basics For The Small Business

2. Offer professional development opportunities

Many hourly workers may only have finished high school or community colleges and are often eager to learn new skills, obtain new knowledge and broaden their horizons. One example is Starbucks’ College Achievement Plan, which was introduced in June 2014 in partnership with Arizona State University, to create an opportunity for all eligible employees in United States to earn their bachelor’s degree with full tuition covered.

On a smaller scale, local businesses can offer mentoring sessions with managers, or provide opportunities for hourly workers to go to community classes on sales, marketing or communication skills. They could also turn to online courses such as Coursera or Khan Academy, where employees will be able to access resources from leading universities at minimal or no cost.

3. Offer flexibility in work scheduling


With the growth of on-demand companies like Uber, DoorDash, Instacart and more, it has become increasingly important for companies to be able to offer the flexibility that the gig economy presents. Uber drivers are able to have complete flexibility in their schedule with a few clicks on the mobile app, and hence the trend has evolved that employees value their control over their time allocation. Therefore, business owners and entrepreneurs should adopt scheduling software to increase efficiency and allow employees to readily select the time slots that may best fit their weekly schedule, increasing loyalty and engagement.

4. Work toward inclusion, not just diversity

Hourly workers come from many different backgrounds and having a more inclusive work environment and hiring for a more diverse team will benefit the company significantly. In order to attract more talent and reduce turnover, it is important to work toward both inclusion and diversity to better engage hourly workers.

One of the leaders in this is Gap, which created a program called “This Way Ahead,” which helps younger workers who face employment challenges. Coming up with programs and career initiatives focused on a wider range of people is also an effective talent strategy for companies as different demographics of workers may have lower turnover rate, and hence be a better source of talent pipeline.

Related: An Excellence Approach To Nurture Star Performers

5. Communicate with your team by having periodic check-ins

It is important for managers and owners to have periodic check-ins with their employees of all levels and backgrounds. Hourly workers increasingly seek engagement and having a clear line of communication is essential. Many hourly workers are not satisfied with their work because they do not feel supported or recognised in their workplace. In a Randstad report, 27 percent of employees surveyed said that a lack of recognition is what causes they to leave the company. The more engaged workers are, the more committed they will, in turn reducing the turnover of hourly workers for companies.

6. Provide a clear path to progression and promotion

Local businesses should have an employee of the month in place to increase competition, to motivate employees and to reward the ones who excel. Hourly workers want to have a clear path to progression and promotion, and there should be a clear career road map. In the case of a restaurant, hourly workers should have the opportunity to progress from a server, to team lead, to manager and to other functions within the company.

Employers can further break down the different role hierarchies to allow more space for employees to progress in their work. Companies can also tie annual bonuses to the performance of employees, and incentive schemes like this can greatly motivate hourly workers.

High turnover for a business is detrimental and can significantly impact the morale, productivity and operations of any company. As the competition for good hourly workers increases, it has become ever more important for companies to focus on increasing engagement for their entry-level workers, to further motivate them and to reduce the turnover for workers. Companies need to take a more structured approach to communicating with entry-level workers, to better onboard them and to better reward them. Lower turnover will lead to a higher output for businesses, and benefits created from reducing turnover will surely outweigh the costs and resources allocated to it.

This article was originally posted here on

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