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Narcissism At Work: Is Corporate Culture Fostering Grandiosity?

More common than you think; more complicated than you fathom.
More common than you think; more complicated than you fathom.

During undergrad, most people have a dream job and a dream company that they want to join.  The idea of being financially independent and having a title that holds a lot of value makes them hustle through each day, trying to surround themselves with the best people. But what if I tell you that the best people aren’t necessarily the right people for you? What will you do if narcissism hails at work as the core value that gets personified within the employees?

Have you ever wondered what it would feel like ending up in an organisation that promotes grandiosity? In other words, do you know how much catastrophic narcissistic organisations can be? Let me exemplify.
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  1. Imagine yourself in a situation where people consider bootlicking as being respectful. So, if you don’t please everyone around you, guess what? You don’t know how to create and sustain connections. You are not good enough at “communication”, even if you communicate aptly for work-related reasons. 
  2. Imagine your supervisors being hostile to you, invalidating your contributions, and manipulating you into thinking that was for your betterment while completely breaking your self-esteem. Glorifying bitterness induced by a sense of entitlement as a “Challenging” environment while draining you of your energy.
  3. Imagine having to deal with people each day who have self-serving motives behind every action. They are not actively listening to your problems, or worse, your problems don’t even matter to them because you’re not close with them, useful enough for them.

All of these can happen if you work under the leadership of a grandiose narcissist. Surprisingly, people easily confuse grandiose leaders as visionary. Let’s dive in deep so you can identify if the organisation you are working for is narcissistic.

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  1. You are often made to feel like your existence in the organisation is very insignificant. Unrelated stuff such as charm, charisma etc matters more than the quality of the work.
  2. The management enjoys chaos at work. They deliberately create conflicts as they get a sense of power and authority from them. However, they definitely blame others for it.
  3. If you disagree with your boss and colleagues, they may choose to avoid you, make you feel like an outcast, and may as well label you as whatever idea of you they have in their minds.
  4. You often feel like you are put in situations that your bosses know you won’t be able to outgrow, paired with colleagues for a project who won’t let you outshine.
  5. To feed their ego, supervisors gaslight you into thinking you didn’t perform well, when in fact, you gave the most from your capacity.
  6. There’s always an unhealthy competition going on. Your colleagues may even sell off your original idea or work as theirs without crediting you.
  7. Your boss is surrounded by the Narc-minions who replicate the same toxicity, always high on agreeability and admiration. Their end goal is getting the promotion by hook or by crook.

What happens when we normalise narcissism at work?

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As humans, we tend to behave in a spectrum. A bit of narcissism may be within everyone. However, when an organisation has its culture revolving around narcissistic aspects, that will definitely kill your happiness. Studies have shown that work stress caused by narcissistic leader contributes to your physical health deterioration, sleep deprivation, etc. You get looked down on or undermined regularly. You may as well get labelled as unfit for the organisation if you voice up against the wrongdoings. When people sense that there is little benefit from the “relationship of utility” with you, you may be soon out of the picture.

In a narcissist organisation, you’ll always have to watch your back. A Narc-boss will instil fear in you, make you suffer and be proud of it. There’s always a lack of empathy and integrity. A narcissistic work culture or leadership nurtures narcissism within the employees and raises narcissists. When narcissism gets normalised at work, corporate abuse gets normalised as well.

Narcissistic Leadership

High-ranked corporate professionals have evidently been subject to narcissistic traits. According to a study by Dr Charles O’Reilly, Stanford University, narcissist leaders value and promote employees with the same level of narcissistic mentality. O’Reilly also states that a narc-leader leaves a lasting, negative legacy on the organisation and shapes the mindsets of the followers by significantly infecting them. Narc-leaders rarely learn from their mistakes because they think they never made any mistake, to begin with. Even in situations when others are in turmoil, for instance, COVID- 19 global pandemic and economic rescission, Narc-leaders can self-promote and get the best out of every situation for themselves.

Hiding in the euphemism and manipulating minds is one of the traits of a narc-leader. It’s not always just the traits. You have to analyse “what motivates them” to spot a narc-leader. Do they care about the betterment of each employee? OR, are they only counting on those who will be beneficial for reaching their self-serving goals?

DOs & DON’Ts for a narcissistic work-environment

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  1. Keep Records: Make sure to document every inappropriate text, email that you receive from your supervisor or colleague. These will stand as evidential support for the HR Manager.
  2. Be Neutral: To deal with people in a narcissistic work-environment, practice the art of staying neutral. By doing this, you don’t give people the power to use anything you say against you.
  3. Distance Yourself: It may be heart-wrenching if it was your dream job. Try to distance yourself emotionally and set clear boundaries.
  4. Be Better: You don’t have to outperform; work harder and be better than the narcissists in terms of skills and knowledge so you can stand strong on your ground.
  5. Look Unbothered: Narcissists mess with your mental peace because they know that is the power they can have over you. By not giving them attention, you’re taking away that power. Smile it away.
  6. Don’t Share Private Information: A narcissist at work would want to know more about you/initiate pretentious conversations to get information out of you. They will use that information against you.
  7. Don’t Make It Look Obvious: The last thing you want to do is make it evident to the narcissist that you know their motives. Tone it down and save your time and energy.

The question remains, is corporate culture fostering narcissism?

According to research done from the University of Melbourne, the very act of assuming positions of power can bring out the narcissists in all of us. The dark-triads study tells us that narcissists are power-hungry. However, new research suggests that it is the position of power that creates narcissists. The author says, “Power doesn’t turn everyone into a destructive tyrant. However, it has pernicious effects when it gets into the hands of those who want to achieve and retain power the most.” To distinguish whom the power ladder is going to turn into a narcissist, analyse their innermost motivation.

Corporate culture itself intrigues the sense of superiority amongst the leaders. To sum it up, yes, the corporate culture encourages grandiosity and does foster narcissism at work.

Shammi Mim
She is a cinephile, loves atmospheric music, and has a penchant for everything vintage.