7 Things to Expect From Your Narcissistic Employee

The narcissistic personality trait describes individuals that believe they are special, have a sense of entitlement, require excessive admiration, lack empathy, are interpersonally exploitive, and are arrogant and haughty. As defined by one of its most frequently used measures, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI, Raskin & Hall, 1981), there are four dimensions to the narcissistic personality (Emmons, 1984):

  1. Exploitiveness/Entitlement: The belief that one is adept at manipulating people and is entitled to do so.
  2. Leadership/Authority: The belief that one possesses an extraordinary ability to influence others and thus prefers positions of leadership and authority.
  3. Superiority/Arrogance: The belief that one is just better than others and is a born leader.
  4. Self-absorption/Self-admiration: An elevated sense of vanity and the belief that one is special.

Surprisingly, there is very little research on narcissism published in the top management and industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology journals (e.g. Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Journal of Organizational Behavior). One of the field’s best researchers, Timothy Judge, along with Jeffery LePine and Bruce Rich, published a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2006 entitled “Loving Yourself Abundantly: Relationship of the Narcissistic Personality to Self- and Other Perceptions of Workplace Deviance, Leadership, and Task and Contextual Performance.

Based on their findings, here are seven things you should expect to see from a narcissistic employee:

  1. Narcissists are likely to also be extraverted and agreeable, but unlikely to be open to experience, conscientious, and emotionally stable.
  2. Narcissists may be detrimental in team contexts that require cooperation and a positive climate. Because they are interpersonally abrasive and dismissive, narcissists don’t make good team players.
  3. Narcissists may breed competitiveness and distrust among other employees because of their grandiose sense of self-importance and belief that they are extraordinary performers.
  4. Narcissists may be very problematic in any rating system where they are required to provide a self-rating. You can expect the narcissist’s self-rating to be even more inflated than the self-ratings of other employees.
  5. A narcissist that is forced to admit he or she has not performed well may disparage those who outperform him or her.
  6. A narcissist that receives an unfavorable evaluation can be expected to disparage the unfavorable evaluator and possibly even become aggressive.
  7. A narcissist may be detrimental in jobs where a realistic conception of one’s talents and abilities is critical. For example, expect the narcissist to be an overconfident negotiator, which can be a huge liability.

Avoid hiring a narcissist if possible. Ironically, as Robert Hogan points out, “narcissists and psychopaths excel during interviews.” And unfortunately, there is very little evidence-based advice on how to manage the narcissistic employee you find yourself stuck with.

If you think you work with a strong narcissist, remember these seven points and anticipate their behavior in certain situations. Be prepared. The narcissists strong personality will dominate weak situations, so even more so than your other employees, make sure the narcissist is working in a strong system with clearly defined and consistently reinforced behavioral expectations.

Bret L. Simmons, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Management at The University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his doctorate in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University. Bret blogs about leadership and social business on his website Positive Organizational Behavior. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.


About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

47 thoughts on “7 Things to Expect From Your Narcissistic Employee”

  1. If we don’t understand the narcissistic personality we can’t put the behavior in proper perspective and we become re-active instead of pro-active (setting boundaries…).

    How common is narcissistism in the general population? Work? Since team building and sustaining is so important are most inteviewed out of work?

    Thanks for the great insights! Please do more on types of personality (normal to narcissistic) so we conduct better business.

    Peggy Bocks

    1. Welcome, Peggy. I don’t know how common this is in the general population. My impression is that it is on the rise. Let me see what else I can find out about it. Thanks! Bret

  2. So how do you avoid hiring a narcissist? It is impossible since they are master manipulators who will most likely ace the interview. The work environment like the general population ultimately will include everyone. Unfortunately, anyone who truly has a narcissistic personality disorder will probably implode at some point. The bottom line is performance manage your Associates consistently, equally and often to avoid problems. Don’t be bullied or intimidated or fooled by the so called best and brightest, they are often the individuals who are “borderline”.

