June 14, 2007

Over-hyped, over-psyched

Spruiking himself and his work to the nth degree, John Clarke, author of two books about workplace psychopaths, would like to have us all hyperventilating over the proposal that there might be at least one psychopath in every major company. Wow. I'm quivering.
"I would say that in every major company there would be at least one," Dr Clarke said.
See, told you so.

With numbers like that being bandied about, it's a fairly safe bet that if you work in a major company you're working with a far larger number of neurotics, psychotics, heroin and/or Xanax addicts, and Lycra-wearing bicycle riders, than you a are with any fair-dinkum psychopaths.

Not that psychopaths are anything to be sniffed at (nor are Lycra-wearing bicycle riders, just by the way).

"Workplace psychopaths are common in major businesses and are ruining the lives of their colleagues"

I don't doubt the collateral damage that a real psychopath might accidentally cause for their work-mates, but their presence in the total population is estimated at - a very likely exaggerated - three percent, making their likely presence in the workforce lower than that figure. Of that one or, at a stretch, two percent of the workforce, their sphere of contact, and therefore potential damage, is, at best, another one or two percent – maybe if we really stretch it.

But that's not what entirely puts the kybosh on my passing interest in this newly invented "workplace psychopath" industry. It was the expert himself who convinced me that this is just a bit more money-spinning HR pop-psychology-babble of the instantly disposable and useless variety.

"I think the workplace psychopath is actually more dangerous than the violent criminal psychopath, because the workplace psycho is smart, charismatic, charming and much less likely to get caught," he said.

Actually, the violent criminal psychopath is all of those things too, and also much less likely to get caught than your garden-variety violent criminal.

The key differentiator is that the violent criminal psychopath is also more likely to kill you, all in their good time, which might be a while, and to my mind that makes the criminal far more dangerous than a "workplace" psychopath on any day of the week.

The comparison and conclusion drawn by Dr Clarke is grossly perverse. It's a lesson in how to kill your own books, in one easy step.

"But you need to evaluate your situation and, if you can't change it, you need to evaluate the costs for your mental health versus finding a new position elsewhere," he says.

And that’s the point: you can walk away from a “workplace psychopath” any time you want, which makes them not very dangerous at all. A violent criminal psychopath, on the other hand, might not let you walk away, and that is what most of us would consider to be a danger.

The good doctor should be helping people to keep life events in perspective, not encouraging people to plaster labels over every boombah, palooka, pratt, twat or tosser that they happen to meet in the workplace. In other words: nothing good can come from supporting people in the habit of pathologising their co-workers. Reading a pop-psych book, or two, does not qualify any worker as a diagnostician.

1 comment:

  1. I'd rather run into a workplace psychopath than a criminal psychopath!

    BTW don't forget the blogging psychopaths. They're out there...