Hands up, who has worked with a narcissist?

Jun 05, 2024

Have you worked for someone who takes credit for your work? Do they need to be seen to be the cleverest, the one to be admired? Do they call you at all hours, expecting you to answer regardless of the time or what you are focused on? Do they lift you up in one moment, and break you down the next? Is there never any recognition for your hard work?

Working for a narcissist can be challenging and stressful. Understanding the traits and behaviors of a narcissistic can help you navigate the work environment more effectively.

These are the characteristics of a narcissist:

Grandiosity: they have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for excessive attention and admiration.

Lack of Empathy: they often have difficulty understanding and responding to the feelings of others.

Manipulative: they may exploit others to achieve their own goals.

Arrogance: they display haughty or superior behaviors or attitudes.

Entitlement: they expect special treatment and unquestioning compliance with their expectations. Challenging their ideas is not seen as collaborative but as a personal challenge.

Blame-Shifting: they rarely take responsibility for mistakes and may blame others for their own failures.

When working with a narcissist there is a significant and severe impact on those around them.

This is the impact a narcissist can have on the people they lead:

Emotional Stress: there is a constant need for admiration and validation which can be exhausting. In addition, it can be difficult to manage having been the best of the best in one moment and then being disparaged of and spoken badly of in the next moment.

Low morale: The lack of empathy and recognition can lead to low morale and job satisfaction. Low morale is exacerbated when there is a constant changing of direction. Often this change is based on what conversations have happened and what has been read in the latest management book.

Unclear boundaries: They may have unrealistic expectations and demand personal sacrifices including calling a team member at midnight.

Career sabotage: They might take credit for others' work and undermine their employees to maintain control. Control is critical to a narcissist, and they will ensure that they manipulate the situation in the background to get and maintain control.

There are things you can do that will help you navigate the environment when faced with a narcissist. These include:

Set boundaries: Clearly define your work hours and responsibilities and stick to them.

Manage expectations: Understand that their praise is often fleeting and contingent on their needs.

Document interactions: Keep a record of conversations and decisions that are made in case this is needed at some point in the future.

Stay professional: Maintain your professionalism and avoid getting emotionally involved. Recognise that if you are being emotionally triggered, this is a sign that you are already emotionally entangled.

Seek support: Connect with colleagues and mentors who can offer support and guidance.

Self-care: Prioritize your mental and physical well-being outside of work and ensure that you stick to these commitments you make to yourself.

Longer term considerations for your career includes assessing career impact and evaluating whether the work environment is sustainable for your career growth and mental health. Explore other opportunities and consider looking for a job with a healthier work culture if the situation becomes intolerable. Use the experience to build skills like resilience and learn how to manage difficult personalities which you will continue to encounter.

There are legal and ethical considerations when working with a narcissist, these include knowing your rights as an employee, including protection from harassment and unfair treatment.

If there are serious issues at play, report it. If narcissistic behavior crosses into harassment or abuse, there is support in place, seek legal advice, speak to a trusted colleague, speak with your manager or with the people & culture representative.

When working in an environment dominated by a narcissistic boss, there are three elements you can be focused on, these are a combination of strategic interaction, emotional intelligence, and self – care. By having a plan and getting to understand the individual you will be able to mitigate some of the negative impacts on your professional and personal wellbeing.

Ultimately though, you will not change a narcissist, and only you can decide whether it is worth staying in the environment, or whether it is time to move on.