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Machiavellianism in the workplace

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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 construct where individuals behave in a cold and duplicitous manner.[1][2] It has been adapted and applied to the context of the workplace and organizations by psychology academics.

Oliver James wrote on the effects of Machiavellianism and other dark triad personality traits in the workplace, the others being narcissism and psychopathy.[3]


A new model of Machiavellianism based in organizational settings consists of three factors:[4]

  • maintaining authority in the workplace
  • harsh management tactics
  • manipulative behaviors.

Examples of behaviors that individuals high in Machiavellianism may do include:[5]

  • Theft
  • Lying/Deceit
  • Sabotage
  • Cheating

High Machs can exhibit high levels of charisma, and their leadership can be beneficial in some areas.[6]

The presence of Machiavellianism in an organization's employees has been positively correlated with counterproductive workplace behaviour and workplace deviance.[4]

The origin of exploitative tactics entering the workplace can be tied to multiple factors, such as distrust towards others, pessimism, survival/self-protection tactics, or even the gender of involved parties.[7]

Impact on employee satisfaction and well being[edit]

Being under the leadership of those high on Machiavellianism can negatively impact the performance or productivity inside an organization. A study showed a link between job satisfaction and level of Machiavellianism, in which the higher the level of MACH orientation by upper management and leaders, the higher the chance of employees experiencing lower job satisfaction.[8] In the same study, it was found that managers with high levels of Machiavellianism also reported higher job strain, less job satisfaction, and fewer perceived opportunities for formal control in the work environment.[8]

Research has shown that high levels of Machiavellianism, both exuding the traits and witnessing the traits in the workplace, correlate with higher levels of job strain, lower levels of job satisfaction, and lower levels of overall career satisfaction.[5]

Perceived actions of Machiavellianism can cause significant stress and lead to distrust among employees and leaders.[9] This can be due to the manipulative behaviors, low empathy, and self-focused motives that individuals high in Machiavellianism may exude in their workplaces.[9] As a result of being potential victims of these behaviors, employees may experience a lack of trust, higher levels of stress, and a lower sense of commitment to the workplace.[9]

Bullying in the workplace is another problem that can arise from Machiavellianism and that can contribute to stress levels among workers. A study shows a correlation between workplace bullying experiences and Machiavellianism levels, which usually results in lower job satisfaction among those workers being a victim of workplace bullying.[10]


The leadership of High Machs tends to be more unethical and destructive than other types of leadership.[9]

Unconstructive behaviors may appear in the workplace due to signals being sent from leaders to their employees.[11] According to the findings of a study conducted in 2016, there was a particular relationship between low-ethical leadership behaviors and higher levels of manipulative behaviors from their followers.[11] However, the followers do not have to have high levels of Machiavellianism. This suggests that these negative behaviors could be unintentional and are a result of employees trying to fulfill their workplace responsibilities.[11]

Additionally, high levels of Machiavellianism among leaders have been positively associated with higher ratings of abusive supervision among regular workers, contributing to low job satisfaction, which results in a negative impact on the workers' well-being.[12]

Similarly, employees who are high in Machiavellianism may participate in knowledge hiding, a technique of withholding or hiding knowledge from co-workers.[13] This could then lead to damage in co-worker relations and distrust in the workplace.[13] Furthermore, employees high in Machiavellianism may not only target their co-workers but also their supervisors. According to previous study findings, employees high in Machiavellianism may engage in emotionally manipulative behaviors toward their supervisors, especially those low on ethical leadership.[13]

Job interviews[edit]

Individuals who are high in Machiavellianism may be more willing and more skilled in deceiving and less likely to give honest answers during interviews.[14][15][16] Additionally, those higher on machiavellianism have stronger intentions to use deception in interviews compared to psychopaths or narcissists and are also more likely to perceive the use of lying in interviews as fair.[17][18] Furthermore, men and women high in Machiavellianism may use different tactics to influence interviewers. According to a study, which examined how much applicants allowed the interviewers to direct the topics covered during the interview stated that women high in Machiavellianism tended to allow interviewers more freedom to direct the content of the interview, whereas men high in Machiavellianism gave interviewers the least amount of freedom in directing the content of the interview.[19] Men high in Machiavellianism were also more likely to make up information about themselves or their experiences during job interviews.[20] On the other hand, an interviewer or human resource person high in Machiavellianism is likely to manipulate or lie or change his or her words during an interview or job hiring process.

Workplace bullying overlap[edit]

According to Gary Namie, High Machs manipulate and exploit others to advance their perceived personal agendas and to maintain dominance over others.[21]

High Machiavellians may be expected to do the following:[22]

