4 ways To tell — And what to do about it
My first job out of college was brutal.
One week after graduation, I started working at a local environmental education nonprofit. After spending four years studying the environment at Berkeley, it was my dream to inspire high school students to follow a similar path and become environmental changemakers.
The few couple of months weren’t stimulating, but I was excited. This was my first real-world job and I couldn’t tell if the discomfort was stemming from my job or the transition period after graduation.
It wasn’t until 6 months into my fellowship that I realized this environment was actively making my life miserable and I needed to leave, pronto.
When you’re at an entry-level job, it’s hard to determine what kind of behavior is acceptable from your boss. After you graduate, you’re learning the ins and outs of the working world, and leadership is nuanced.
But there are some telltale signs you’re working for a narcissist. A narcissist is a person who has excessive interest in or admiration of themselves. In a workplace environment, a narcissist leader comes off as compelling and confident at first, but morphs into a dysfunctional and self-absorbed manager once you begin working for them.
That’s why it’s easy to get bamboozled into working for one. You could soar through an interview feeling empowered by their list of accomplishments, but show up to your office for the first week to be greeted by a spotlight hogger who even makes your onboarding process about them.
This article highlights four signs you’re working for a narcissist. Hopefully my anecdotes will help you if you’re asking yourself “ugh, is my boss a narcissist?”
1. They Take Credit For Your Work
Narcissists love attention. They love being seen as “the shining star” and will not hesitate to dull your sparkle to get there.
This means that they’re quick to appropriate their employee’s work, by claiming disproportionate credit or stealing the recognition completely. Of course, all without a “thank you.”
The fundraisers and events I organized were very parent-facing (naturally, as I was working for an educational program). Despite being the one coordinating volunteer sign ups, soliciting donations, organizing vendors, and communicating with community stakeholders, my boss would always step in and take credit for the event.
In the eight months I worked there, I could count the times I received a “thank you” on two hands.
2. They Hog the Spotlight
Narcissists think they know it all, and love to hear themselves talk. Beyond taking credit for everything, this manifests in dominating meetings, presentations, and conference calls.
When I first started my entry-level job, I thought it was weird that my boss steamrolled our community stakeholder meetings. I literally sat there silently taking notes, unable to share my opinions because she never gave me the space to.
Even when I was itching to contribute, there was never an appropriate lull in the conversation to jump in. And she never, ever, attempted to pass the baton and open the space up to hear me speak.
When I did try to speak up, I was told my ideas were either unrealistic or “didn’t fit with the budget”. Eventually I stopped speaking up at all. My ideas, as bright and brimming with optimism as they were, weren’t worth a second thought.
3. They Use You For Personal Tasks
One key indicator of working for a narcissist boss is that they use you for their personal gain, whether that be running personal errands or expecting you to work on their pet projects.
In my case, I experienced this when planning what I thought was a fundraiser for the program I worked for.
Our program was holding a “blind wine tasting event” and I had to organize boosting the event via social media and email list, promoting ticket sales, soliciting wine donations from parents, coordinating the donation drop offs, creating a flavor description label for 150 bottles of wine, and wrapping 150 bottles of wine in paper for the blind tasting. All by myself.
The week of the fundraiser was stressful, but I was determined and worked efficiently. Even working at that pace, I was still leaving an hour late every day.
It wasn’t until two days before the event that I heard my boss talking on the phone about her “blind wine birthday party” that I had an immediate change of heart. When I mentioned this to her, she said “I always have this blind wine fundraiser as my birthday party. Isn’t that fun?”
It still pisses me off to this day.
4. They Make You Mad/Upset/Self-Conscious/Sad/Any Other Negative Emotion
Finally, if your boss is making you feel bad about non-work matters, chances are you’re working for a narcissist.
One week I was helping to organize an event when the topic of e-vites (email invitations) came up. I didn’t know people in the 21st century still used e-vites, considering I hadn’t heard that word since 2008.
My old boss told me, “you wouldn’t know, you don’t throw parties.”
I stared at her blankly. So desperately I wanted to say, Ma’am, I showed up to work hungover twice this week. Do you want to see my credit card statement????
But instead, I just stood there feeling self-conscious. Why was a 40 something year old woman commenting on the social habits of their 21 year old employee? It still makes me pretty upset to this day.
This may be common knowledge, but your boss shouldn’t put you down about your personal life ever. There is a big difference between receiving criticism for your work and being on the receiving end of a personal jab. If your boss is crossing that line, that’s not okay.
If you end up with the shitty end of the stick and have a narcissist boss in your first job out of college, don’t fret. Remember that their behavior is indicative of them and not you.
I know firsthand how emotionally draining it is to work for a boss that makes your life a living hell because they’re obsessed with themselves. In my experience, it got to the point where I could no longer handle it so I started looking for other jobs.
My situation was a bit unique because the narcissist in question was the executive director. There was no person to turn to to work through these issues with. The HR director and her were very much in kahoots, and I was stuck being micromanaged and feeling like a miserable assistant (when that was very much NOT in my job description!!).
In a regular workplace environment, HR should be the place you turn to. If your supervisor is making you absolutely miserable, you can ask to switch or at least report their behavior to HR to be addressed in their future performance reviews.
At the end of the day, if your narcissistic boss is making you hate your job, you should never feel obligated to stay in your position.
That’s the magic of starting your career. You have so much flexibility. If one workplace is making you miserable, there are literally hundreds of thousands of other places you could work at. Never feel like you’re trapped in one place.
Please just don’t let one shitty boss dull your sparkle.
Article originally posted on The Good Person, a blog for 20-somethings learning how to balance career, social life, mental health, and everything in between.