A new study finds that, when working for an abusive supervisor, employees who score high on a test for primary psychopathy appear to have advantages over employees who aren’t psychopaths.
For your business, that means it’s possible that an abusive manager may drive away workers who don’t score high for psychopathy, an egotistical personality trait associated with anti-social behavior, a lack of empathy and remorse, excessive self-interest and impulsivity. Those who score high for primary psychopathy, on the other hand, might just stick around, one of the researchers said.
“Many people leave their jobs when they work for an abusive supervisor,” said Lauren Simon of the University of Arkansas, one of the researchers who conducted the studies, in a statement. “If abusive leadership does not bother — and perhaps even excites — individuals high in primary psychopathy, then these individuals may be more likely to remain with the organization.”
Tolerating a toxic manager in your business could lead to a dynamic in which your business ends up keeping and empowering employees who possess higher levels of psychopathic characteristics, which are associated with abuse toward others. Over time, an abusive, tumultuous organizational structure could take hold, forming hospitable conditions for unethical behavior and ultimately harming the company.
The study by Simon and her co-authors, Charlice Hurst at the University of Notre Dame, Yongsuhk Jung at Korea Air Force Academy and Dante Pirouz at Western University in Canada, looked at the way people who possess high primary psychopathic characteristics deal with abuse from supervisors. It found that primary psychopaths appeared to have access to better psychological resources.
The researchers collected data from a few hundred working adults. In one part of the study, participants evaluated their reactions to profiles of managers portrayed as abusive or constructive. Though there were no differences in anger between high- and low- primary psychopathy participants, those who scored higher in primary psychopathy said they felt more positive emotions when they imagined working for an abusive manager.
A second part of the study asked participants to rate their supervisors’ abuse based on circumstances such as how often the supervisor is rude to the employee, gives improper credit for work, or puts the employee down in front of coworkers. The results: high primary psychopathy individuals felt more positive and more engaged in their work under abusive supervisors. They were also less angry.
The study, “Are ‘Bad’ Employees Happier Under Bad Bosses? Differing Effects of Abusive Supervision on Low and High Primary Psychopathy Employees,” has been published online and is due to be published in the Journal of Business Ethics.