Most managers are under pressure from above to do a great job, get the numbers, reach goals, and get as much production as they can from their direct reports, but if your boss belittles, demeans, humiliates you, ignores your ideas, or worse yet, claims your ideas as their own, you may well be dealing with a narcissistic boss. Other signs may include, not having respect for others or their boundaries, not being able to take criticism, and showing no empathy.
A boss who bullies employees feeds off control. They love to control your every move, giving you just enough information to do your job but not allowing you autonomy. While micro-managing and being controlling ensures that they monitor your every move, and keep you in fear, ultimately it is not effective, as most employees will move on. Turnover will increase, leaving those left behind demoralized, and the company will gain a reputation for not being a good place to work.
Once a narcissistic boss realizes that you aren't going to allow them to bully you, be aware of possible retaliation. If your boss significantly increases or reduces your work load, pulls you from a lead project, or sets unrealistic expectations, setting you up for failure, it is likely he/she is retaliating against you.
Another sign of a narcissistic boss is when he/she thinks they are superior to everyone else. They have a sense of grandeur, thinking that their status precludes them from any repercussions for any bad behavior. Often times, male narcissistic bosses have misogynistic tendencies too. They will often retaliate against a female employee who stands up for herself by labeling her as outspoken or insubordinate. No matter how hard she works she will never receive the deserved promotion, and is likely to be paid less than her male counterpart in the same role.
Narcissistic bosses also have no respect for others' time. They are notorious for cancelling and rescheduling meetings, expecting other staff members to be available at their beck and call. They are often late or don't show up for meetings, leaving employees hanging or having to explain and make excuses for their absence, oblivious to the effect it has on their employees. Aside from being unprofessional and rude, it negatively impacts their team.
The number one reason people leave their jobs, per a Gallup study, is because they don't like their boss. People don't leave companies, they leave toxic bosses. Once you feel the strain mentally with stress related health issues, such as panic attacks, anxiety or depression, it is likely you will start to question if it is worth staying, and are more likely to consider seeking employment elsewhere.
Career trauma is a real thing and it can occur when you work in a toxic environment. Along with panic attacks, anxiety and depression, if not addressed, it can cause many other physical and emotional symptoms such as:
Feeling constant pressure to over work
Withdrawal from friends and loved ones
Feeling numb or disengaged
Angry outbursts at home or work
So what can you do if you have a toxic work environment and potentially have a narcissistic boss?
Take regular breaks. Take a lunch break away from your desk. Eat, take a walk, and ensure you are getting enough sleep. Self-care is very important.
Listen to relaxing music while at work, if possible.
Set boundaries for yourself around being interrupted at work, and around working after hours. Disconnect your work email from your phone so as not be tempted to work evenings and weekends, leading to burn-out. Leave your lap-top at work.
Use your sick/PTO time to take a mental health day if you need it.
Ensure you take all of your vacation days, even if it is just to sleep in and stay home one day.
Take detailed notes of conversations you have with your boss. You will then have evidence of what was discussed, and when your boss decides to gaslight you, you will have a record of the facts.
Minimize conflict with your boss as much as possible, don't argue or provoke them, in fact avoid them as much as possible.
Be consistently reliable, dependable, professional and confident. This ensures they can not create any unnecessary drama.
Don't try to justify your actions, or explain yourself, as a narcissistic boss will never play fair, or be loyal to you in any way.
Managing a narcissistic boss can be exhausting and take a serious toll on your mental health. Sometimes it may be better to seek assistance from HR, ask for a transfer to another department, or even create an exit strategy for yourself.