Why the “Dark Triad” of Personality Matters in the Workplace

Topic(s): Counter-Productive Work Behavior, personality, selection
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: A Meta-Analysis of the Dark Triad and Work Behavior: A Social Exchange Perspective
Authors: E.H. O’Boyle Jr., D.R. Forsyth, G.C. Banks, M.A. McDaniel
Reviewed by: Lauren A. Wood, M.S.

Research identifying, examining, and defining positive work behaviors, such as transformational leadership and 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, such as improved job performance, organizational citizenship behavior, profitability, and 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 behavior (CWB) like employee theft, leader derailment, and organizational politicking are all powerful, negative workplace behaviors that confirm a darker side of employee behavior. This side could have deleterious consequences for organizations in terms of performance, profit, and reputation.


One of the strongest predictors of an employee’s behavior is 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. The authors focused on the “dark triad,” which are three previously identified negative personality traits. These include Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. Machiavellianism describes a strong belief in the need to manipulate others, a 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 or concern for others, a lack of concern for social norms, and smooth, glib behavior with frequent use of impression management tactics.

He authors of this study (O’Boyle, Forsyth, Banks, & McDaniel, 2012) conducted a meta-analysis (which is a compilation of many previously published studies) of the dark triad traits and their correlations with negative workplace outcomes. They found each of three dark triad traits related to increased counterproductive work behavior, and two of the traits (Machiavellianism and psychopathy) were related to low job performance. Taken together, this indicates that these negative personality traits can negatively impact important work outcomes.


What can organization do to decrease the dark side’s effects? To start, they can watch out for potential job candidates exhibiting characteristics of the dark triad: lack of concern over ethics and manipulation (Machiavellianism), over-confidence, over-self promotion, and entitlement (narcissism), as well as overly glib or overuse of impression management tactics (psychopathy). Additionally, organizations should 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(3), 557-579.

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