how to handle toxic and narcissistic bosses

I would like to tell you that an individual employee does benefit by handling toxic and narcissistic bosses. I can’t, though.  I would be lying to you.

Perhaps it is possible – maybe even preferable – as you look for a new job. In the long-term, however, no.

To handle bosses like this requires avoiding disagreement with them. Over weeks and months, additional outcomes beyond one’s personal integrity include the diminishing self-respect, creativity and engagement.

The mental and emotional health of employees handling toxic and narcissistic bosses

Narcissistic and toxic bosses take a toll on employee emotional and mental health. They bleed toxicity throughout the entire organization diminishing revenue due to the high cost of turnover.

A narcissistic boss can’t be wrong. They will not apologize and change their behavior because, in their view, everyone else is at fault. Even in high-level coaching, there is little chance of improvement depending on the degree of narcissism.

It is up to the organization and not the employee to assess high turnover in departments and employee complaints about individual bosses and managers. When the boss owns the organization there is little to be done other than leave. If the business is family owned and one of the family members is toxic, the best course of action is to remove them from responsibility for employees. They are best working alone to accomplish work.

An appropriate employee response to toxicity and narcissism

For the individual employee, the better solution is to leave the organization if speaking to HR fell on deaf ears.  If given an exist interview, to provide a documented list of behavior that violated six principles required for high performance departments, teams and overall work community. The six principles are trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk resolution and success.

From the get-go, the behavior of toxic bosses violates empathy. It also has a ripple effect into the other principles such as trust.

To give you an example of the impact on just these two principles, let’s start with empathy.

How toxic and narcissistic bosses impact empathy

Empathy is the desire and ability to understand another person’s perspective or circumstance regardless of whether you agree with that person or not. It is a quality that enables you to imagine what another person feels, desires or needs.  Moral decisions are properly framed when the capacity to empathize is coupled with the desire to do the right thing.

Behaviors that support empathy include the following:

  • Concern for the emotional safety of employees.
  • Concern for emotional needs being met.
  • Concern for physical needs being met.
  • Employee opportunity for fulfillment.
  • Kindness toward self and others.
  • Curiosity and the desire to understand others.
  • Good listening skills.
  • Good inquiry skills.

Behaviors that damage empathy include the following:

  • Promoting winner and loser status within the same organization.
  • Promoting us and them status within the same organization.
  • Rationalizing that the end justifies the means.
  • Opportunism.
  • Jokes and pictures that degrade people.
  • Allowing name-calling, insults, intimidation, yelling, bullying and threats to employees from bosses and between employees.
  • Manipulation and coercion.

*Source: TIGERS Among Us – Winning Business Team Cultures and Why They Thrive. (Three Creeks Publishing 2022)

The ripple effect damages trust.

How toxic and narcissistic bosses impact trust

Trust is having confidence is the integrity, honesty, reliability, competence and fairness of a person, a group or a system. Psychologists sa6y trust in one’s self, other people, and one’s surroundings is so important that the absence of it can adversely impact human development.

Behaviors that support trust include the following:

  • Doing what you say you are going to do.
  • Modeling the behavior you want to see form others.
  • Refraining from cheating or stealing.
  • Striving to do the right thing.
  • Striving for what is predictable and consistent.
  • Practicing transparency.
  • Providing equal opportunity for advantages and consequences.
  • Being competent with both tasks and building positive employee relationships.

Behavior that diminishes trust include:

  • Saying one thing and doing another.
  • Expecting behavior from others that is not reciprocated in kind.
  • Abusing or neglecting others.
  • Cheating and stealing.
  • Being unpredictable and volatile.
  • Striving for personal benefit at the expense of others.
  • Concealing the truth through lies or omission.
  • Practicing favoritism.

What this means for handling toxic and narcissistic bosses

Microsoft recently completed their 2022 research report on the state of employment.  Their findings indicated that close to 29% of Gen Z and Millennial employees will be leaving their jobs again this year to work elsewhere.

Now is a critical time to assess management.  If the loss of one toxic and narcissistic boss stems the flow of high turnover, it will speak volumes to employees. To assume employees can handle a toxic and narcissistic bosses without an adverse impact on their engagement and well-being  is naïve.  Bosses like this have a huge negative impact on work culture and an organization’s ability to grow and thrive in the best of times.

Copyright TIGERS Success Series, Inc. by Dianne Crampton