Cheats' guide to success

Psychopaths know how to get ahead: not through work, writes Jim Bright.

Psychopaths know how to get ahead: not through work, writes Jim Bright.

Are you a careerist? On the face of it, careerism sounds reasonable enough, with connotations of being focused, motivated, engaged, and keen to get ahead. What's not to like?

But being a motivated little bunny is actually the other end of the careerism carrot.

A careerist is a person who pursues career advancement through means other than their own performance. In other words, by grovelling, cheating, crawling, masquerading and all the other behaviour we attribute to colleagues we don't like.

Employing too many careerists can easily spoil the broth: the result is likely to be a bunch of stirrers who turn out half-baked and underdone work. So spotting these types and tackling their behaviour will not only make life more pleasant for the honest hard workers, it will result in improved organisational performance.

If you want to know whether you're a careerist or, more pertinently, how to spot one early on, you're in luck. A new study by Dan Chiaburu and his colleagues from Texas A&M University provides some very handy indicators.

First, we have to ask what characteristics might lead a person to be happy to give a totally misleading impression of their performance? Well Chiaburu's team thinks a careerist is "someone who disregards social norms and the rights of others, coupled with their endorsement of deceptive means for achieving personal success".

Further, they are "selfish, lack empathy or guilt, and are generally dishonest and manipulative". Otherwise known as psychopaths - not so much motivated bunnies as bunny boilers. So there you go, that slimeball in HR is actually a psychopath.

If you're struggling to think of any colleagues who don't fit these descriptors, leave your job right now, or take a long hard look in the mirror.

Apparently psychopaths are good at creating the illusion of success at the expense of honest work. Why do I keep thinking about the federal election campaign as I write these words?

After you've weeded out the psychopaths, Chiaburu's research suggests you might want to take a gander at those who espouse a strong exchange ideology - the expectation that work effort should reflect treatment received from the organisation. A strong exchange ideology means good treatment deserves more diligence in return, whereas bad treatment deserves poor effort.

The following statement reflects a strong exchange ideology: "An employee should work as hard as possible only if the organisation appreciates and rewards his/her efforts."

Finally, Chiaburu's group predicted that people of low emotional stability are more likely to be careerists. They say this is associated with more hostile reactions, lower job satisfaction and less sociable behaviour.

The results of the study suggest psychopathy, a strong exchange ideology and low emotional stability are good markers for careerists.

Frankly, I don't envy the poor blighter who has to tell a careerist they have a touch of psychopathy about them, they are reluctant to do anything unless they get lots in return, and they are generally miserable, hostile and reactive. Much easier to promote them. That way, we can all be happy bunnies.

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