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Personality Disorder and the Workplace

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Cavaiola and Lavender (2000) note that the characteristics of the Obsessive Compulsive often advance  to leadership positions, particularly in organizations emphasizing rules and structure. Yet, these strengths are often their failure points as managers. They are likely to be task masters, lacking in emotional expression, nitpicky on trivial detail versus achieving good results. They, will place productivity and efficiency above all else. They are unlikely to provide encouragement or praise for a job well done, because this will simply be their expectation. For reward and recognition they are likely to be the manager who responds “your reward is that you have a job”.

Cavaiola and Lavender recommend the following techniques to deal with the OCD person:

• Be very clear about expectations and the implications of these expectations. Suggest other ways of achieving the same result with simpler but equally effective methods. Be detailed and explicit in your ideas.

• Set boundaries about your work-life balance. Be specific and firm.

• Be a team player, but be clear not to stray into allowing the OCD to push you beyond your agreed boundaries.

• Be complimentary to these individuals in order to allay their anxieties or insecurities. But be sure these are sincere.

• Avoid arguments or debates. OCD’s cannot admit being wrong. Rather, make them feel like they might have inspired the idea (however hard this might be at times).

• Don’t expect praise or emotional support – this is simply a fact of life when working with an OCD individual.


The title of Babiak and Hare’s (2006) book, Snakes in Suites, is very appropriate. I have encountered many of these snakes in suites over the years. Cavaiola and Lavender (2000) similarly describe the tremendous damage that employees with various kinds of personality disorders can have on an organization:

… this problem is like a hidden cancer slowly and persistently sucking the life out of productive and viable organizations by creating inefficient management, sexual harassment, excessive litigation, escalating expenses and job related stress. The magnitude of the problems these people cause for their organizational settings are of such as astounding proportions that they may be immeasurable.

I don’t think this can be overstated. Cavaiola and Lavender note that 80% of people they surveyed reported having to deal with someone in the workplace that created huge amounts of disruption and stress. I’m surprised that it was not 100%.

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