Belle Gibson - the art of attention seeking
God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another
Belle Gibson, the now disgraced ‘social media entrepreneur’ has become the poster girl for deceit on a large scale in Australia.
Last night on 60 Minutes, Tara Brown interviewed her, to try and get answers out of Ms Gibson as to how, and why, she managed to deceive so many people for so long, about her cancer diagnosis and recovery, through diet and in particular whole foods. Ms Gibson made millions out of a cookbook and an App developed from her cookbook. Worse, she convinced many people to ignore the advice of oncologists and traditional medical intervention on the basis of her miraculous recovery. You can see the interview here. It is clear from the whole fiasco that Ms Gibson is a chronic liar and shameless attention seeker. I still can't believe how few people called Belle Gibson's version of events into question - the whole sorry saga could have easily been prevented. Sadly, like every other narcissist, Ms Gibson blames everyone but herself for the situation in which she now finds herself.
This is unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence and also occurs in employment relationships.
On a smaller scale, I have twice now investigated employees who have been suspected of faking cancer for both sympathy, and to avoid performance management. I still say ‘suspected’ because in both cases, the employee resigned before formal performance management commenced, although many years later they are both still very much alive and healthy.
In investigating this type of issue it is important to tread lightly. While suspicions are aroused for any number of reasons, the truth is that the employee may be terribly ill, in one way or another. However in both of these cases the following issues arose:
- Performance was not at the expected level for the role and this continued for a significant period of time
- The employee was under 30 years of age
- The employee had regular ‘dramatic’ events in life, not related to health, requiring their absence from work, and garnering a great deal of sympathy
- The employee was considered to be very ‘brave’ in coming to work when so ill, and gained sympathy and attention from colleagues, making management of the employee difficult. In one case, other employees had organised fund raising activities for the ‘sick’ employee, as well as home cooked meals
- The investigation started because the ill health suddenly became dramatically worse when performance issues were raised – in one case, cancer which had been in remission for a number of years, suddenly returned as a secondary cancer
- The employee refused to allow me to obtain a report from their treating oncologist as the effect of performance management on their treatment and health. Neither would tell me the name of the treating oncologist, notwithstanding that every other facet of their illness had been freely and embarrassingly shared with other in the workplace
- Lengthy research had to be done in relation to common treatment regimes for the particular cancers which bore little resemblance to the treatment the employees said they had, or were, undergoing
- The employee had gone to great lengths to look sick during work hours (including shaved heads and scarves) yet social media accounts (which were not private) showed them to be enjoying busy social lives which also included heavy drinking and smoking – when challenged as to absence from work on a Monday the reason given was usually treatment rather than a hangover
- An examination of email and work provided mobile phone records proved the employees had lied about their whereabouts at times of medical appointments or other events requiring their absence from work, including occasions when compassionate leave had been granted
- The employee resigned when asked to respond to issues raised with them
I suspect this was a pattern of behaviour - leaving their employment when the deceit was discovered and probably starting the deceit again. It should be noted, however, that at no stage was an allegation put to the employee about having 'faked' being sick. The allegations were about lying about other events related to their employment, but in also asking for details of their treating oncologist, each will have known that suspicions had been raised.
Following their departure from the organisations, further investigations revealed other instances of deceit involving credit, taxi vouchers and various other work related benefits.
The level of hurt and anger in those organisations when the level of the deception was uncovered cannot be described. Staff who had been through treatment for cancer or who had lost a loved one to cancer were among those who had provided support.
Sadly, I believe in one of these cases the employee was psychiatrically ill, but in the other the employee was no more than a narcissistic attention seeker, who was a chronic liar! I don’t know if either sought help, but the most important lesson from this for me was to trust my instincts. I thought something was not quite right from a short time after their employment commenced.
For employers, as with all investigations, policies which allow workplace investigators to review email correspondence and phone records for work provided mobile phones are vital to uncovering the truth. Unlike most workplace investigations which involve allegations made by one person against another, this type of investigation requires a slow and steady approach, particularly as the employee may be seriously ill.