Narcissism—referred to in organizational research as a personality disposition involving inflated self-views, self-focus, and self-love—has become a popular subject in work-related media outlets. This is perhaps due in part to the frequency with which employees must interact with narcissistic bosses, given that sub-clinical narcissism (i.e., those with narcissistic tendencies) has been found to facilitate emergence in organizational leadership roles.

However, despite their ability to obtain leadership roles, research indicates that narcissism is not associated with effectiveness in these roles. Narcissistic supervisors create imbalanced relationships with their employees, often stealing credit for their ideas, disregarding their needs, and expecting them to submit to implementing an agenda in which they have had no part of developing. Combine that with tendencies towards inflexibility and unpredictable mood swings, and it is unsurprising that narcissistic supervisors are seen as a potential threat to their employees, who often experience increased tension and decreased job satisfaction.

As a result, there is an understandable concern about how those working for a narcissistic boss can cope with this often stress-inducing experience. Given that stress is considered the result of exposure to demands that tax an individual to the point that it hinders their ability to cope, some colleagues and I conducted a series of studies designed to investigate whether employees’ resource management ability, a characteristic that equips them to acquire and protect resources, could mitigate the negative consequences associated with working for a narcissistic boss. Across three independent studies (recently published in the Journal of Business Ethicshttp://rdcu.be/uW5P), we found that employees with higher resource management ability experienced lower job tension, lower emotional exhaustion, and less depressed moods at work when working for a narcissistic boss. Additionally, we found that employees with higher resource management ability did not report the decreases in job performance experienced by those with lower resource management ability.

The good news is that researchers believe resource management ability can be increased. Thus, employees with lower levels of it don’t have to feel stuck in an unmanageable situation. One option is to try meditation and mindfulness training, which can help teach employees how to re-appraise stressful situations more objectively, such that they aren’t viewed to be as overwhelming. Additionally, research has shown that resource management ability can be improved through expressive writing interventions, which enhance individuals’ ability to exert control by helping them reduce tendencies to suppress emotions in ways that increase exhaustion. Further, these interventions help individuals view situations as less taxing because they allow for opportunities to think more clearly about how to navigate the situation.

Want to know if you work for a narcissist (or if you might be one)? Email me at p.ellen@northeastern.edu. Additionally, check out my website (www.parkerellen.com) to learn more about me and some of my other research.

Parker Ellen

Assistant Professor, Management and Organizational Development