    1. That is a great question, especially since they will likely excel in an interview! Some companies do include a personality test in the application process. If yours does, ask them if they are assessing narcissism. Thanks! Bret

  3. One other trait not mentioned: they tend to undermine their bosses and go straight to the top. The “top” often listens and appreciates them because the NP is often smart and always persuasive. Eventually, he leads them to believe that he should get all credit for everything good. The top leaders are the ones that most need to recognize and shut down this behavior. It upsets the entire organizatoin

      1. Phillip S make a very good point. I had a direct report who was a narcissist, a much younger person. Persuasive, manipulative and charming, she soon had almost my entire staff marching up to HR to complain about me. She even had my manager calling her a “star.” She finally quit on her own as her house of cards started tumbling and the truth about her behavior gradually became known. She was lying to everyone. Of course, I knew that but no one would believe me except for one perceptive HR person. I had been a manager at the company for many years, she only a short time. Upper mgmt needs to look at an employee’s history and then look at “who’s talking” before they come to any conclusions about a situation. The entire affair created needless chaos and disruption and almost destroyed my career if not my health.

  4. They are also very content doing nothing since they feel they are perfect. We had an ex boyfriend of a niece who spent his time playing wargames on his computer instead of looking for a job. That lasted 2 years till he deigned make a move! He was hired this Summer and considers himself as a natural men gatherer and leader! He pontificates no ends – my niece quitted this windbag recently! They are manipulative by nature. This one quotes Machiaveli continually. Good luck to poor people having to work with this horrid character.

    1. Sorry for your experience, but it makes a great story. I suppose he thought he was a natural leader since he led in war games online. It doesn’t bring up an interesting side effect of NPD: fantasy.

  5. Well ‘Narcissist’ employees are assets to overly populated gloomy legacy companies in USA specifically.
    You find headless chickens running around in the company when a company does not treat a narcissist employee as a asset for the following exciting reasons:

    -> Narcissist employees are generally visionaries, so they expect others to march with them in equal pace.

    -> They are brutally upfront with information in all situations and probably prefer others not to be a hindrance.

    -> They could be seen as leaders in any position, which might keep upward chain of command pushed to edge (i wish to call it push motivation-bottom up).

    -> They may be involved weeding out non-performers as a course of natural order ( meaning no personal grudge involved).

    -> They have perception of fitting into any shoe at any order with perfection which might threaten the normal order of reporting structure whether it is lowest level or highest order.

    -> They would have learned to anticipate weakness not just in individuals but also in elaborate systems in fraction of time.

    -> As they fit into any shoe with ease, their approach is normally ‘inside- out approach’ – meaning, they contribute to building stronger foundation from with in the corporate family.

    -> They do no hold back or mask the truth, it is normally direct approach to any thing and everything.

    -> They are not afraid of standing up for themselves and their beliefs – even if it might affect their own future.

    1. There can be advantages to a having a narcissistic consultant who can cut the fat and rearrange work activities. But a long-term narcissistic employee is destructive, thinks s/he can be shoe-horned into any job and does window-dressing rather performing substantive improvements. I have seen a supreme narcissistic supervisor in action (rather inaction)–it is ugly when real work cannot get done because you are chasing the whims of the dictator who cannot be questioned.

    2. In my 42 years of experience, most of that time as an owner of the companies, I can assure you that this type personality can never bring enough to the table to outweigh the conflict and discord that they create in a company. They usually think that they “know it all” so can never be taught. Removing them from your company is like removing a cancer. They will not only destroy themselves but take other healthy cells with them. It takes far too much time and energy to keep on in check. The energy may can be replaced, but the time cannot.

    3. Thanks for the comments. I think there are definitely some people that get caught up in the spell the narcissist casts. However, the damage caused by his/her actions to the productive and, frankly, mental health of the rest of the organizations is too substantial to ignore.

  6. As someone who is probably a narcissist, is this something I should seek to cure or can I only hope to learn to manage it?

    As I said, I’m probably a narcissist and quite happy in this knowledge. I am not sure I would cure it if given the option to wave a magic wand and become “normal”.

    I would appreciate learning some coping strategies for the negative aspects, though.

    While I am glad that I am able to visualize grand plans and have the confidence to reach for them, I do take criticism badly and find it hard to work with colleagues who I feel know less than me (even if it is part of my job to mentor and educate them).

    Could you recommend any books or articles for narcissists who are seeking to become better people to work with?

    PS. To what extent do self-help philosophies that encourage self-belief and “faking it ’till you make it” produce narcissists? How many CEOs and political figures are narcissists? It seems that to reach a certain level, a little narcissism and blind self-confidence is not necessarily a bad thing.

    1. I’d probably argue EVERY political figure is a narcissist. I too would probably score high on the NPI. I think the key to coping is finding core people who you allow to be brutally honest with you about when your behavior is destructive.

