Why Businesses Hire Narcissists Psychology today


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Why do companies hire dishonest and unscrupulous employees, such as managers with dark personality traits (e.g. deceptive managers, manipulators, and exploiters)?

Ling Harris and colleagues, in their article in press at Business ethics review, suggest that companies hire managers whose “desire to push back the ethical limits is aligned with the objectives of the organization”. One of those unethical organizational behaviors is creative accounting, especially profit management.

Before reviewing their findings, I briefly define dark personality traits and explain what profit management means.

Income management and dark personality traits

Senior accountants make accounting estimates and other judgments that influence a company’s financial statements (eg, bottom line). While their goal should be transparency and accuracy, this is not always the case. Revenue management refers to situations in which senior accounting officials change their estimates and influence financial reports to reflect the desired income level and not that of the company real economic performance.

Previous research suggests that managers with dark personality traits are inclined to engage in unethical work behavior, such as managing income.

Dark personality traits are associated with the following personalities.

  • Psychopaths are superficially charming but insensitive.
  • Narcissists feel superior and empowered.
  • Machiavellian are long-term calculating manipulators.
  • sadists lacks empathy and enjoys cruelty.

Although dark personality traits tend to be dysfunctional and aversive, research indicates that certain characteristics of dark personality individuals are viewed positively in contexts like politics and business. What attributes? Self-confidence, impression management skills, creativity, innovation and leadership, among others.

Indeed, many people with dark personality traits, especially the Machiavellian, easily access leadership positions. Likewise, those with narcissistic tendencies are more likely to become leaders, a phenomenon seen even in narcissistic children.

So, hiring people with dark features could be a accidental consequence of the search for stereotypical “strong leaders”. In other words, organizations looking to hire very confident employees can employ people who to arrive at also have dark personality traits.

Harris et al., However, have a different theory: Maybe companies hire people willing to do what is necessary (even if unethical) to achieve organizational goals. Simply put, businesses intentionally look for people with dark personalities.

Now let’s move on to testing the above hypothesis.

An investigation into hiring decisions and dark personality traits

Experiment 1

Sample: 113 company professionals.

Method: The researchers aimed to vary the pressure to manage revenue by manipulating the type of organization (i.e., nonprofit or for profit). Participants were randomly assigned to a nonprofit foundation or public for-profit corporation and instructed to imagine that they were corporate recruiters (financial executives) trying to hire a director senior accountant.

As financial executives, they had to choose between two finalists, candidate M and candidate F. These candidates were very similar in terms of professional experience, education and competence, but different in their personality profiles. More precisely, candidate F had little dark features, while candidate M had many– rich in narcissism, Machiavellianism, moral disengagement, tendency to rationalize and justify behavior incompatible with values, belief in the importance of pleasing the powerful, etc.

Participants first answered questions about the personality-organization fit (e.g. in terms of each candidate’s value system, attitude, priorities), followed by two questions about the likelihood of hiring the candidate. candidate and how much they personally loved him.

Results: In the case of the for-profit firm, data analysis showed that the person-organization fit and the likelihood of hiring candidate M (compared to F) were higher. This indicates that hiring decisions have been affected by the pressure to manage income.

Essential personality readings

Experiment 2

Sample: 110 people with training in accounting and finance.

Method: This time the researchers attempted to manipulate the pressure to manage income by varying the goal financial statements. Thus, the type of organization was kept constant (still a for-profit business), but the object of the statements was either “owner control” or “business valuation”.

Specifically, participants were asked to imagine themselves as business owners trying to hire an accounting manager and were randomly assigned to a firm appraisal condition (i.e. to correct inefficiencies in accounting operations). the company). The rest of the procedure was similar to the previous investigation.

Results: When financial statements were used for business valuation (versus owner control), participants were more likely to select candidate M. Why? Perhaps because of the added pressure to manipulate earnings upward.

Experiment 3

Sample: 41 executive recruiting professionals.

Method: Participating professionals were asked to imagine themselves as executive search consultants making interview recommendations for a senior accountant position for a client of a public company. The hiring organization has been kept constant. In addition, only one candidate was considered, either M or F, not both.

Results: Data analysis once again showed a higher probability that candidate M would be recommended for interview. Thus, the authors note, people with dark personality traits appear to be “screened in early in the hiring process.”

Pexels / Pixabay

Source: Pexels / Pixabay

Dark Traits and Unethical Behavior in the Workplace

In summary, the results show that organizations tend to hire senior accountants with dark personality traits (eg, high level of narcissism, Machiavellianism, moral disengagement) when the position requires a willingness to push the ethical limits. In fact, this was the case even when an alternative candidate (candidate F) was perceived as more likeable, a better manager overall, and less prone to indulge in fraud.

While a variety of factors (eg, culture or organizational identity, such as organizational narcissism) can potentially explain the prevalence of unethical behavior in the workplace, the research reviewed indicates that hiring of people with dark personalities, especially those rich in narcissism, Machiavellianism, but low in idealism – can be a big factor.

At present, there is little empirical evidence on the type or timing of interventions to address benefit management. Therefore, we need to test interventions targeting different steps from the process of hiring senior accounting executives, from job posting and announcement to recruiting, selection and retention, to determine where they might be most effective.


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