ⓘ Machiavellianism in the workplace


ⓘ Machiavellianism in the workplace

Machiavellianism in the workplace is a concept studied by many organizational psychologists. Conceptualized originally by Richard Christie and Florence Geis, Machiavellianism refers to a psychological trait concept where individuals behave in a cold and duplicitous manner. It has in recent times been adapted and applied to the context of the workplace and organizations by many writers and academics.

Oliver James wrote on the effects of Machiavellianism and other dark triad personality traits in the workplace, the others being narcissism and psychopathy.

A new model of Machiavellianism based in organizational settings consists of three factors:

  • maintaining power
  • harsh management tactics
  • manipulative behaviors.

High Machs can exhibit high levels of charisma, and their leadership can be beneficial in some areas.

The presence of Machiavellianism in an organisation has been positively correlated with counterproductive workplace behaviour and workplace deviance.


1. Job interviews

Individuals who are high in Machiavellianism may be more willing and more skilled at lying and less likely to give honest answers during interviews. Individuals high in Machiavellianism have stronger intentions to use deception in interviews compared to psychopaths or narcissists and are also more likely to see the use of lying in interviews as fair. Men and women high in Machiavellianism may use different tactics to influence interviewers. In one study, which examined how much applicants allowed the interviewers to direct the topics covered during the interview, women high in Machiavellianism tended to allow interviewers more freedom to direct the content of the interview. Men high in Machiavellianism gave interviewers the least amount of freedom in directing the content of the interview. Men high in Machiavellianism were also more likely to make up information about themselves or their experiences during job interviews.


2. Workplace bullying overlap

According to Namie, High Machs manipulate and exploit others to advance their perceived personal agendas and to maintain dominance over others.

The following are the guiding beliefs of those high on Machiavellianism:

  • Arrogance is far more effective when dealing with others.
  • It is much better to be feared than loved.
  • Never show humility
  • Morality and ethics are for the weak: Powerful people feel free to lie, cheat and deceive others when it suits them.

High Machiavellians may be expected to do the following:

  • Neglect to share important information.
  • Spread false rumors about another person.
  • Find subtle ways of making another person look bad to management.
  • Fail to meet their obligations.

In studies there was a positive correlation between Machiavellianism and workplace bullying. Machiavellianism predicted involvement in bullying others. The groups of bullies and bully-victims had a higher Machiavellianism level compared to the groups of victims and persons non-involved in bullying. The results showed that being bullied was negatively related to the perceptions of clan and adhocracy cultures and positively related to the perceptions of hierarchy culture.

In research, Machiavellianism was positively associated with subordinate perceptions of abusive supervision an overlapping concept with workplace bullying.