Narcissistic leaders cause employees undue stress in crisis situations

Vulnerable narcissistic leaders are especially likely to make employees irritated during crisis situations, reveals new research from NEOMA Business School. Birgit Schyns, Distinguished Professor of People & Organisations at NEOMA, and co-authors analysed survey data on workers in the UK education sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. Respondents reported their levels of irritation and Coronavirus-related worry in five weekly surveys, as well as their experiences with vulnerable narcissistic leadership – an unstable form of leadership characterised by covert feelings of entitlement.

The study finds that leaders’ vulnerable narcissism may cause followers irritation due to its antagonistic and neurotic nature  and employees subjected to this kind of behaviour reported feeling more irritation in general, and this irritation worsened in weeks when they were exposed to higher amounts of vulnerable narcissistic behaviour from those in charge. The researchers suggest organisations should watch out for red flags of narcissistic leadership, such as punishing others for taking the initiative, as the irritation this causes followers can lead to more severe mental health impairments.

The research, published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology is based on a sample from a sample of 159 people affected by workplace uncertainty, in this case the UK education sector during the first weeks of the Covid pandemic. Five weeks of longitudinal data were collected. The findings suggest that vulnerable narcissistic leader behaviours positively related to follower irritation at an interpersonal level.

“Resources are often already stretched thin in crisis situations. Vulnerable narcissistic leaders strain them further, for instance by giving employees no guidelines on how to accomplish goals or blaming others for their own shortcomings. Employees already short on time and energy are required to invest more in making sense of their leader’s behaviour,” explains Professor Schyns. “Followers can be protected by implementing checks and balances and adjusting HR practices to better deal with these behaviours.”

Main image Narcissus by Caravaggio. Public domain.