Dealing with BPD in an Employee or Coworker

In 2000 a survey of the top Fortune 1000 found that every work day, 723 workers are physically attacked, 43,800 are harassed and 16,400 threatening incidents take place. These events are brought about by a difficult employee’s personality.

A recent article published in the Journal of Business and Economics Research found borderline traits to be in the top three most difficult employee traits for managers and coworkers. A better understanding of personality disorders and their underlying psychological characteristics can help managers, supervisors and co-workers to better handle a difficult employee.

Personality disorders can have a negative impact on the workplace. An estimated 10 million Americans have borderline personality disorder (BPD) and its symptoms can be disruptive in a working environment. When BPD traits are mismanaged, the impulsive behavior, intense emotions and contrariness can lead to disaffection amongst coworkers. However, a healthy working environment can provide stability in the lives of people with this disorder. For others, a workplace can trigger stresses that inflame the symptoms of BPD.

Frequently, individuals with BPD will rely on splitting and divisiveness in the workplace due to their expectations of abandonment or inevitable rejection. Many feel a repressed anger that may lead to devaluation of people within the workplace, or over-idealization.

Generally speaking, those with BPD see people as all good or all bad because of their emotional defenses. The tendency to view people in black and white terms results in unstable personal relationships. For example, individuals with BPD may use persuasion and empathy to make an employee feel they have been used by others. Alternately, they may persuade a coworker that they rely heavily on others.

Because of the tendency for those with the disorder to be divisive, the persuasion can take on a positive or negative aspect. Some employees with BPD may spread gossip in order to play coworkers against each other. Some may unload their stress and drama onto coworkers. Coworkers may feel that they are walking on eggshells and productivity may suffer.

Individuals with BPD may have a history of job changes. They may feel that others are picking on them. Because of this divisiveness, working on a project with someone who has BPD may be competitive instead of cooperative because of their desire for recognition.

It can be a challenge for management interacting with individuals who have a personality disorder. While the disruptive behavior may be overt, frequently the issues are difficult to detect or describe. The employer should stress the importance of suitable workplace behavior and the proper consideration of coworker feelings. An explanation of the appropriate time and place for different interactions may be necessary. Supervisors may need to remind the individual with the disorder to focus on finishing assigned work.

Criticism from a supervisor or coworker can trigger abandonment fears. Because of the intense emotions experienced by these individuals, it is likely that the employee will be mad at their supervisor, and they may have outbursts of rage or self-injury. Managers may be required to field the complaints of the person with BPD, but these meetings should not be allowed to turn into arguments. Stay civil, and do not cross boundaries. If possible, document everything.

Researchers have found that difficult employees evoke strong negative emotional reactions and these can affect work performance. Because of this it is important that issues and protests are addressed and dealt with directly and alternatives are included for improving the situation. Consistency is helpful for employees with BPD because they experience so much instability in their personal lives. Above all, try to maintain an understanding of the difficulty of living with BPD.