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

According to previous studies there was a positive correlation between Machiavellianism and increased involvement in workplace bullying.[10] Furthermore, the groups of bullies and bully-victims had a higher Machiavellianism level compared to the groups of victims and persons non-involved in bullying.[23] 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.[23] Apart from these, another research showed that Machiavellianism was positively associated with subordinate perceptions of abusive supervision (an overlapping concept with workplace bullying).[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Christie, Richard; Geis, Florence L. (2013-10-22). Studies in Machiavellianism. Academic Press. ISBN 9781483260600.
  2. ^ Calhoon, Richard P. (1969-06-01). "Niccolo Machiavelli and the Twentieth Century Administrator". Academy of Management Journal. 12 (2): 205–212. doi:10.5465/254816. ISSN 0001-4273.
  3. ^ James O Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks (2013)
  4. ^ a b Kessler, SR; Bandeiii, AC; Spector, PE; Borman, WC; Nelson, CE; and Penney, LM 2010. Reexamining Machiavelli: A three dimensional model of Machiavellianism in the workplace. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 40, 1868–1896
  5. ^ a b Dahling, Jason J.; & Kuyumcu, Daniel (January 2012). "Machiavellianism, unethical behavior, and well-being in organizational life".
  6. ^ "ScienceDirect". The Leadership Quarterly. 12 (3): 339–363. September 2001. doi:10.1016/S1048-9843(01)00082-0.
  7. ^ Ináncsi, Tamás; Pilinszki, Attila; Paál, Tünde; Láng, András (2018-11-30). "Perceptions of Close Relationship Through the Machiavellians´ Dark Glasses: Negativity, Distrust, Self-Protection Against Risk and Dissatisfaction". Europe's Journal of Psychology. 14 (4): 806–830. doi:10.5964/ejop.v14i4.1550. ISSN 1841-0413. PMC 6266533. PMID 30555587.
  8. ^ a b Gemmill, G. R.; & Heisler, W. J. (1972). "Machiavellianism as a factor in managerial job strain, job satisfaction, and upward mobility". Academy of Management Journal. 15 (1): 51–62. doi:10.2307/254800. JSTOR 254800.
  9. ^ a b c d Belschak, Frank D.; Muhammad, Rabiah S.; Den Hartog, Deanne N. (2018). "Birds of a Feather can Butt Heads: When Machiavelliani Employees Work with Machiavellian Leaders". Journal of Business Ethics. 151 (3): 613–626. doi:10.1007/s10551-016-3251-2. PMC 6417390. PMID 30956372.
  10. ^ a b Valentine, S.; Fleischman, G. (2018). "From the schoolyard to workplace: The impact of bullying on sales and business employees' Machiavellianism, job satisfaction, and perceived importance of an ethical issue". Human Resource Management. 57: 293–305. doi:10.1002/hrm.21834.
  11. ^ a b c Greenbuam, Rebecca L.; Hill, Aaron; Mawritz, Mary B.; Quade, Matthew J. (July 2016). "Employee Machiavellianism to Unethical Behavior". Journal of Management. 43 (2): 585–609. doi:10.1177/0149206314535434. ISSN 0149-2063. S2CID 143801443.
  12. ^ Wisse, Barbara; Sleebos, Ed (2016). "When the dark ones gain power: Perceived position power strengthens the effect of supervisor Machiavellianism on abusive supervision in work teams". Personality and Individual Differences. 99: 122–126. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2016.05.019. ISSN 0191-8869. S2CID 56051837.
  13. ^ a b c Belschak, Frank D.; Den Hartog, Deanne N.; De Hoogh, Annebel H. B. (2018). "Angels and Demons: The Effect of Ethical Leadership on Machiavellian Employees' Work Behaviors". Frontiers in Psychology. 9: 1082. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01082. ISSN 1664-1078. PMC 6031853. PMID 30002641.
  14. ^ Fletch, 1990
  15. ^ Levashina, J., & Campion, M. A. (2006). A model of faking likelihood in the employment interview. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 14(4), 299-316.
  16. ^ Roulin, N., & Bourdage, J. S. (2017). Once an Impression Manager, Always an Impression Manager? Antecedents of Honest and Deceptive Impression Management Use and Variability across Multiple Job Interviews. Frontiers in Psychology, 8.
  17. ^ Lopes, J., & Fletcher, C. (2004). Fairness of impression management in employment interviews: A cross-country study of the role of equity and Machiavellianism. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 32(8), 747-768
  18. ^ Roulin, N., & Krings, F. (2016). When Winning is Everything: The Relationship between Competitive Worldviews and Job Applicant Faking. Applied Psychology, 65(4), 643-670.
  19. ^ Weinstein, E. A., Beckhouse, L. S., Blumstein, P. W., & Stein, R. B. (1968). Interpersonal strategies under conditions of gain or loss1. Journal of Personality, 36(4), 616-634.
  20. ^ Hogue, M., Levashina, J., & Hang, H. (2013). Will I fake it? The interplay of gender, Machiavellianism, and self-monitoring on strategies for honesty in job interviews. Journal of Business Ethics, 117(2), 399-411.
  21. ^ Namie, G. (2006). Why Bullies Bully? A Complete Explanation.
  22. ^ Greenberg J, Baron RA Behavior in Organizations: Understanding and Managing the Human Side of Work (2003)
  23. ^ a b Irena Pilch, Elżbieta Turska Journal of Business Ethics February 2014 Relationships Between Machiavellianism, Organizational Culture, and Workplace Bullying: Emotional Abuse from the Target’s and the Perpetrator’s Perspective
  24. ^ Kohyar Kiazada, Simon Lloyd D. Restubog, Thomas J. Zagenczyk, Christian Kiewitz, Robert L. Tang, -In pursuit of power: The role of authoritarian leadership in the relationship between supervisors’ Machiavellianism and subordinates’ perceptions of abusive supervisory behavior

Further reading[edit]

  • JJ Teven, JC McCroskey Communication correlates of perceived Machiavellianism of supervisors: Communication orientations and outcomes Communication Quarterly Volume 54, Issue 2, (2006) Pages 127-142
  • David Shackleton, Leyland Pitt, Amy Seidel Marks, (1990) Managerial Decision Styles and Machiavellianism: A Comparative Study, Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 5 Iss: 1, pp. 9 – 16
  • Jonason, P. K., Slomski, S., & Partyka, J. (2012). The Dark Triad at work: How toxic employees get their way. Personality and Individual Differences, 52(3), 449-453.

External links[edit]