      1. I am also a self-admitted NP and even knowing that, I would agree with Narc-anon that I am happy with this knowledge. However, I do pride myself in continuous learning and I am very competitive. After studying Bill Gates, which may be at the top of the NP charts, there are a few success stories that may be viewed as acceptable behaviour. The rest of us have to deal with career limitations due to similar and an over abundance of competition from others, especially NP bosses and peers. I also see NPs complain of not getting all the credit they deserve.
        One thing I have not done, yet see it often from other NP individuals is taking the credit from others who have performed the actual work and deserve the credit. Can not begin to speculate why they would do this, but it gives me pause and look for a change in myself. Finding those core, brutally honest individuals will only validate what I already know. It is the corrective advise and actions that I now seek.
        Any advise would be helpful.

        1. I am so glad to hear that there are others like me. When I read this article yesterday I felt horrible–knowing that I display some of these traits. I am a “futurist” or visionary, But I am not happy knowing that the narc side of me can make me difficult to work with. I too seek redemption and a way to become a better person.

          1. Welcome all the the club: Narcissists Anonymous. Manny, I think you’ve set up a good coping strategy. Not stealing credit is a key. Ang, you’re aware of it…which means you’re already better to work with than unaware narcs.

  7. I have a character like this in my office.

    All I can say is….WOW.

    This guy is a ticking time bomb. Most of us think he is joke.

    He walks around, like he is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

    He is in Sales – and believes, wholeheartedly, that he is the reason behind the success of the company.

    I’ve attended sales meetings with this man, and gone on calls with him. It is embarrassing to be around him. His actions and mannerisms are childish. He cuts off conversations once he feels he has heard enough – which oftentimes leaves the Customer standing there, mouth wide open in disbelief. During meetings, this guy is the idiot that can’t sit still, wants to constantly interrupt the speaker so he can make a “point”, and can’t keep his hands off his Blackberry. Forget having a dinner meeting with him or a corporate lunch. He table manners are non-existant. If you sit across from him during lunch or dinner, he cannot manage to keep his mouth closed — even with food in it. You end up with chewed food being blown out of his yap and into the faces of your clients.

    This guy has no computer knowledge, can’t retain a file if his life depended on it. The people in the office are asked constantly for assistance by him. Oftentimes, he asks that they send out unauthorized, or unacceptable images and photos, which leaves them in a panic, wondering if they will get in trouble for sending out things they’ve been told not to. This player has absolutely no respect for anyone or any rules. This leads to extremely high-stressed situations in my office.

    This guy is an over-inflater. If he closes a deal, it’s a 10x bigger success than what is actually is. He has the President of our firm SO bedazzled that it is shocking. We all see this guy for what he is….why can’t upper management?

    The thing that scares me most? This guy will probably be here FOREVER. I would pay to have a head-hunter contact him….I’d like him to move on and go make someone else’s life miserable.

    Here’s one more little tidbit. This guy is rapidly approaching 40. Never been married. Can’t maintain any personal relationships. As he is aging, he is getting chubby, but believes he can still wear clothes he purchased in his skinnier day. Has never provided for anyone else but himself. He can’t cook, can’t clean, can’t empathize with anyone for any reason, and has never extended a helping hand to anyone.

    Some of our largest clients have been turned over to this idiot. They deal with him because of their loyalty to the President of our firm. It’s sad.

    I made the mistake of calling this guy out on all of his issues….yep, every single one. I did it in a nice way, and the guy went nuts. He looks for every excuse in the book now to hunt me down on issues. I work on the Sales/Marketing side of the firm, and I’m watching my back constantly.

    If anyone out there has any ideas how to shut this idiot down, or wound him so badly that he just stays away from me…I’d love to hear them.

    1. See if a competitive company is hiring. Just kidding, but only a little. I think something about sales naturally attracts narcissists since organizations regularly lavish praise and money on them. My suggestion: if you have the authority, find out what he is addicted to (recognition, money, etc) and find ways to starve him of it…see if he notices and changes…or perhaps better yet, moves on.

  8. I had a coworker once who was hopelessly narcissistic. He asked me why people liked me and not him. I tried to tell him to cooperate and listen to others and not be so arrogant, but I might as well have been talking to the wall. He got himself promoted, and consequently summarily fired by a boss who did not appreciate his brown-nosing ineptness.

