Narcissism in the workplace

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Narcissism in the workplace is a serious issue and may have a major detrimental impact on an entire organization. Narcissistic individuals in the workplace are more likely to engage in counterproductive work behavior (CWB) especially when their self-esteem is threatened.[1][2] Narcissism is both a personality trait and a personality disorder, generally assessed with the Narcissistic Personality Inventory.[3]

Oliver James identifies narcissism as one of the dark triadic personality traits in the workplace, the others being psychopathy and Machiavellianism.[4]

According to Fotaki, narcissistic elites are undermining the institutions created to benefit the public such as in health care, education and the environment.[5]

Job interviews[edit]

Main article: Job interviews

Narcissists typically perform well at job interviews and have a good success rate for landing jobs. Interviews are one of the few social situations where narcissistic behaviours such as boasting actually create a positive impression.[6]

Impact on stress, absenteeism and staff turnover[edit]

There tends to be a higher level of stress with people who work with or interact with a narcissist, which in turn increases absenteeism and staff turnover.[7]

Narcissistic supply[edit]

Main article: Narcissistic supply

The narcissistic manager will have two main sources of narcissistic supply: inanimate (status symbols like cars, gadgets or office views); and animate (flattery and attention from colleagues and subordinates).[8] Teammates may find everyday offers of support swiftly turn them into enabling sources of permanent supply, unless they are very careful to maintain proper boundaries.[9] The narcissistic manager's need to protect such supply networks will prevent objective decision-making.[10] Such a manager will evaluate long-term strategies according to their potential for gaining personal attention.[11]

Preference for hierarchical organisations[edit]

Narcissists like hierarchical organisations because they think they will rise to high ranks and reap status and power. Narcissists are less interested in hierarchies where there is little opportunity for upward mobility.[12][13]

Corporate narcissism[edit]

According to Alan Downs, corporate narcissism occurs when a narcissist becomes the chief executive officer (CEO) or other leadership roles within the senior management team and gathers an adequate mix of codependents around him or her to support the narcissistic behavior. Narcissists profess company loyalty but are only really committed to their own agendas, thus organizational decisions are founded on the narcissist's own interests rather than the interests of the organization as a whole, the various stakeholders, or the society in which the organization operates.[14] As a result, a certain kind of charismatic leader can run a financially successful company on thoroughly unhealthy principles for a time. But the chickens always come home to roost.[15]

Neville Symington has suggested that one of the ways of differentiating a good-enough organisation from one that is pathological is through its ability to exclude narcissistic characters from key posts.[16]

Coping strategies for dealing with a narcissistic manager[edit]

DuBrin suggests the following coping strategies:[17]

  • assess the relationship realistically
  • maintain your professionalism
  • flatter the narcissistic manager
  • confront the problem gently and tactfully
  • document your accomplishments
  • be willing to accept criticism
  • over respond to the manager's pet peeves
  • maintain a strong network.

Workplace bullying overlap[edit]

Main article: Workplace bullying

In 2007, researchers Catherine Mattice and Brian Spitzberg at San Diego State University, USA, found that narcissism revealed a positive relationship with bullying. Narcissists were found to prefer indirect bullying tactics (such as withholding information that affects others' performance, ignoring others, spreading gossip, constantly reminding others of mistakes, ordering others to do work below their competence level, and excessively monitoring others' work) rather than direct tactics (such as making threats, shouting, persistently criticizing, or making false allegations). The research also revealed that narcissists are highly motivated to bully, and that to some extent, they are left with feelings of satisfaction after a bullying incident occurs.[18]

Productive narcissists[edit]

Crompton has distinguished what he calls productive narcissists from unproductive narcissists.[19] Maccoby acknowledged that productive narcissists still tend to be over-sensitive to criticism, over-competitive, isolated, and grandiose, but considered that what draws them out is that they have a sense of freedom to do whatever they want rather than feeling constantly constrained by circumstances, and that through their charisma they are able to draw people into their vision, and produce a cohort of disciples who will pursue the dream for all it's worth.[20][21]

Others have questioned the concept, considering that the dramatic collapse of Wall Street and the financial system in 2009 must give us pause. Is the collapse due to business leaders who have developed narcissistic styles—even if ostensibly productive?[22] Certainly one may conclude that at best there can be quite a fine line between narcissists who perform badly in the workplace because of their traits, and those who achieve outrageous success because of them.[23]

In fiction[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bushman, B. J.; Baumeister, R. F. (1998). "Threatened egotism, narcissism, self-esteem, and direct and displaced aggression: Does self-love or self-hate lead to violence?". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 75 (1): 219–229. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.75.1.219. PMID 9686460. 
  2. ^ Penney, L. M.; Spector, P. E. (2002). "Narcissism and counterproductive work behavior: Do bigger egos mean bigger problems?". International Journal of Selection and Assessment. 10 (1-2): 126–134. doi:10.1111/1468-2389.00199. 
  3. ^ Judge, T. A.; LePine, J. A.; Rich, B. L. (2006). "Loving Yourself Abundantly: Relationship of the Narcissistic Personality to Self- and Other Perceptions of Workplace Deviance, Leadership, and Task and Contextual Performance". Journal of Applied Psychology. 91 (4): 762–776. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.91.4.762. 
  4. ^ James O Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks (2013)
  5. ^ Fotaki M Narcissistic elites are undermining the institutions created to promote public interest London School of Economics - British Politics and Policy
  6. ^ Kinder L 'Narcissists' perform best in job interviews according to study Daily Telegraph 16 Jun 2014
  7. ^ Thomas, David. Narcissism: Behind the Mask (2010)
  8. ^ A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 143
  9. ^ A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 143 and p. 181
  10. ^ S. Allcorn, Organizational Dynamics and Intervention (2005) p. 105
  11. ^ A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 122
  12. ^ Zitek E, Jordan A Research: Narcissists Don’t Like Flat Organizations Harvard Business Review 27 Jul 2016
  13. ^ Prigg M Does your office have a clear hierarchy? Then you could be a narcissist, researchers say Mail Online 17 Aug 2016
  14. ^ Downs, Alan: Beyond The Looking Glass: Overcoming the Seductive Culture of Corporate Narcissism, 1997
  15. ^ Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Life and how to survive it (London 1994) p. 101
  16. ^ Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 2004) p. 10
  17. ^ A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace: Research, Opinion and Practice (2012)) p. 197
  18. ^ Catherine Mattice, MA & Brian Spitzberg, PhD Bullies in Business: Self-Reports of Tactics and Motives San Diego State University, 2007
  19. ^ Simon Crompton, All about me (London 2007) pp. 157–58
  20. ^ Maccoby M The Productive Narcissist (2003)
  21. ^ Crompton, p. 158
  22. ^ Jay R. Slosar, The Culture of Excess (2009) p. 7
  23. ^ Crompton, p. 159

Further reading[edit]

  • Gerald Falkowski, Jean Ritala Narcissism in the Workplace (2007)
  • Samuel Grier Narcissism in the Workplace: What It Is - How To Spot It - What To Do About It (2011)
  • Belinda McDaniel The Narcissists in Your Life: Coping with and Surviving Narcissists in the Workplace, at Home and Wherever You Are Forced to Associate with People Suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (2014)
  • Sam Vaknin, Lidija Rangelovska The Narcissist and the Psychopath in the Workplace (2006)

External links[edit]