Welcome to the Dark Side…


Topic: Counterproductive Work Behavior
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2012)
Article: A Meta-Analysis of the Dark Triad and Work Behavior: A Social Exchange Perspective
Authors: Ernest H. O’Boyle Jr., Donelson R. Forsyth, George C. Banks, Michael A. McDaniel
Reviewed By: Lauren A. Wood, M.S.

Research identifying, examining, and defining positive work behaviors (e.g., transformational leadership behaviors, prosocial behavior) have been conducted since the beginning of I-O Psychology. Notably, one broad conclusion can be drawn—increasing positive work behaviors leads to positive work outcomes (e.g., job performance, OCB, profitability, return customers). In addition to studying positive work behaviors and outcomes, the “dark side” of work has been gaining much attention recently. Indeed, counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs) like employee theft, leader derailment and organizational politicking are all powerful, negative workplace behaviors that confirm a darker side of employee behavior—one which could have deleterious consequences for organizations in terms of performance, profit, and reputation.

One of the strongest predictors of an employee’s behavior is his/her personality. Accordingly, the personality traits of integrity, authenticity, and optimism predict positive behaviors and positive outcomes. Conversely, in the current study, the authors were interested in identifying negative personality traits and their potential link to negative workplace behaviors. Three negative personality traits (i.e., machiavellism, narcissism, and psychopathy) previously labeled as the “Dark Triad”, were selected. Machiavellism describes a strong belief in the need to manipulate others, cynical outlook regarding others, and the guiding belief that the end justifies the means. Narcissism describes an exaggerated self-view, and a strong desire for power, status, and admiration. Finally, psychopathy refers to a lack of remorse for others, a general lack concern for others as well as social norms, and smooth, glib behavior along with the use of impression management tactics.

O’Boyle, Forsyth, Banks, and McDaniel (2012) conducted a meta-analysis of the dark triad traits and their correlations with negative workplace outcomes (i.e., CWBs and low job performance). They found each of three dark triad traits to be related to increased CWB, and two (machiavellism and psychopathy) were related to low job performance. Taken together, this indicates that these negative personality traits can impact important work outcomes for the worse.

What can organization do to decrease the dark side’s effects? Well, to start, watch out for potential job candidates exhibiting characteristics of the dark triad: lack of concern over ethics, manipulation (machiavellianism) over-confident, over-self promoting, entitled (narcissism), overly glib over use of impression management tactics (psychopathy).  Additionally, be aware of workplace dynamics that may “bring out” the dark triad in current employees. For example, aggressive public compensation programs, the “pitting” of teams or departments against each other, sub-standard fairness or HR policies, and a lack of structured, understood corporate values.

O’Boyle Jr., E. H., Forsyth, D. R., Banks, G. C., & McDaniel, M. A. (2012). A meta-analysis of the dark triad and work behavior: A social exchange perspective. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97, 557-579.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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