    Then I had a boss who was severely narcissistic. Just about destroyed an otherwise cohesive and functional workgroup. I told her no occasionally when she made ridiculous demands. Her reply? She was not accustomed to being told no. (Reminded me of my son when he was a two-year old.) I told her I promised not to tell her no often, but there are times when what she wanted was just too time consuming and we were not staffed at that level. I prevented our company’s being fined once which if it would have happened it was totally due to her ignorance. She was forced to admit out of exhaustion one night that I just knew more than she did about the area. Oh the pain on her face. She was fallable. She was moved to another work function to wreak havoc there after her job over us was eliminated. We were jubilant! Poor other group, though. Long, long faces.

    1. O Frabjous Day! (when she left, not when she started). In most knowledge work, management usually does end up knowing less than those they manage. That makes narcissism even more poisonous. Thanks for the comment.

  9. -> Had Enough…

    I know your response will probably be, “I can’t, I won’t, That’s stupid…” But you asked for reader advice!

    1) Review the guy’s actual sales numbers if you have access to it. Even if he didn’t hang the moon – is he at least performing above average?

    2) If he is performing below average – talk to your boss about it. Now that you actually have a well reasoned, non-subjective case for why the guy is a company liability, maybe you can do something about it.

    3) You’re asking for ways to shut him down or wound him. Seriously? Just deal with the issue if there is one. People shouldn’t be required to like each other to work together – unless you work for one of these fantasy land startups who take 25 million to build a widget builder and a unique company culture (and it doesn’t sound like you do).

    1. Calvin,thanks for the comment. I agree that people don’t need to like each other, but it definitely helps is the social friction is reduced. Great point about seeking out the objective facts and making a reasoned argument. Let’s hope it works.

  10. Wow, right on. Have met more than one in my career. It is too bad there is not a simple test to prevent them from being hired! You are so right, many excel in the interview process! Masters of manipulation. A little HR advice to your readers. If you want to manage one out of the organization, use data, metrics, etc. Numbers will be their demise. Often times once one of these employees is measured, they can’t handle the pressure and quits, blaming everyone around them as they go.

    1. I agree with your suggested approach of using hard data, performance metrics etc. to manage them. Unfortunately, they are high maintenance low performers. Expectations and evaluations must be formally documented and communicated. Must watch to ensure they don’t poison your work environment.

      1. Lots of documentation along with hard numbers. Mark, I supposed we could give the NPI alongside an employment interview, but I doubt we’d be able to defend that in court without sparking the entire nature or nurture debate. (If it’s nature, then are we discriminating?)

  11. And what about narcissistic bosses? How can employees “manage up” to account for their narcissism? Or should the just abandon ship?

  12. There are lots of bad bosses in the working world, but they’re not all narcissists. If you do find yourself working with a true narcissist, it’s probably not going to be useful to confront them on their behavior, especially if you’re a peer or a subordinate — no matter how carefully you do it. A well-respected supervisor may have a chance, but even they will be required to draw upon every ounce of people skills they possess.

    1. People skills and political clout. I agree, if you are a direct report to a narcissist, it’s probably best not to be the messenger. Likewise, if you’re a middle manager and your upper is a narcissist, you’ve unfortunately adopted the role of human shield to your people. Thanks for the comment Lauren.

  13. That’s right, it is important to ascribe any workplace issue you have with a person as a deep seeded psychological defect on his or her part.

    1. Perfect, Thanks for the comment. I don’t know that anyone is trying to blame single issues on psychological defects…but when you spend 8 hours a day around people, you start to notice patterns.

  14. Narcissism doesn’t just show up in employees, but “leaders” can also exhibit some of the symptoms you mention. Any suggestions for employees who are dealing with a narcissistic boss?

  15. As someone who has battled with, and overcome some narcissistic behavioral patterns in my life, I’d like to call out a few items.

    First: Not all bad employees are narcissists, and not all narcissists are bad employees.

    We need to be clear about what behaviors are not “ok”, and set boundaries, not only for ourselves, but for those we work for, with and over. I tend to keep in mind the following: “You deserve what you tolerate.” If you’re working for a bad boss, confront them, nicely, and have a discussion. If you cannot do that, for whatever reason, then it is clear, you have only two choices: 1) Get a new job, or 2) continue to tolerate it.

    Second: Narcissism has many levels of it’s flaws, for example, someone may be dismissive, but only mildly so, whereas someone else may be completely cold and impersonal. Everyone is still different, please don’t forget that.

    Lastly: These people can change. If you approach someone who is narcissistic with information on why they aren’t liked, or are causing issues, and they’re open to constructive criticism, their “weaknesses” can be turned into strengths, and they can become valuable team players.

