Human Behaviour

Corporate Psychopath

Do you work with a corporate psychopath?

While it’s common for workers to claim their bosses are psychopaths, research shows only one per cent of Australia’s population can be officially classed with the personality disorder.

Stephen Bell, Hervey Bay and Maryborough Hospital director of community and allied health, said that percentage increased to 3.5% in the corporate world and 25% in correctional centres.

Mr Bell, a registered psychologist of 20 years, said the corporate executive world statistically had a higher level of individuals with psychopathic traits than the general population, particularly in senior positions.

“That’s partly because some corporate environments have cultures that favour manipulative, egotistical, and self-centred managerial behaviour leadership styles that get results.

“In addition, if these executives are delivering to, and meeting the corporate objectives of the business, attention to these negative tendencies may be overlooked.”

Mr Bell will talk about psychopathology in the workplace when he presents the next professional development session for health experts at University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Fraser Coast this Tuesday, February 17, 2015.

“I will spend quite a bit of time talking about personality disorders. In particular, I’ll delve into functional psychopathy,” Mr Bell said.

“That’s about people who have traits which predispose them to having low levels of empathy, self-serving, opportunistic, ego-centric and ruthlessness but who can also mask these traits by being superficially charming and persuasive.”

Mr Bell said that while psychopathic traits were undesirable in most work places, those same traits might predispose workers to do better in other careers that require quick and ruthless decision-making with low levels of empathy for other people.

“Research shows that people who are able to remain detached and have limited empathy can be quite suitable in niche careers, for example, you wouldn’t want that in a social worker but you would in a sniper.”

Mr Bell’s session, hosted by the Fraser Coast Health Professionals Local Education Research Nexus (FCHP: LEARN), will also cover the workplace impacts of other personality and mental health issues such as social skill deficits, marital and family problems, depression and anxiety.

“I’ve got some contemporary statistics on those topics which people should find interesting in terms of the prevalence of those conditions in the general population and therefore in the workplace as well.”

Some theoretical explanations of psychopathology will also be discussed.

“Is maladaptive behaviour biological or behavioural? For example, is it an imbalance in brain chemistry? Has it been learnt over time? Or is it a combination of both?”

Mr Bell said shift work, imbalances between work and personal lives, and even physical work conditions such as exposure to chemicals or excessive noise could also impact psychopathology.

He will wrap-up the session with strategies for accommodating pathological behaviour including how to support co-workers and employees.

“There is a range of solutions such as redesigning tasks, making environmental changes and allowing more flexible hours.”

Mr Bell has been employed by Queensland Health for 19 years, working in health management roles for the past nine years. He has held several executive leadership positions in hospital health services in the Sunshine Coast and Wide Bay areas.

Mr Bell has clinical expertise in acute mental health care and in the area of complex psychological trauma and child abuse. He has presented papers at state and international conferences on collaborative models for the treatment of traumatised and disabled children in state care.

Registration for this Tuesday’s workshop can be completed online. Registered participants will receive a Certificate of Attendance. Members of the public are also welcome.


Photo: Three and a half per cent of Australia’s psychopaths can be found in corporate boardrooms.

Banishing the ‘C’ word from suicide

Banishing the ‘C’ word from suicide

“Suicide is not a sin and is no longer a crime, so we should stop saying that people ‘commit’ suicide.”

That message from Beyond Blue advisers was explored by Fraser Coast expert Dr Dorothy Ratnarajah when she presented a counselling workshop at USQ Fraser Coast in July 2013.

Dr Ratnarajah, a clinical counsellor with 14 years’ higher degree research experience in suicide bereavement, said suicide was a cause of death yet people never said someone “committed cancer” or “committed heart failure”, even when those affected may have lived lifestyles that contributed to such diseases (for example, smoking or having a high-fat diet).suicide

“Even suggesting they ‘committed’ such diseases sounds ludicrous and yet every day we see such examples in relation to suicide. So, let us commit to being vigilant and challenge the use of stigmatising language whenever we hear it used in connection with suicide.”

Instead of “committed suicide,” people should say  “died by suicide.”

USQ Lecturer and counsellor Nathan Beel said banishing the ‘C’ word was discussed along with myths and truths when Ms Ratnarajah presented the workshop for Fraser Coast human service providers and university students.

“Attendees gained an increased awareness of the risk factors and prevention strategies based on the research of leading expert Professor Thomas Joiner,” Mr Beel said.

For help with emotional difficulties, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or

For help with depression, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36 or at

The SANE Helpline is 1800 18 SANE (7263) or at 


FEATURE PHOTO: Eleasha Mitchell (left), Marianne Lawson, Rhiannon Beard attend a workshop run by Dr Dorothy Ratnarajah and USQ lecturer and counsellor Nathan Beel.

Beware the workplace psychopath

Beware the workplace psychopath

ONE of the most dangerous forms of pathological behaviour in the workplace is the long-term covert operation in which the offender uses passive-aggressive techniques that go undetected for years, says Director of North Brisbane Psychologists Jenny Laing.

Speaking at a University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Fraser Coast workshop for health professionals early this year, Ms Laing said pathological behaviour had no set definition.

“There are a lot of grey areas,” she said. “While a single event can be classed as pathological if serious enough, generally it is a pervasive pattern of counterproductive behaviour that puts a person’s health, safety and/or physical well being at risk.

“That can be shouting, offensive language, denigration, insults, ridicule, sarcasm, rudeness, deliberate silence, exclusion, sabotage, discrediting another person, unreasonable focus on mistakes, over supervision, unrealistic workload and blocking promotions.

“As well as stress, sleep disturbances, ill health, low self-esteem, drug and alcohol abuse and the impaired ability to concentrate, sustained pathological behaviour can also cause relationship and family problems, and in extreme cases, suicide.

“The impact on business can also be huge with high levels of sick leave, poor team morale, reduced productivity, civil and legal action, and poor public image.

Ms Laing said awareness was the key to managing pathological behaviour in the workplace.

“Workplaces are at risk when there is a lack of awareness about appropriate behaviour and also during times of organisational change.

“Uncertainty is anxiety provoking. If you get anxious you don’t cope, you don’t come to work, your resilience is low and you are quick to fire.

“Wrong levels of supervision and individual personality traits can also be contributing factors, but how do we know the manager doesn’t have an anxiety problem or is obsessive compulsive or a perfectionist?

“Sometimes we attribute everything as intentional where it may not be. That’s why we need to have conversations that give others feedback and the opportunity to change. If they don’t know, they can’t change.

“However, behaviour is not pathological if management actions are taken in a reasonable way and performance feedback is given in a constructive manner aimed at improving an employees’ work performance or behaviour.”

Ms Laing said the first strategy for overcoming pathological behaviour in the workplace should happen at the time of employee selection.

“If you recruit someone who fits with the team, there’s less conflict.

“A recommended method of recruitment is behavioural interviewing, which is based on the premise that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour, for example you ask questions about how they’ve demonstrated conflict resolution in the past.

“Once in the workplace, individuals should approach the offender, if they’re comfortable, and understand the informal and formal resolution processes available. They should also keep a diary of incidents, what they’ve done to try stopping it, and report to the manager.

“If you know a colleague is having issues, encourage them to speak to the offender, be supportive, listen without judging and encourage them to tell their manager.

“Team leaders can help staff by listening, empathising, and validating without judging. Get the facts about what happened, when, where, how often and who was around. Document the discussion and think about possible solutions.

“Organisations can integrate values as benchmarks in performance appraisals. They can also conduct staff surveys and exit interviews, and monitor staff turnover, absenteeism and grievances.”