Can Recruiters Detect Psychopaths?

Can Recruiters Detect Psychopaths?
Published May 8, 2019
Author: Amir Baddour
Source: Linkedin

More than 50% of our waking hours are spent at work, our psychological well-being is dependent on workplace dynamics and daily interactions. Traditionally, most business literature focused on the development of top performers. Today more and more attention is being directed towards identifying and addressing the effects harmful or toxic personalities have on our organizations.

Michael Housman and Dylan Minor conducted a study published by Harvard Business School. They compared the benefits and costs of finding a superstar worker versus avoiding/replacing a toxic worker. The data used included top 1%, 5%, 10%, and 25% performers.

Cost Savings
Superstar Rank Cost Saving Replace a Toxic Worker
top 25% $1,951 $12,489
top 10% $3,251 $12,489
top 5% $3,875 $12,489
top 1% $5,303 $12,489

In comparing the two costs, even if a company could replace an average worker with one who performs in the top 1%, it would still be better off by replacing a toxic worker with an average worker by more than two-to-one.

Additional facts gathered from the Harvard Study

    • 80% of employees lost work time worrying about the offending employee’s rudeness.
    • 78% said their commitment to the organization declined in the face of toxic behavior..
    • 66% said their performance declined.
    • 63% lost work time in avoiding the offender.

“Avoiding a toxic worker or replacing them by an average worker provides more benefit than finding and retaining a superstar.” Michael Housman & Dylan Minor 

Practical implementation within HRM

The study found consistent evidence that those who seem overconfident in their abilities, who are self-regarding, and are quick to claim that rules should be followed, are more likely to become toxic workers and break company and legal rules. Thus, one strategy for managers is to screen potential workers for these traits thereby reducing the chances of hiring toxic workers.

Interestingly, the study also found that toxic workers are more productive, at least in terms of the quantity of output.

Therefore, the process that results in a good or bad hiring decision is multi-dimensional. Factoring the element of toxicity into the screening process can help improve performance by means of avoiding the wrong kind of workers – even if they are highly productive – that otherwise would have been perceived as preferred hires.

Toxic Personalities are Psychopaths?

Surprisingly, toxic personalities and undiagnosed psychopaths have unfavorable common traits, surely to some extent, it is often those traits that are aggravated and accommodated with neuro-predisposition and an extremely bad childhood for psychopaths.

Psychopathy itself is a personality disorder manifested in people who use a mixture of charm, manipulation, intimidation, and occasionally violence to control others and satisfy their own needs. Contrary to common knowledge, not all psychopaths are criminals, it can be your relative, your neighbor or your colleague who projects a healthy & normal lifestyle.

“Toxic personalities & psychopaths blatantly deny their own manipulative behavior and ignore evidence when confronted with it. They become dismissive and critical if you attempt to disprove their fabrications with facts.” Jackson Mackenzie

What should HR Officers, Managers, and Leaders look for?

  • Lack of empathy; Absence of concern for others and the effect of one’s actions on others.
  • Lack of remorse; Absence of guilt or concern after a transgression.
  • Self-regard/Narcissism; Inflated self-worth and exaggerated sense of self-importance.

A profile with all three traits is likely to be correlated with toxicity which in itself can easily be detected using a multi-dimensional psychometric assessment. Placing individuals who reflect those traits within a group should be applied with caution.

“Toxic people condition you to believe that the problem isn’t the abuse itself, but instead your reactions to the abuse.” – Jackson Mackenzie

HRM & Organizational Psychology

Let’s consider the case of Saudi Arabia, the largest economy in the Middle East. With Vision 2030 being implemented, companies are seeing ways to compete with increased effectiveness while taking into account Saudization plans and other human resources related goals. As result, HR is slowly cementing its rightful position as key component of business strategies. Within HR, automation is playing a larger role in areas like Talent Acquisition and Development where digitalization is taking place at a rapid scale. With this positive phenomenon taking place, one ought to take into account that organizational psychology has proven there is more to it than meets the eye. Assessing a set of computer-generated competencies may generate deficient conclusions.

Thus, we emphasize the importance of conducting multi-dimensional assessment that accounts for the psychological map of each individual merging cognitive abilities, personalities traits, and emotional intelligence all together, while taking into account the toxic personality indicators. Doing so will create an understanding of the subtle dynamics that relate not only to individual performance, but to overall organizational effectiveness and cultural coherence.

Bringing it all together

Toxic personalities reduce team and organizational morale, decrease productivity, and are a financial burden to companies. With that being said, and even with great tools in your arsenal, to go about identifying a toxic personality and labeling the personality as such could be a serious misstep. The implications are significant whether one ends up being right or wrong.

Diagnosing personality toxicity or psychopathy is best left to trained professionals who are able to spot subtle signs in an objective framework.

“The only way to win with a toxic person is not to play.” Mark Twain

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