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]

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.[5]

Impact on stress, absenteeism and staff turnover

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.[6]

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).[7] 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.[8] The narcissistic manager's need to protect such supply networks will prevent objective decision-making.[9] Such a manager will evaluate long-term strategies according to their potential for gaining personal attention.[10]

Corporate narcissism

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.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

Coping strategies for dealing with a narcissistic manager

DuBrin suggests the following coping strategies:[14]

  • 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

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.[15]

In fiction

See also


  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:
  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:
  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
  4. James O Office Politics: How to Thrive in a World of Lying, Backstabbing and Dirty Tricks (2013)
  5. 'Narcissists' perform best in job interviews according to study Daily Telegraph Lucy Kinder 16 Jun 2014
  6. Thomas, David. Narcissism: Behind the Mask (2010)
  7. A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 143
  8. A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 143 and p. 181
  9. S. Allcorn, Organizational Dynamics and Intervention (2005) p. 105
  10. A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace (2012) p. 122
  11. Downs, Alan: Beyond The Looking Glass: Overcoming the Seductive Culture of Corporate Narcissism, 1997
  12. Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Life and how to survive it (London 1994) p. 101
  13. Neville Symington, Narcissism: A New Theory (London 2004) p. 10
  14. A. J. DuBrin, Narcissism in the Workplace: Research, Opinion and Practice (2012)) p. 197
  15. Catherine Mattice, MA & Brian Spitzberg, PhD Bullies in Business: Self-Reports of Tactics and Motives San Diego State University, 2007

Further reading

  • 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)