Is your co-worker a jerk, or does he need a doctor?
A mood-disordered individual with Major Depression, for example, may demonstrate excessive lethargy that is chronic and changes little from day to day. A non-Mood-Disordered jerk might just be a slacker and feign low-energy to get out of doing her fair share of work.
Borderline Personality Disorder
People with BPD struggle to maintain stable relationships, including relationships with coworkers. They vacillate between idealizing their coworkers and demonizing them. Borderlines are highly defensive and tend to demonize those who criticize them. Ultimately, they see themselves through the eyes of others and have a very weak sense of self, which facilitates the development of unstable relationships across all relationship sectors. Obnoxious coworkers don’t necessarily have unstable relationships in all realms of their lives. They may take more credit for accomplishments than they deserve; they may brag about their successes. But, once again, those things just make for obnoxious coworkers. It’s important to note that BPD affects a very small portion of the population (approximately 6% per the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV) so bear in mind that your extremely annoying coworker may not be mentally ill.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
A person with NPD is different from a coworker who is conceited and selfish. A clinically diagnosed narcissist knowingly exploits others for his own personal gain without remorse because he sees it as necessary to get what he wants. He is miserably unhappy when the spotlight is removed from him. He feels entitled to special treatment and is obsessed with his “wonderfulness.” A non-NPD jerk doesn’t exploit others without guilt or internal conflict. He would typically feel some remorse and shame for exploitive behavior and might even apologize. Narcissists rarely (i.e., never) apologize. A jerk can be fair. He may grumble about certain parameters, but he typically follows the rules. He may brag about himself but doesn’t go out of his way to elicit compliments from others, as would a narcissist. Furthermore, he is not devastated when excessive praise does not come his way. And NPD is fairly rare; only 6.2% of Americans are clinically diagnosed with the disorder as per the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV.
It’s important to note that other medical problems can cause coworkers to behave in ways that are unusual and concerning or annoying and obnoxious. Brain tumors, head injuries, medication side-effects, hormonal imbalances, and stress can all trigger troublesome behaviors. So it’s important that employers and employees alike not jump to conclusions when suspecting a fellow worker is suffering from a mental illness. If, however, you suspect mental illness in a coworker, subordinate or supervisor, you need to determine if you can or want to handle the challenges presented when working with that person. Keep in mind the following:
- If a coworker is the problem, it’s best to take suspicions to a supervisor rather than confronting the coworker directly.
- If a subordinate is the cause of the workplace disturbance, deal with it directly but with sensitivity. Be observational in a non-confrontational way. For example, don’t say “You clearly have a personality disorder” say “I’ve noticed that your attitudes and behaviors change significantly from day to day and I’d like to talk to you about that privately.” Be relaxed when addressing the issue. If a supervisor is relaxed and approachable, suffering staffers are more likely to open up.