Office bullies and psychopaths won't go unnoticed in 2020

This year saw Dr Renata Schoeman warn the CHRO community against toxic behaviours and people.

This year saw the subject of corporate bullying brought to the fore within the CHRO community as psychiatrist, Professor Renata Schoeman, spoke about it at the HR Indaba and again in a more intimate setting at a CHRO dinner where she spoke about how she herself had been a victim of workplace bullying to such an extent that she left her job. 

Now with the University of Stellenbosch’s Business School, she helps corporates and students to become more aware of the impact of workplace bullying, and has a particular interest in narcissists and psychopaths. 

“While we generally think of psychopaths as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs or Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, psychopaths aren't just in the movies.  They're in the boardroom and the staffroom too. In fact, up to 4 percent of CEOs display the traits associated with this kind of condition” said Renata to a visibly captivated HR Indaba audience at the Sandton Convention Centre in October. 

The topic was so insightful, that the professor was later invited to sit down with some HR heavyweights a CHRO Dinner in Cape Town to alert them of personalities and behaviours that they should beware. Stories were shared around the table regarding incredibly challenging situations with difficult colleagues, incident reports from colleagues, and resistance from the most guilty parties to change their behaviour and ways. 

She clarified some of the misconceptions around bullying, explaining that is not necessarily physical or verbal and driven from top-down. To the contrary, Renata explained that bullying, narcissistic behaviour and psychopathic behaviour can take various shapes and forms, manifesting in something as simple as purposefully excluding people from conversations and information, or intentionally alienating people through “cliques” and inner circles. 

It was agreed that, as the custodian of people and policies, HR leaders needed to create a culture of psychological safety within their organisations.

In one CHRO Interview, Ndivhu Nepfumbada, Transunion HR director for Africa, shared a particularly harrowing tale of how she had been bullied and antagonised in the early stages or her career while cutting her teeth as an HR manager in a mining sector that, for women, was still very much the opposite of a healthy working environment. 

“ I would go into a shift boss or foreman’s office and they would deliberately leave their pornographic magazines like Hustler and Penthouse open on the table for me to see. In another horrifying incident, a white apprentice exposed his genitals to me, and when I laid a sexual harassment complaint, I was told that it was my word against his and the company did nothing about it. Those were the kinds of things that I had to put up with and, to be honest, it was an experience that almost broke me.“