PART II: What is a Toxic Work Environment? Who Is The Narcissistic Boss?

by Dr. Jan Hoistad

This is the second in a 5 part series on Surviving a Narcissistic Boss or Toxic Work Environment.


If you frequently feel directly demeaned, undermined, purposely ignored or directly over-looked or over-worked, harassed, bullied or put down at work you most likely are working for a narcissistic, bullying or toxic boss, supervisor or manager. Or even a co-worker.

I’m not talking about the boss or colleague in a company or system where everyone is so overworked that there’s little time for contact—and even your supervisor .

These people come in all shapes and sizes. They can be young or more mature, male or female. What makes them dangerous or lethal is they have little or empathy, compassion or concern for others.

Some of them may even “enjoy” intimidating others. They often reward those who “suck up” to them, those who buy into their view of reality and those who work to meet their ends to look good.

Identifying: How do I know if it’s me or others?

If you are in a toxic work environment, common self-questioning—Inner Dialogue—that arises for anyone are:

“Is it me? Is it my imagination? Or is it really my (boss, co-worker’s, company)?” 

“I’ve never experienced this before. I’ve always done well……Am I doing something so wrong?”

“Why don’t I fit in? Why don’t they like / accept / or include me?”

Why don’t they mentor me? Why don’t they give me positive feedback—or any feedback?”

If you are in a toxic work environment, common feelings—Emotions—that you may experience include feeling you are:

A target for criticism

Ignored or overlooked

Not wanting to stand out

Yelled at or condescended to

Berated for the slightest fault

Shamed, blamed, misunderstood

Doing a good job but never acknowledged or rewarded

“In a “bubble”

Anxious all the time, helpless, hopeless

Unsafe in speaking normally to others

Want to hide; Feel trapped

Hate to get up in the morning; Dread going to work

Wish you had a way out but unsure of yourself

If you are in a toxic work environment, common actions—Behaviors—you may find yourself engaged in include:

Avoiding your boss or co-workers

Hiding in your cubicle or office

Slinking, slumped posture, mumbled speech

Looking down or avoiding eye contact at meetings or in the hallway

Avoiding social events

Characteristics of the Narcissistic Boss or Co-Worker
  • Narcissistic bosses, toxic leaders or co-workers can “operate” overtly or covertly
  • They may intimidate or act abusively toward everyone under them
  • Or he/she /they will often zero in on one person or one person at a time: serial targets
  • Their direct level peers or those above them either seem oblivious to the behavior or they focus their attention only on what that leader brings in to the company (e.g. revenue, contacts, contracts)
  • The narcissist or abuser may attack through out and out abusive or foul language, yelling, swearing, threats and put-downs or through covert undermining and putdowns (e.g. giving inappropriate assignments, taking assignments away, and further along the continuum working to move an employee out of a job through HR investigations of complaints, putting the person on a plan, etc.
  • Attacks may come in a group meeting or some target only in private
  • Sometimes their targets are treated this way only when no one else is around to witness the behavior
  • While the narcissistic boss or co-worker can be male or female it seems
    • Men more likely to intimidate in front of others
    • Women more likely to undermine privately 
  • Often manipulative, always demeaning, sometimes verbally abusive. Sometimes the abuse is couched in seemingly nice or professional language or context
  • If you are targeted they often call for unnecessary meetings with you
  • They undermine your person and/or your work product making you feel unnecessary or stupid
Characteristics of the Toxic Environment
  • Your co-workers may also be “in-hiding”

  • Or they participate fully in gossip, backbiting

  • Co-workers may be highly competitive and undermine one another
  • They may single out one co-worker at a time to throw under the bus
  • They may ignore you, not include you in meetings or social events

Please check back for tomorrow for PART III: “Am I Crazy? Is It Me or Is My Work Environment Toxic?” Symptoms You Experience If You Work in a Toxic Environment or Have a Narcissistic Boss

It’s really important that you take care of yourself, get outside support and make yourself safe because when you’re in an already unsafe situation you do not want to make yourself more vulnerable. The effects can be long-lasting.

As a Career Change Coach and Business Development Mentor, I work with many people who contact me  unhappy, overwhelmed, dissatisfied or downright discouraged about their work lives. They may be  looking ways to get out or move up in their company, but don’t know how. They may be looking to start or grow a business, but don’t have either the time or the tools to move forward. They may simply feel stuck and not know how to balance it all with having a personal life.

I am committed to sharing the step-by-step strategies I’ve discovered and developed  in my own career and business growth. These are Success Strategies I’ve helped many others implement, so they too can be successful—thriving in their work and personal lives. They’re not just a typical Exit Strategybecause that’s just a way out; an escape from a bad situation.

I’ve developed Empowering Career Change Strategies. They empower you to take charge of your life and lead in your career and business life.

Yes you may want and need out of a toxic situation, but you don’t want to simply leap from the frying pan into the fire—you deserve, yes you deserve—to have support to create a plan that leads you step-by-step toward more satisfying work and life, preserving your grace and dignity, and possibly your profit.

 I think you’ll find these articles helpful. I’d love for you to leave your comments, share your story or insights.

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