Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Syndrome

Please note: This post has been written by an external author for the People In Aid website. As such, all views expressed are those of the author and not of People In Aid.

Mike Johnson
People In Aid Writer in Residence

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All those diseases it appears you can catch - or develop - in the workplace have got me really worried. Everything it seems from stress (and consequent ulcers) to colds, flu and other airborne ailments - not to mention all the broken hearts caused by that research assistant in R&D.

But, it seems to me, that there is something far worse than that stalking the corridors of the executive suite - I call it the Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome.

I call it this after the 19th century novel where a man is not – this is an understatement – all he seems to be. In effect, he is two people, one good, one evil.

By my own observations and experiences, the Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome should be a recognised disease. If it were, many of our workplace experiences may be less frightening and more productive. Let me explain.

The other day I was sitting in a restaurant in Paris with an old friend of mine – lets call him Jacques. I’ve known him for years on a social level - he’s fun, has a great sense of humour as well as a wonderful wife and three lovely children that adore him. While we were sitting chatting, two other people I know came in and sat down nearby. They kept glancing over at us and then talking quietly, their heads close together. My friend Jacques had to leave quickly (an important meeting) and so I lingered over my coffee and passed the time of day with the two new arrivals.

The atmosphere was strange, a little tense. Finally, one of them said, “Mike, how do you get on with Jacques?”

“Very well,” I replied, "I’ve known him for a long time and his family. We’re not close friends but I often look him up when I’m in town.”

Then it slowly came out. “So you’ve never worked with him ?” asked the second person.

“Never”, I said. “Why?”

“So you don’t know about Jacques ?” he challenged. Then he took what appeared was a very big gulp of air and a torrent of French came rushing out.

“He’s a monster!” he shouted. “The most horrible, difficult, nasty person I have ever had to work with.”

“Yes,” agreed the other, “he has a terrible personality disorder. He becomes angry, irrational and totally impossible to work with.” Then he added, “trouble is he is such a good fund raiser that the agency won’t do anything about it - people around him leave instead.”

This encounter, naturally surprised me, but I forgot about it until a few weeks later when I saw for myself a Mr Hyde in action.

I was sitting in a meeting in Amsterdam when I witnessed a complete loss of temper, rationality and sense of any civilised behaviour by a senior manager. I could see that this was not the first time and that the other people in the room seemed – while intimidated and embarrassed – resigned to it.

Some hours after the incident, I met the ranting lunatic of my morning’s meeting quite by accident in a totally different context. Invited to a gallery opening at a new atelier on one of the city’s canals, who should I come face to face with but the scary screamer himself! But he was talking to a good friend of mine and they were laughing and joking together. Gone was the edgy, weird behaviour.

I exchanged some basic, social pleasantries and then, diplomatically took my Dutch friend aside and said softly, “Ruben, tell me, that guy you were talking to, how well do you know him?”

“Erik? Oh forever. We have been friends for years, our families often vacation together. Isn’t he a great guy?”

That encounter got me thinking. Are there a lot of Jacques and Eriks out there; lots of – what I’ve termed – Dr Jekylls and Mr Hydes. People, who if you know them socially are charming and the best kind of friend you can get but, put into a work context become, literally, another person : unrecognisable to close friends or family. Well, it seems that in this supercharged, non-stop, 24/7 life we have created for ourselves there are a great many. Guys (and gals too), who undergo a personality change (rather like Superman) as they walk through the company car park. A total metamorphosis from mild-mannered, much loved Daddy to foaming at the mouth ranting, raving ogre.

For them, the only way it seems they can achieve what they have to do is by burying Dr Jekyll's "nice guy" persona and donning the Mr Hyde each day.

What to do, do these people need help, can they be treated? I talked to some business psychologists about this. Their take is simple. It is today’s stressful environments that bring this on, coupled to fear of failure and a determination to be seen as a hard guy – uncompromising and results driven.

“Let’s face it,” said one, “there is a lot of pressure around and some people find it easier (for them, not for others, of course), to adopt an “at work”, professional personality.” He went on, “others just drift into it, not wanting to let people down and finding it easier to become a totally driven, focused, yet increasingly irrational person.”

Can you cure it? Yes you can. But it needs a lot of work over time. And with constant pressure on most of us to deliver results that’s not easy to achieve.

My take on this? There are more of these people around than we might at first think. No matter how much you don’t like their behaviour, it might be a good idea to see if there are ways to help out for the ultimate good of the organisation.

True, Dr "nice-guy" Jekyll may not win the employee of the year award, but his colleagues and staff will work a whole lot better when he hands in the tough-guy disguise for a smile, a word of encouragement and a helping hand.
 

Date published: Wednesday 12 October 2011

9 comments

Good for my research report! were studying this book :-(

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Posted anonymously
25/10/2011 at 15:34   

Also good for my research, short, sweet, and to the point. Thanks!

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Posted anonymously
20/03/2012 at 21:07   

Thank you so much for this!! Helps for my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde research paper (:

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Posted anonymously
26/03/2012 at 00:48   

Researchers, please don't overlook the Dr. Jekylls who are Mr. Hydes AT HOME. Your work may help many spouses and even more children make sense out of their hellish homes.

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Posted anonymously
16/06/2012 at 19:50   

I am married to one. He's mainly horrible at home and at night especially if he's been drinking. Then in the morning he's so nice. He doesn't work much. He has bad road rage swearing and yells a lot.

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Posted anonymously
10/09/2012 at 02:44   

It's a personality disorder called antisocial. These people can be extremely charming and even kind and generous in light-hearted situations. But to see the inner monster, they only need to be pushed a little bit. They can control their anger which can quickly turn into rage which can (if pushed enough) turn into violence. They need help but will almost always refuse it.

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Posted anonymously
10/06/2013 at 12:49   

sorry ... that should have been "they CAN'T control their anger" :)

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Posted anonymously
10/06/2013 at 12:50   

My 16 year old suffers from this syndrome and it has been a struggle from when she was as little as 4. I am a single mom and I have learned to be aware of what the triggers are and avoid them at all costs to protect the sanity and safety of my other daughter and myself.
I've tried meds and counseling (she now refuses) and now we are trying natural supplements. She suffers with migraines and constantly has us on alert. We feel so
drained by her unsuspecting anger outbursts. Her stress and anger heightens with her menstrual period.

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Posted anonymously
19/07/2013 at 06:14   

This article was very helpful. I lived w/stepdad from ages of 9-19 with this syndrome. It was "hellish" home life to say the least. I naturally married a man who had these tendencies to outbursts of rage. It is a miracle I am alive and happily divorced. The first time I saw his rage was 2 months before our wedding. It progressively got worse & I was able to divorce him after 26 yrs. In my career I have had encounters w/people w/Dr Jekyll Mr Hyde Syndrome. I compare working and living w/people like this to walking through a mine field hoping there won't be an explosion (ie outburst of rage). Thank you for helping provide insight and tips on how to deal w:people w/DJMH tendencies.

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Posted anonymously
02/01/2014 at 08:55   

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