Why do businesses reward toxic behaviour?
A new study provides insight into why bullies often get a free pass at work.
Sexist. Ignorant. Offensive.
These are just a few ways to describe a toxic personality. On a societal level, we’re taught to reject these qualities but on a corporate level, it’s a different story. We’ve seen evidence of toxic behaviour being ignored or covered up when it’s coming from a person who’s considered to be a “high performer.”
But our collective patience appears to be wearing thin. In 2017, we saw the start of the “Me Too” movement, which resulted in the downfalls of Harvey Weinstein and Fox’s Roger Ailes, two media powerhouses who were once untouchable, despite their misogynistic ways.
The rest of the corporate world appears to be catching up, with many companies establishing diversity and inclusion initiatives that should, in theory, weed out tyrant bosses.
But in some organizations, bullies remain in charge.
One could argue that “A-type” personalities, defined as hostile, competitive, and blunt, are necessary in the business world — but emerging studies are challenging that long-held belief. There is an increasing amount of evidence suggesting that supporting minority workers can help a company’s bottom line.
A new study aiming to uncover why some toxic individuals succeed at work reveals that it may be a matter of personality over skill.
In the new paper, titled Personality and Individual Differences, Dr. Mareike Kholin, Bastian Kückelhaus, and Prof. Dr. Gerhard Blickle from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bonn, found that individuals with good social skills are considered more capable by their superiors.
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After conducting a series of interviews with several work teams, it was discovered that employees who were given low ratings for honesty and modesty can succeed if they balance those traits with good social skills.
But the authors caution that good social skills can be a “double-edged sword” because they can be used to create a “façade of harmlessness.”
Prof. Blickie says employers can help slow the corporate ascent of people with toxic personalities by paying more attention to an employee’s job performance instead of the way the employee behaves when they’re being watched.
The findings align with other research suggesting that in some companies, personality reigns supreme. A December paper from Harvard Business School and UCLA, for example, found that corporate “schmoozing” and taking smoke breaks with one’s boss can help individuals climb the corporate ladder faster, regardless of their job competence.