The workplace is a microcosm of life. Different personality types need to work together every day whether they like it or not. The larger the workplace, the more challenging it is for business leaders to ensure that difficult people in their team do not affect negatively the enterprise’s performance.

Dysfunctional behaviour comes in various forms. It is often defined as an individual’s abnormal functioning or attitude that can negatively influence or be harmful.

Organisational psychologists identify different types of dysfunctional behaviour that most seasoned business leaders would have experienced at some stage of their careers.

Perhaps the most toxic dysfunctional behaviour is that of the narcissist who has a grandiose sense of self-importance combined with a lack of empathy for other people. This kind of behaviour causes the most damage when adopted by company leaders with some degree of authority, from CEOs, senior managers, middle managers and supervisors.

Narcissistic workplace behaviour is often characterised by an unwillingness to be challenged or questioned. Narcissist leaders require excessive loyalty, praise and adoration, and struggle to accept and incorporate feedback. They use fear, guilt, shame, punishment and manipulation to gain compliance and control. Narcissist managers spend a great deal of time and effort ensuring the ability to be with power players and high-status individuals in the organisation.

Still, it would be wrong to assume that only business leaders engage in dysfunctional behaviour. When personal life interferes with an employee’s work performance, managers must identify the cause and try to help out rather than just bark orders like “Get your act together, or heads will roll”. Marital crisis, an illness in the family, or demons dragged around since childhood often form part of the personal baggage many employees carry with them to the office.

So are business leaders expected to be amateur psychologists to identify the different types of dysfunctional behaviour? Possibly. But, more important, they need to identify the different kinds of dysfunctional behaviour and have some strategies on how to deal with them.

Envy and jealousy are some of the main enablers of dysfunctional behaviour in the workplace. Increased benefits, promotions, salary raises and discrimination can trigger negative behaviour that is not easy to quell.

Bullying is another disruptive reality that many workplaces experience. It may be practised unconsciously or deliberately and may take different psychological, physical or verbal abuse forms. Harassment is also a form of bullying that society is increasingly considering as toxic.

When personal life interferes with an employee’s work performance, managers must identify the cause and try to help out rather than just bark orders

The most troubling and potentially dangerous challenges in the workplace today are not caused by knowledge gaps. Behaviour gaps cause them.

Unfortunately, business schools do not dedicate enough time to prepare tomorrow’s business leaders to manage the complexities of human behaviour in the workplace.

One of the more important soft skills that managers need to master is dealing with mind games. Defensiveness, intimidation, workaholism, sabotaging, perfectionism, and control freak traits are played by some employees most of the time to get what they want. A manager that has invested in emotional capital can address these issues and resolve them before they arise, or get rid of them at the right time to prevent the organisation from future losses.

Some dysfunctional behaviour may be caused by psychological conditions that only medical experts should address. Bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, clinical depression and schizo-affective behaviour are not common. Still, they exist, and it takes an experienced manager to know when to call in the professionals.

Unfortunately, today’s workplace is more likely to suffer from dysfunctional behaviour caused by alcoholism, substance abuse, marital strife, anger management, and physical abuse. Some workplaces have trained counsellors, while others offer employee assistance programmes to help troubled employees to deal with their behavioural challenges.

Most organisations declare that their employees are their most valuable assets. This claim will only become credible when managers walk the talk. Managers must not be judgemental when they witness dysfunctional behaviour. They must also not be condescending or trivialise the concerns of their employees.

Labelling difficult employees in the workplace as toxic, negative, dysfunctional, anarchistic, territorial, sociopathic or derogatory is not the right way to deal with the difficult task of motivating people to optimise their output.

Establishing trust in the workplace can only succeed through respectful interaction. In the absence of sufficient importance being given to organisational psychology in tertiary education, today’s managers need to self-train to master the basic tools psychologists use to help their clients through problems.

Emotional capital does not feature on balance sheets. Still, it is the cornerstone of every successful business.

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