Nov 02, 2010
by Julie Leutschaft, MPA, MHA
Question: I work for an abusive boss and my health is deteriorating due to the constant torment. I want to quit but I need the money. I feel like I have nowhere to turn. I am the buffer for other employees who can’t deal with his volatile style. Please help!! - Holly C. from Bend
Answer: Dear Holly, you are not alone. So many of my clients suffer from toxic work environments. It sounds as if your boss’s behavior is affecting your health and productivity. The first thing I recommend is for you to study your boss’ behaviors and try to determine if he suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). In doing so, Google the word “narcissist” and see if your boss regularly demonstrates some of the following traits:
• Has grandiose sense of self importance
• Is pre-occupied with power and believes himself to be superior to others
• Requires excessive validation, admiration, and adulation (narcissistic supply)
• Manipulates and triangulates workplace relationships
• Has a strong sense of entitlement, exploits others and lacks empathy
• Envious of others and displays haughty, arrogant behaviors
• Cunning, deceptive, immoral, unethical and illegal activity
Don’t take this lightly. Bullying is a real destructive workplace phenomenon. When the schoolyard bully is in the workplace, BEWARE. Workplace bullying involves the abuse of power. The bully repeatedly intimidates, degrades, offends, discredits or devalues a worker, often in front of others and almost always because he is threatened by the victim. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI), the bully usually targets those who “1) refuse to be subservient 2) are more technically advanced 3) are well liked by customers and employees; and 4) are ethical and honest. The narcissistic leader actually targets employees for their apparent strengths which threaten the defensive, narcissistic perpetrator.”
The narcissist actually surrounds himself with talented, skilled people and attaches himself to their success. However, when they become too successful the narcissist feels deeply threatened and that is when the downward spiral begins. Deep down the narcissist is afraid of abandonment, which is ironic because everything he does drives the people around him away. Thus, completing his self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, chances are your boss is
• Repetitive and unwarranted or invalid criticism
• Being treated differently than other co-workers
• Being shouted at or humiliated
• Exclusion from meetings or withholding key information which prevents you from doing your job
• Sabotaging your career and discrediting your value to your peers
• Triangulating your relationship with coworkers
• Making you constantly rework projects and assignments
• Excessive monitoring and micro-managing that has diminishing returns on investment.
Holly, if you believe you are being bullied and there is no one above your boss who is going to put a stop to the behavior, then I agree with your decision to seek work outside of your organization. With a narcissist in power, things rarely get better and about the only thing you can count on is the constant chaos of the revolving door of talent exiting the organization. By continuing to hang around you become the narcissist’s “supply”. Narcissists need at least one person around them to worship them and give them the validation they need to survive. When they lose the “supply” they act out irrationally and erratically.
You have become the codependent in this relationship. Like an alcoholic needs booze, a narcissist needs “supply” – someone who is constantly giving them license to continue to behave the way in which they do. You are not helping the narcissist, you are only prolonging the abuse. Personally, I believe that the narcissist has suffered some type of early childhood abandonment (probably from a parental figure) and therefore their fundamental boundaries of what is ethically and morally acceptable are essentially out of whack. This is usually a deep-rooted problem that I don’t think you alone can fix.
In summary, WBI proclaims, “Bullies do not run good organizations; staff turnover and sick leave will be high while morale and productivity will be low. Stress, depression and physical health problems result in time away from work that is costly in terms of workers’ compensation and lost productivity. The breakdown of trust in a bullying environment may mean that employees will fail to contribute their best work, do not give extra ideas for improvement, do not provide feedback on failures and may be less honest about performance.”
In closing, bullying and narcissistic behaviors should not be tolerated in the workplace because they are a form of harassment and contribute to a hostile work environment, which is detrimental to the organization. Lastly, I hold on to the old adage that good people join “companies” … but they leave “bad bosses.”
To find out more about bullying and what you can do to prevent it, I encourage you to visit www.workplacebullying.org. Every individual deserves the right to work in an environment free of unwarranted harassment.
Holly, there are plenty of really good organizations out there – you just need to find your safe haven where you can thrive.
HR Lady’s Quote of the Day: “…And there used to be a way to stick it to the Man. It was called rock 'n roll” - Jack Black,