Do you have a psychopath in your workplace?

IT'S not uncommon for workers to claim their bosses are psychopaths but research shows only 1% of Australia's population can be officially categorised with the personality disorder.

Stephen Bell, Hervey Bay and Maryborough Hospital director 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 Fraser Coast on Tuesday, February 17.

"I will spend quite a bit of time talking about personality disorders," he said.

"In particular I'll delve into functional psychopathy. 

"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 workplaces, those same traits might predispose workers to doing 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 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 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 prevalence of those conditions in the general population and therefore in the workplace as well," he said.

Some of 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 on 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 the workshop can be completed online.

Registered participants will receive a Certificate of Attendance.

Members of the public are also welcome.


  • What: Psychopathology in the workplace presentation 
  • Where: USQ Fraser Coast, 161 Old Maryborough Rd, Pialba
  • When: 5.15-7.15pm, Tuesday, February 17
  • Cost: $35

Topics:  editors picks fraser coast campus hervey bay university of southern queensland usq workplace

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