Is stress the 21st century’s black death?

18 03 2012

The Japanese have a specific word for death from overwork: karoshi. Although useful for describing early death, this is not comforting to know that this syndrome is recognised enough to have its own word.

So here is a pretty interesting infographic. No surprises at some of the top most stressful jobs – but PR officer? On the other hand, my future career is as a philosopher, which features in the least stressful jobs. Of course I might be stressed about income in that job – does anyone pay for philosophers these days?

However two shockers for me:
1. Apparently relationship with boss, although a top reason for leaving a job, was not a major factor in stress levels (really? I beg to differ. See earlier postings about Psychopaths in the workplace)

2. women who felt they had some level of control in the workplace were MORE likely to die early. (The complete opposite of the Whitehall study findings from the 1960s – when the public service was 90% male. This study found that those who felt they had some level of control over their work / environment etc had better health outcomes than those who were lower down the food chain and largely powerless. We women cant seem to catch a break.)

I do however wonder how they measured stress other than early death. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and other platitudes.

The original link is here.

Interested in dysfunctional workplaces and stress? Have a look at
When organisations turn cannibal

Psychopaths in the workplace


Psychopaths in the workplace

16 10 2011

Ah yes, my favourite topic again.

During the week a psychologist friend sent me some links to a new movie called Fishead, and an app associated with Bob Hare, the “father” of psychopathy, if such a position can be so described.

Hare was the inventor of the Hare Psychopathy Test, which is essentially an inventory of psychopathic symptoms and characteristics. If you score “yes” in enough of these spectrums, then you get the diagnosis. The Fish-head metaphor relates to the old (but ultimately incorrect) saying, that a fish rots from the head down. It refers to when organisations go wrong it is because the leadership has gone wrong – and the propensity of psychopaths to reach the highest levels of corporate life. Apparently they account for approximately 25% of corporate leaders, whereas in all of society they account for about 1%. (Just as a matter of fact, fish actually rot from the guts – all the fluids and bacteria present in the gut mean they turn to soup quickly. And not a soup you would want to consume. Just saying.)

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronsson (same author as “The Men Who Stare at Goats” – clearly he has an interest in nutters) is based on the Hare test.

This book is essentially Jon going on a training course for the Psychopath test, then diagnosing himself and various other people around him, meeting some people diagnosed as psychopaths, and also a couple of corporate “psychopaths” and trying to work out if he would be able to pick them without the training.

Given that one of the characteristics of the psychopath is that they can appear charming and use this as the basis of being manipulative, he of course is unable to pick them. (Don’t worry, I haven’t given away the end of the story!) Although it has to be said that the corporate psychopaths that he meets in particular are far from “normal”, even if you wouldn’t necessarily pick the correct diagnosis.

The book is subtitled “A journey through the madness industry”, and while he does look at psychology and psychiatry, looks at the development of the new DSM IV (Diagnostic Statistical Manual version IV) visits with the leadership of Scientology and gets their views on psychiatry generally, it is also worth pointing out that psychopathy is not a form of madness. It is a personality disorder. That means it is intractable and incurable. At least in part because the psychopaths themselves do not want to be cured – for them, this way of operating works (they get what they want out of it). He is however correct that there is an industry around madness, in particular the pharmaceutical industry. For better or worse. For some people this offers blessed relief from horrific and debilitating symptoms.

Jon has recently been in Australia for the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, and has also been interviewed on numerous radio programs. So all this is very topical at the moment.

Anyway, if you are interested in this subject, have a look at and/or download the free app from itunes – hours of fun and entertainment can be had diagnosing those around you, and indeed yourself.


Meanwhile, I have also ordered Hare’s book “Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us” and another associated with the Fishead website / movie / app: “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work“.

Stay tuned for more updates, no doubt!

When organisations turn cannibal

21 07 2011

Many years ago I worked for a boss who fits all the criteria for “psychopath in the workplace”. He, and the place I worked, shall remain nameless for the purpose of this blog! (Disclaimer: If one of my former bosses is reading this and worried it is them – the fact you are worried means it is not you.)

This man ran a small organisation with four different operational arms. I can only suspect he was worried about his managers getting together and overthrowing him (much as he had done to the previous CEO) because the culture he encouraged was for each of the managers to attack the other managers’ units as a way of deflecting attention and negative focus from their own. To say that the organisational culture in this workplace was toxic is an understatement. When a manager came through your office you hid whatever you were doing and said nothing of any value to them at all. Non-cooperation was the order of the day. Staff turnover was endemic – people couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Years later I had risen through the ranks and happened to work alongside one of the “other” managers from this workplace. Her view on the experience was illuminating. She did what she had to do to survive and to keep her staff safe – as we all did. Imagine how effective the organisation could have been if everyone had been focussed on achieving organisational goals instead of cannibalising each other.

So a recent Forbes India article about leadership intrigued me. There were of course the usual “bad” manager types (Sociopaths, Opportunists and Chameleons) but one of the “positive” leadership types – Achiever – also had some cautionary tales attached to it.

The Achiever, according to the article, is highly prized for reaching goals and achieving outcomes. However, they tend to have a shorter term, insular view of their goals. An example given was shutting down investment in R&D as a cost-saving measure. Very effective in the short-term, but ham-strings the organisation in the medium to long-term.

Another example is where the achiever is competing against internal competitors. They do things that benefit their unit (and disadvantage other units) without understanding or perhaps caring about the broader organisation. Short term personal gain – their unit is working well, they may look good – but causing problems for the organisation.

Management book “Think One Team” uses the example of a jelly bean company (one of my former staff called the book “Jelly Bean Dreaming”) to illustrate how silos that compete against each other and don’t have an organisation-wide view actually work against the company.

While silos exist for a reason – the coalition of like services into units makes sense organisationally – silos that don’t see themselves as achieving for the whole organisation, or worse, compete with each other and actively disadvantage each other, equal a dysfunctional organisation.