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Read time8 mins

Have you hired a psychopath lately? The hazards of counterproductive work behaviours.

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A man in an office behaving badly towards another employee.

Integrity and counterproductive workplace behaviours

In this series, we address counterproductive work behaviours and the potential ramifications of hiring psychopaths.

Organisations can employ overt integrity tests when hiring, which involve asking individuals about their past misconduct, and turn out to be a surprisingly accurate tool for assessing their likelihood of engaging in counterproductive work behaviours (CWBs) in the future.

CWBs include both interpersonal actions and those that affect the organisation, and have significant implications for human well-being, productivity, and workplace culture.

Workplaces have a responsibility to manage psychosocial risks and create safer workplaces by implementing effective recruitment practices to minimise the likelihood of negative behaviours.

Nature vs Nurture: Which one is more important?

Watch the video to understand whether nature (genetics) is more important than nurture when it comes to counterproductive workplace behaviours.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 2 – How nature and nurture shape bad workplace behaviours

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Why hiring a psychopath is a bad idea

Hi, and welcome. Andrew from SACS.

And today we’re going to talk about have you hired any psychopaths lately?

This is video number one in an eight-video series on this topic.

And really what we’re dealing with here is a thing called counterproductive work behaviours.

So eight videos which will help you to understand a little bit more about what science knows about counterproductive work behaviours from an organisational psychology point of view.

The topics that we’re going to cover, the first of these is about what are counterproductive work behaviours?

Then we’ll be talking about nature and nurture and bad behaviours.

We’ll then be talking about the dark triad, which is psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism, which are really three aspects related to psychopathy.

Then cognitive ability and bad behaviours, which addresses the fascinating question of whether your cognitive ability, how smart you are, affects how likely it is that you will do good or bad things.

Personality and bad behaviours, values and bad behaviours, and then we are going to show you some really interesting research findings into counterproductive work behaviours, personality, and values.

And ultimately, on video number eight, we’ll be telling you about how not to hire psychopaths, which is probably the reason that you’re watching this.

Integrity testing at work

So I just want to talk a little bit about overt integrity tests and counterproductive work behaviours.

Now, overt integrity tests are tests where you actually ask people whether they have done bad stuff in the past.

Surprisingly, people confess very readily to having done bad stuff in the past. And this is a strange thing.

People are often very doubtful about this, but I can tell you from personal experience, we psych test literally hundreds of thousands of people and we’ve all, all my staff, have seen situations where people have confessed in an online assessment to having done things that you would think are really not very conducive to getting a job.

The bulk of the psych tests that we run are for job application purposes.

So why do people do this?

Well, partially it’s to do with human development. We learn how and when to lie by watching the faces of other people.

And so in the absence of that visual cue, when we’re sitting in front of a computer screen and we’re answering yes or no to a question or rating something out of a five-point scale from strongly agree to strongly disagree, it doesn’t occur to us to shape our answers in the way that we would if we were face-to-face with another human being.

But whatever it is, we know that these things called integrity tests where you literally ask questions such as have you ever taken the property of organisations that you work for, we know that people who answer these questions in certain ways are much more likely to do bad stuff once they actually get on board.

Let’s look at the evidence.

You’ll notice in this slide that we’re talking about (refer to the video). That’s a correlation between scores on overt integrity tests and good and bad behaviours at work.

Now, if you think of the average interview or reference check, you know, their correlations are much weaker than this, so it’s surprising.

But asking people blunt questions about the bad things that they’ve done in the past is surprisingly accurate in terms of judging whether they have done these bad things in the past.

You’ll also see on this slide that we’ve got a list of bad things, 10 areas of CWBs, counterproductive work behaviours, which turn out to be very common.

And if you look down that list, you’ll see things like lateness, not attending work when not too sick to do so, inability to get on with others, distraction, incivility, theft, ignoring occupational health and safety policies and practises, being openly critical of the employer, ignoring broader work practises or policies, and finally, incivility, ignoring or snubbing other employees.

Two types of bad behaviours at work

Now, if you look at that list, it may dawn on you that counteractive work behaviours come in two flavours.

The first, let’s call them interpersonal counterproductive work behaviours.

I do something bad to a colleague or to a customer or to a stakeholder or to whomever. It’s an interpersonal thing.

The second category is organisational, where I do something bad to the organisation rather than to individuals.

Now, we know that people who do bad things to individuals are more likely to do bad things to the organisation and vice versa.

But there are also people who do bad things to individuals but are very loyal employees, if you want to put it that way, in terms of doing bad things to the organisation and vice versa.

So it’s good to measure both. But that’s really the two flavours of counterproductive work behaviours.

How negative behaviours impact organisations

Does all this matter?

Well, yeah, it matters a lot because we know that when counterproductive work behaviours happen, obviously there’s a human wellbeing implication for this.

So if people are being bullied or harassed or whatever, clearly that matters. It matters enormously.

Secondly, organisational counterproductive work behaviours.

Well, there’s a productivity question, there’s a theft question, but I think it’s also important to understand that relatively minor negative behaviours tend to lead to more significant negative behaviours.

In other words, this stuff is, to a certain extent, contagious, particularly if there’s a perception that you don’t get caught or that leadership doesn’t really care about it.

Certainly that will make it more likely, when people see those behaviours not getting corrected, it will make it more likely that the entire workforce will engage in those negative behaviours.

And one of the things that we know is that psychosocial risk management says that you really have to do something about this.

Managing psychosocial risks in the workplace

I’m creating this video in Australia, which at the moment is going through legislation state by state to institutionalise the fact that psychosocial risk and its management is the responsibility of organisations.

We’re going to suggest that managing your recruitment practise can minimise the risk of importing these negative behaviours into your workplace, and that means that you will therefore create a psychosocially safer workplace, which is, I think, an ethical responsibility, but increasingly becoming a legal responsibility as well.

Avoid hiring psychopaths

And the final point we make on this slide is that the best and easiest approach is to avoid importing the bad behaviours in the first place.

We all know that once you’ve hired somebody, well, gee, it’s difficult and it’s disruptive and so forth to get rid of them and it’s just not a very psychosocially reassuring thing for people to, A, have to live with it in the first place, but then to see the grief that’s involved in the separation process.

So you will need to do things from the workplace management point of view, and we have a set of videos on that, but this is specifically focused on the question of hiring practises.

The next video, we will talk about nature and nurture and bad behaviours.

Join us by clicking on the link near this video.

Learn more about counterproductive workplace behaviours

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about dealing with psychopaths at work:

Part 2 – How nature and nurture shape bad workplace behaviours

And if you’d like some help with reducing the chances that your next hire will be a psychopath, contact us about our Psychometric Testing tools.

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