I Made Up the Name of this Syndrome, and It’s Pretty Good

I always say that things happen in cycles or patterns around my office. A client will complain about something or observe something and then I will hear about the same thing again and again for the following week.

Last week I made up the name of a syndrome. It doesn’t really exist, not the way I use it anyway, so I made it up. Now I have used it three separate times, to help three separate clients identify a phenomenon in their workplace.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a psychological disorder marked by attention-seeking behavior by a caregiver of a person under his or her care, such as a child, an elderly adult, or a person who has a disability.

The syndrome I made up I named Professional Munchausen. I use it to describe people who make up or exaggerate situations in the workplace. These people take ordinary problems, challenges or complaints and make them bigger. Like the pyromaniac fanning the flames, these people feed on emergencies and crises. If there is not a crisis, they will make one.

What is a symptom of a professional Munchausen carrier? This person will come to you with a dire problem that they claim many people are upset about. The truth usually is that they are upset about a change or a policy, no one else is upset. They will inflate or make up vast numbers of dissatisfied people I guess in the hopes that there is strength in numbers, even if the numbers are made up.

The Munchausen carrier will also exaggerate the seriousness of the problem. Rather than sharing a concern about future business from a client, they may say “this company is never going to give us business again”. The hard part about having these people in your organization is that it’s hard on others for everything to be urgent. For everything to be a crises, for everything to be terminal.

If you have someone in your organization who is a professional Munchausen carrier, at least identify their behavior for what it is and how it affects everyone, disabled or not.


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