Have you ever wondered if your workplace is just a teeny bit psychopathic?

Or, have you ever felt uneasy with some of the working practices that con and deceive staff, customers and clients?

For the past 15 years I have researched and worked with hundreds of psychopaths both within the criminal justice system and organisations. I have a good understanding of the field of psychopathy. In my research over the past 5 years or so, I have pondered the questions: do some organisations have a more psychopathic culture than others? Can these organisations themselves be called psychopathic?

It is well-documented that corporate psychopaths are drawn to certain professions, such as banking, sales, law, and the media. Given this, does that mean these professions will be more psychopathic than other organisations?

What makes a psychopath?

  • Lack of empathy and concern towards others.
  • Inability to maintain lasting positive relationships.
  • Cunning, deceitful, and cons others for profit or power.
  • Inability to experience guilt or real shame.
  • Indulges and enjoys high risk situations with little fear of any consequences.
  • Does not conform to social norms especially with respect to lawful/moral behaviour

Lack of empathy and concern towards others.

Let’s face it, empathy and concern towards both customers and employees are distinctly lacking in some organisations. They have a 24 hour working culture, no family-friendly policies, and no priority given to work-life balance. Employees are only important in so far as the job gets done, first and foremost; otherwise, they are dispensable and replaceable. Some people can thrive in that sort of environment and rise to the top quickly, whilst some employees burn out, have full-blown mental health breakdowns or work mostly in a state of fear. Can an organisation that works this way be profitable? Absolutely it can, but with a transient, unhappy workforce and, with profit as the defining motive, usually a poor customer-care policy. Does that make the organisation psychopathic? Not necessarily.

Inability to maintain lasting positive relationships.

The way an organisation harnesses its employee relationships is essential to a happy workforce. If we look at the best organisations to work for they will have a high retention-rate, with many staff choosing to spend their entire career with the company. Employees are regarded highly and made to feel valued, and this could be related to the most trivial-seeming little touches like free hot and cold drinks.

The small things add up, and make a difference to the way an employee feels about their work: evidence that someone in the company hierarchy is thinking about the staff. This could involve weekly team meetings, which can help staff feel included; monthly awards and recognition for effective working; and one company I attended recently had seasonal-themed parties, and I was invited to one such, which was a talent competition. It was fun, and all the employees and managers got to see each other’s hidden talents, which usually don’t make it into the workplace. All the staff I spoke to felt valued and appreciated. The atmosphere of the company was high on empathy, and all the staff there were set to maintain lasting relationships. This is not something I would usually expect to see in a psychopathic organisation.

The psychopathic organisation would offer very little to foster employee relationships, and certainly nothing that would ensure employees feel valued and appreciated.

In this combination of a 24 hour culture and a disregard for staff wellbeing, we can begin to analyse just what constitutes a psychopathic organisation.

Cunning, deceitful, and cons others for profit or power.

Some organisations as a matter of course deceive others for profit. They will lie about their motives, about the quality or suitability of their products, with absolutely no regard for their customers or clients, whether they are in the financial industry, media or sales organisations. They are high risk takers, with very little regard for the consequences of those risks to others. Of smallest concern are their customers, the little people who buy their services. And of course they would never own up to any of their shady dealings as this would of necessity involve a degree of remorse, guilt and shame which, without a shadow of a doubt, is something psychopaths just do not experience. I would say we are getting some idea now of what makes an organisation psychopathic.

Lack of fear, shame and remorse.

Finally, if we take all of the above, and add a blatant disregard for the law into the mix, knowingly breaking the law for their own gain without any regard for their victims, trampled-on individuals, abused customers, I would say that there is a good case to deem that organisation psychopathic. Though just because an organisation is inherently psychopathic, does not mean that every employee within it is a psychopath. As I have said before, the employees themselves are in danger of falling victim to the psychopathic culture within an organisation; but some of the big players in the company will be corporate psychopaths, those taking the high-risk, influential decisions day in, day out, without feeling any need to take into account the smaller voices below them in the hierarchy.

The difficulty of moving forward.

There is clearly research to be carried out in this area, but lets face it, which organisation would allow a psychologist to go into their workplace to see if the organisation is inherently psychopathic. And, even if the organisation was, I doubt very much it would change anything, because psychopaths really do not change very much at all. Which begs the question. Is it pointless research?

I would love to know if you have every worked in an organisation where the culture was psychopathic.