    I know, I’m not only a narcissistic anonymous member, I’m a “saved” employee.

    Just my 2

  16. people! if you 1. acknowledge that you have NP traits and 2. are interested in managing the negative aspects of those traits, you are NOT a narcissist. True narcissists rarely think there is something wrong with them and even more rarely, ever get better. Why? Because they themselves always know better than the other (therapist, partner, peer) and, although they may consider what you say at first, they will quickly and derisively dismiss anything that contradicts—does not reflect back to them—how wonderful they are.

    The best MO to deal with narcissist, IMO, is to display consideration, even empathy, to them. This tames them, they relax if you care about them or stay focused on what they are saying about themselves and others (usually negative, so be careful there). The way to motivate a narcissist is to provide them with tasks that, in their fantastical version of themselves, is (for them) self-aggrandizing. Find out what makes them proud of themselves and what they want notice/praise for doing. Often times, these are the kind of tasks that can be repetitive; they are very good at it, so let them do it, and let them feel really good about themselves doing it. Things you and I would bristle at as ridiculous if someone noticed (we would brush it off as irrelevant/unnecessary consideration), they thrive on the acknowledgement. Think 3-year old: how would you praise a young child with a learning toy for putting all the square pegs in the square holes? There, you’ve got one management skill for these people. And truly, they do warrant our compassion: they are ever unhappy, truly, unsatisfied, and for their lives, unable to grow up and have mature, satisfying relationships.

    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m not sure Narcissism is like sanity (if you can question your sanity, you’re not insane). The NPI is a 30 point scale, so technically we all have some degree of narcissism.

  17. Narcissism is an over-used word. Best I can tell, it variously means 1) self-centered; 2) narcissistic in personality core; 3) narcissistic personality disorder; 4) other self-centered personality disorders.

    Self-centeredness is as essential as other-centeredness. Without centering on self, who would read the enormous amount of data picked up within ourselves? In fact, my impression is that half of all people are self-centered, and half are other-centered, and that there is generally one of each in eery close relationship.

    Narcissistic personality core, to me, is one of eight fundamental personality cores, while narcissistic personality disorder is the core personality style taken to a narrowing extreme. The core of true narcissism is not, I believe, love of self, but rather love of one’s own ideas. This is what gives us narcissists the appearance of being all about us: we are carried away in the ether of outside the box ideas which make us seem more interesting and bright to the other seven personality cores, which operate more inside the box.

    Our USA is a narcissistic personality core nation (I think nations have personalities…), which encourages the extremes.

    To rein us in, treat us firmly and kindly, not woundingly, and stick up honestly for feeling hurt that your own ideas aren’t loved too. It’s easy to lash out at us be ause in out charmingness we dazzle and delight when others should be pushing back, so we become unguided missiles. Gude us kindly, please.

    1. Great comments Sharon. Thanks for adding to the discussion. I think you’re right that the meaning of narcissist is flexible. Indeed, the NPI scores everyone on a range from 1 to 30. So we all have some level of narcissist in us. I think the disorder comes in when the scoring is too high, indicating an almost delusional love of ideas. It’s easy to work around these people and treat them firmly but kindly, but it’s just as easy to get taken advantage of for doing so.

  18. “The narcissistic personality trait describes individuals that believe they are special, have a sense of entitlement, require excessive admiration, lack empathy, are interpersonally exploitive, and are arrogant and haughty.”

    As a small business owner, I have experienced a sampling of this behavior in youths in their early to late twenties. I have employed young professionals in this age group that feel that it is imperative for them to announce how often clients point out their superior qualities. It is a constant putting the sticker on the button that assures them entitlement even if they do not meet their jobs stated objectives. Unlike characters in a Herman Hesse novel they feel superior with out a variety of lifes experiences.

    The degree to which this disorder becomes a problem to a small busines owner, lies in how this behavior affects the performance of the overall team.

    Is this indicative of this generation?

    1. I don’t think so. I think it’s easy to claim that traits like this our indicative of younger generations because they are going through adolescence and older generations tend to forget what it was like (fully) to be that age.

      Interestingly enough though, the upcoming generation is, on average, the most experienced and educated generation in history due to the availability of education and the encouragement from boomer parents to travel and be exposed to diversity. That’s not speak for everyone…and it certainly is worth thanking Boomers for providing those experiences.

      Still, I think this generation will “grow out of it.”

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