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Big Surprise, Narcissistic Bosses Create Bully Employees

When the boss is a complete narcissist, employees turn into big, bad bullies with big, bad reputations. Or so says a new management study. Let's all do our best Frank Underwood power pose, and discuss!


A new University of Manchester Business School (UK) study queried 1,200 employees across a wide range of industries. The findings reveal that not only are employees with narcissistic bosses more depressed, they're also more likely to engage in "counter-productive" workplace behaviors such as taking credit for other people's work, being overly-critical, taking advantage of colleagues and generally displaying an unattractive aggressiveness on the job. As they become bullies, they develop a poor reputation.

In other words, if the boss is a complete jerk without a clear ethical compass, then employees will begin to become jerks themselves. This study is a good reminder about the importance of functional, top-down leadership. Employees pay close attention to everything leaders do, and then reset the boundaries and act accordingly in the workplace.

Seven Signs of Narcissistic Leadership
What if you are a new hire -- or you're spending a day at a potential employer shadowing employees during the final phases of the hiring process? Are there any warning signs that you could be walking into a hornet's nest of dysfunctional, narcissistic leadership? Here are seven warning signs that a company probably ranks high on the bully-narcissist scale:

1. Nobody seems interested to help you out. At this company, it's sink or swim. Nobody will guide you and offer the basic advice you need as a brand-new hire. You feel like you're on your own, as if your new co-workers are withholding information that would help you learn the job. If they help you, then they might lose. Working here already feels like a zero-sum game.

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2. Employees treat you like a short-timer from Day One. You're in it to win it, but you get the feeling long-time employees view you as a temporary fixture who won't last very long. They might even ask how long you plan to stay. After all, the last three hires lasted less than six months! Now the question is, why do employees keep leaving? And do you want to stick around to find out?

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3. The company uses a forced ranking system. These systems rank employees performance on a quarterly-to-yearly basis, and the lowest performers are then let go. Of course, this means that somebody on the team will lose their job, so employees inevitably turn on each other so they don't end up at the bottom of the rankings. Companies worth working for do not create systems that force employees to throw each other under the bus in order to stay employed. Some people will disagree with me, but that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

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4. Nobody exhibits any empathy. You feel sorry for someone who is in a bad situation, but your colleagues don't flinch. It's that person's problem, or worse, they must be a loser who deserves it! "Kick 'em when they're down" is this workplace's motto. Yikes. Your new colleagues, quite frankly, suck at compassion. It feels like there's a cold stone where the company's heart should be. Other employees look at you like this all the time.

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5. You start hearing unsettling stories. You should have seen how we made this former co-worker burst into tears every day until she quit! Ugh, really? If your new colleagues share examples of ugly workplace behavior as if it's (1) cool or hilarious; (2) no big deal; (3) how to get ahead at the company; (4) what "smart" employees do; or (5) how the boss weeds out low performers, then think about the future. Would you want to risk it happening to you, too?

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6. The boss is a yeller. Highly-narcissistic leaders can't hold their tempers very well. They'll insult employees, degrade them, swear at them, make them feel stupid. Then it's as if the temper tantrum never happened. The narcissistic boss gaslights employees while blaming everyone else. This leader loves to pit employees against each other in the name of "motivation." Are you feeling motivated yet?

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7. It's one drama after another. You quickly notice how this workplace runs on drama! Rumors abound, deadlines are missed, somebody is always in trouble, employees slip into the leader's office to tattle on each other, and it's only 10 a.m.! This workplace lurches from one dramarama to another with a lot of backbiting and finger-pointing along the way. The buck stops...well, it doesn't seem to be stopping anywhere, does it? Everything is urgent, every molehill turns into a mountain. You're already emotionally exhausted trying to keep up with the drama.

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If you see many of these traits in a new employer, then nobody would blame you for re-evaluating things. The best thing you can do is to look for warning signs of a toxic workplace before you get in too deep. If you stay, you will have to set your own ethical boundaries and hope for the best. No workplace is perfect, but some are far, far from it. Good luck.

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