No matter what role a narcissist plays in your life, you will experience numerous challenges as a result. But a narcissist in the workplace can present a special challenge, particularly if that toxic person is your employee.
Narcissists work very hard to control their environment and are frequently perfectionistic, which can be helpful qualities in some workplace cultures, but they are also quick to blame others for their mistakes and their arrogant attitude and flashes of narcissistic rage can disrupt team dynamics.
If you want to keep a narcissistic employee on because they are good at their job, then it will be important to set firm boundaries with clear consequences. You’ll need to enforce those boundaries with every violation and be consistent in your expectations about their performance and behavior.
Let’s discover more about how narcissists tend to behave in the workplace and how best to manage narcissistic employees without compromising their work performance or the morale of your other employees and yourself.
How Do Narcissists Behave in the Workplace?
Just like in a personal relationship, narcissists are often rated as good employees initially. They are charming and seemingly good at their work. While they may very well be good at their job, the charm usually fades very quickly just like it does in other types of relationships.
The characteristics of narcissism make them very difficult to work with because they frequently devalue and criticize their co-workers, they are boastful to the point of arrogance about their own performance, and they refuse to accept responsibility for any failures. They also blame other people for inadequacies, and they can be dishonest about anything that makes them look bad.
This behavior inevitably makes other employees uncomfortable, and without resolution, it’s likely you could lose other valuable workers. But firing a narcissist isn’t always as easy as it sounds, and you may not want to fire them if they are genuinely good at their job.
The best way to avoid problems is to spot the narcissist before you hire them, but if that isn’t an option, you’re going to need a plan. So how do you manage their negative qualities?
Managing the Narcissistic Employee
There are several things you can do to minimize the negative qualities of a narcissist and maximize their potential as a valuable employee. Once you realize you have a narcissist on your hands, the first thing you’ll want to do is develop a game plan for how to deal with them.
There are also strategies that coworkers dealing with a narcissist can use, but as a supervisor, you have to take a different course of action.
They are not good team players, so you’ll want to try and minimize the contact they have with their co-workers. You can achieve this by making it seem like they are special workers and that’s why they need to work alone. This will also help with their productivity since they won’t be constantly distracted by interactions with other people.
As Tom Ewall states, “Narcissists do better with vertical structures than horizontal ones,” so it’s better that they work alone in a way that allows them to do what they’re good at rather than giving them a co-worker whom they will feel the need to impress and control. Here are a few additional strategies for managing the narcissist in the workplace.
Step 1: Praise Their Work
If you are keeping them on because they are genuinely good at their job, then praise them for the good work they do. This will positively encourage them to keep it up while at the same time giving them that narcissistic supply of adoration they crave.
By having them work alone, there is also no one for them to blame for any failures that occur.
Step 2: Don’t Give Them Authority
Narcissists also make terrible bosses, so don’t give them authority over any other workers. If there is a need for them to work with others, then be sure to firmly establish that you are the authority on the team.
Make it clear that no one on the team should be criticizing or blaming other people for problems.
Step 3: Set Firm Boundaries
You’ll also want to establish firm boundaries both between co-workers and between your employees and yourself. You need to be clear and consistent in setting and maintaining those boundaries.
It’s better to provide every employee with copies of the rules and consequences for violating them in writing. Many employers will have all employees sign or initial copies of those rules so they can prove they were aware of them should repeated violations result in termination of employment.
Step 4: Keep Your Employees Focused
It will also be your job to keep the narcissist and any co-workers focused on their goals. Narcissists are masters of distraction and will often try to muddy the waters or manipulate co-workers, particularly if there are problems with a project. You’ll need to keep them and your team on track and focused on their work.
Step 5: Document Everything
Lastly, document everything. Each time there is a rule violation, document it in writing noting the time and date it occurred as well as the circumstances of the incident. Talk to your narcissistic employee about what happened every time there’s a problem with them.
It’s also a good idea to have a human resources witness present and have the narcissist sign a document stating they were informed of the rule violation and the need to change their behavior so it doesn’t happen again.
No matter how good a narcissistic employee is at their job, you may ultimately have to terminate their employment.
Terminating a Narcissistic Employee
Because there can be legal consequences to terminating anyone and narcissistic employees are likely to exploit those options, it’s important to take care when making the decision to terminate.
As already stated, you want to document in writing all of their bad behavior. When discussing the problems with the narcissist, be sure to have them sign a document that acknowledges you had the discussion with them and sets specific time frames for making any changes and for periodic reevaluations.
As it is common for narcissists to express that characteristic rage, it also might be appropriate to offer counseling if that is something your company can offer. In essence, as an employer, you want to show that you made a good faith effort to help your narcissistic employee change any bad behavior. That will limit your potential legal exposure should they decide to take action.
Toward that end, it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer about your options and to include your human resources department in any interactions you have with the narcissistic employee. You want witnesses and documentation of the problems as well as clear goals within set time frames for fixing them.
If the narcissist fails to change, you want proof they knew they needed to, that you gave them time to do so, and that you treated them fairly throughout the entire process.
There are many reasons why a narcissistic employee can be successful in the workplace and even rise to a position of authority. But the characteristics of their disorder make it difficult for them to work well with other people and that can cause serious disruptions in your company.
To minimize those disruptions, it’s better to have narcissistic employees work alone, set clear goals, give them employment expectations in writing that they must sign or initial to acknowledge they understand them, and document any infractions as well as efforts to correct the situation. Following these recommendations will help you to have a more peaceful and productive workplace.
Now that you know a little about managing the narcissist in the workplace, you might also be interested in this article about how to spot a narcissistic boss.
If you want more tips for dealing with narcissists, setting boundaries, and managing emotional triggers, make sure you subscribe to my youtube channel