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Identifying the Munchausen Employee

Identifying the Munchausen EmployeePeople who imitate an illness to garner attention/sympathy/treatment from caregivers are sometimes diagnosed with Munchausen syndrome. In a recent Harvard Business Review piece, Nathan Bennett explores the phenomenon of what he calls Munchausen at Work.

Have you seen MAW in action? Think of them as employees who create problems on purpose so they can be heroes when they deliver a solution. "Although MAW is infrequent, most experienced managers have encountered it, and they acknowledge that it can be highly disruptive," writes Bennett.


  • The great "team builder" who goes behind the backs of individuals to sow seeds of mistrust, then becomes a reconciliator.
  • The "reluctant hero" who takes on discretionary duties -- mentoring new hires, for example -- only to give up the extra work in hopes that management will take notice and beg for a return engagement.
  • The person who lights small fires -- a supply shortage, say -- and then gets credit for putting them out.
Diagnosing MAW is difficult, but Bennett offers 6 questions to consider when evaluating an employing, including, "Does the employee deflect management's efforts to understand a problem's underlying cause?"

Have you spotted Munchausen at work? What were the signs? Did your boss see it the same way?

(Devious image by Enemy Walrus, CC 2.0)

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