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Narcissism in the workplace: HR role

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Study researchers define narcissism as a personality disorder characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a lack of empathy, and the need for admiration and attention from others. According to the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a complex and impairing condition that can cause significant emotional, social, and occupational problems.

Narcissist main trait
Me first

Defining Narcissism in the Workplace

Various authors define narcissism as a type of personality disorder where individuals exhibit a grandiose sense of self-importance and entitlement, a lack of empathy, and a need for admiration and attention from others. Narcissistic behavior can manifest in numerous ways, such as being overly competitive, dominating, and manipulative. It can also contribute to conflicts and tensions with coworkers and ultimately negatively impact team performance and organizational outcomes.

cover up narcissist
Narcissists use manipulation to gain compliance and control.

Here are some common red flags signaling narcissistic workplace behavior:

1. Lack of empathy for colleagues or subordinates

2. Consistently seeking admiration and attention

3. Difficulty accepting criticism or feedback

4. Blaming others for their mistakes or shortcomings

5. Being overly competitive or hyper-focused on achieving personal goals

6. Taking credit for others' accomplishments

7. Refusing to follow established rules or procedures

8. Engaging in unethical or manipulative behaviors to achieve personal gain

9. Expecting special treatment or privileges

10. Reacting negatively to any threat to their perceived power or authority.

11. Engaging in unethical practices to achieve personal gain

Rooting out narcissism in the workplace.

To address these behaviors, it is important to communicate clear expectations and consequences for violations, provide regular feedback and coaching, and foster a culture of accountability and collaboration. It may also be helpful to seek guidance from a mental health professional or organizational consultant. By creating a supportive work environment and promoting healthy relationships, organizations can help prevent and address narcissistic behavior and improve overall productivity and well-being.

Nothing is good enough for narcissists
Narcissists do exhibit extremely competitive behavior.

What is the role of HR in managing NARCISSISM in the workplace?

The Human Resources (HR) department plays a vital role in managing the employees in the workplace. One of the essential responsibilities of HR is to ensure that every person in the organization is treated fairly. However, even with their expertise in employee management, HR departments have been known to overlook one of the most destructive personality disorders, the narcissistic personality disorder.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a mental condition characterized by a person's intense self-love, grandiosity, and lack of empathy. As a result, individuals with NPD tend to prioritize their needs over those of others, which can lead to destructive and manipulative behavior towards colleagues in the workplace.

Despite the severity of NPD in the workplace, HR departments tend to overlook this disorder for various reasons. One of the reasons for this is the lack of knowledge about the symptoms and signs of NPD. Since NPD is not diagnosed through blatant behavior, it can often be challenging to identify individuals with this disorder in the workplace. Furthermore, narcissists can be charming and persuasive, making it difficult for HR managers to identify whether they are dealing with a real problem or simply an ambitious or self-confident employee.

Another reason why HR departments overlook NPD is that many believe that narcissistic behavior is necessary to maintain a competitive edge in the workplace. Individuals with NPD tend to be self-promoting, show leadership qualities, and have an unwavering pursuit for success. Thus, some HR managers may pay less attention to any adverse impact this behavior may have on the work environment, collaboration, and other coworkers.

Moreover, narcissism is a prevalent trait among leaders in many industries, which means that HR departments may become tolerant of narcissistic behavior, leading to a lack of vigilance in identifying and managing individuals with the disorder.

However, allowing individuals with NPD to thrive in the workplace is detrimental to its employees and the company itself. Narcissistic personality disorder can lead to negative consequences, such as harassment, emotional manipulation, and bullying, which further exacerbate workplace tension and create a hostile work environment.

To address NPD in the workplace, HR departments can put in place certain protocols and policies to protect employees. Firstly, they can encourage employees to report any bullying or harassment cases they experience or witness. It is essential to develop a safe reporting system that allows employees to express their concerns without fear of retaliation. This can be achieved by maintaining a strict policy on confidentiality and ensuring that reports are taken seriously and investigated thoroughly.

Furthermore, HR departments can implement training programs to educate employees and managers on NPD and its effects on the work environment. Such training can provide individuals with practical tools to deal with manipulative behavior and identify early warning signs of NPD among co-workers. Providing a platform for open dialogue to promote awareness of these issues can help alleviate any concerns employees may have.

Finally, HR departments can consider creating a Narcissistic Personality Disorder policy that outlines specific methods and consequences for individuals who exhibit such behavior. This can involve a system of disciplinary actions, up to and including possible termination of their employment. By doing this, HR departments can provide clear guidance to employees on what is and is not acceptable behavior.

In conclusion, HR departments have a crucial role to play in identifying, managing, and preventing narcissistic personalities from causing harm to their coworkers and employers. By understanding the symptoms and behavior patterns of NPD, offering training to employees and managers, encouraging reporting, and establishing clear policies, HR managers can provide a safe, supportive, and productive work environment for all.

Here are some popular books about narcissism:

1. "The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement" by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell

2. "Disarming the Narcissist: Surviving and Thriving with the Self-Absorbed" by Wendy T. Behary

3. "Why Is It Always About You? : The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism" by Sandy Hotchkiss

4. "The Wizard of Oz and Other Narcissists: Coping with the One-Way Relationship in Work, Love, and Family" by Eleanor Payson

5. "Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in their Struggle for Self" by Elan Golomb

5. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

6. Judge, T. A., & LePine, J. A. (2007). The bright and dark sides of personality: Implications for personnel selection in research and practice. Journal of Management, 33(6), 827-850.

7. Rosenthal, S. A., & Pittinsky, T. L. (2006). Narcissistic leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 17(6), 617-633.

8. Laurie Cure, CEO of Denver-based consulting firm Innovative Connections and author of Leading Without Fear (Tate Publishing, 2012)

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