One thing that I often get asked about when I’m working with clients who have been going through workplace bullying (especially narcissistic bullying) is why people often side with a bullying boss when they know that what they’re doing is wrong.

Of course, many dynamics are at play here, and it can be really confusing when you’re going through it. How can people side with someone who is bullying someone else? It seems unfathomable.

In this article, I’ll explore the complex reasons why people side with narcissistic bosses, shed light on workplace realities that contribute to it, and offer insights into potential impacts.

To watch the extended YouTube version, click here.

The Narcissistic Bullying Boss

I know I’ve spoken about narcissistic traits in previous articles, but firstly, let’s do a quick recap of the narcissistic behaviours we often see in bullying bosses:

1.     Charismatic Manipulation

Narcissistic bosses often exhibit charismatic qualities that can be alluring. Many have an initial charm and persuasive communication style that can be attractive to employees, making it challenging to recognise manipulative behaviours beneath the surface.

In addition, we don’t expect people to be manipulative, so we aren’t necessarily looking out for it.

2.     Power Dynamics

The inherent power dynamics within organisations create an environment where employees may fear retribution or career consequences if they go against the narcissistic boss. This is incredibly common.

Siding with the bully might be perceived as a survival strategy within this power structure.

3.     Selective Favouritism

Narcissistic bosses may employ tactics of selective favouritism, pitting employees against each other for their approval.

Some employees may side with the boss in an attempt to secure favour and protect themselves from becoming targets themselves.

4.     Illusion Of Success

Narcissistic leaders often create an illusion of success around themselves. Employees may align with the boss in hopes of being associated with this perceived success, even if it comes at the expense of others.

Individual Motivations for Siding With A Narcissistic Boss

As you can imagine, there are numerous reasons why co-workers may side against you in favour of their abusive boss (doesn’t make it right, though!).

1.     Survival Instinct

Employees may choose to align with a narcissistic boss out of fear of retaliation. The fear of losing your job, facing humiliation, or experiencing professional consequences can be a powerful motivator for siding with the aggressor.

2.     Desire For Approval

Narcissistic bosses often have a knack for providing conditional approval. Employees seeking validation and recognition may align with the boss in an attempt to secure positive feedback and acknowledgement.

3.     Manipulation and Gaslighting

Narcissistic bosses excel at manipulation and gaslighting, distorting reality to their advantage. Employees may be led to believe that the boss’s actions are justified, further aligning with their perspectives.

Remember, as part of their manipulation and self-preservation, narcissists rarely show their true colours to everyone. They are often very selective in who they choose to bully and how they do it.

4.     Ingrained Company Culture

In workplaces with a pervasive toxic culture, employees may become desensitised to narcissistic behaviours. Siding with the boss might result from normalised toxic patterns perceived as the norm within the organisation.

I have a video on toxic work environments, which are unfortunately common, particularly in specific industries. You can watch it here.

Workplace Structures That Foster Alignment

1.     Lack Of Reporting Mechanisms

Limited Channels for Complaints: In organisations with inadequate reporting mechanisms or a lack of transparency, employees may feel powerless to address narcissistic bullying behaviour. The absence of safe avenues for expressing concerns can contribute to employees aligning with the bully.              

2.     Perceived Career Advancement

Professional Opportunism: Employees may perceive aligning with a narcissistic boss as a strategic move for career advancement. The belief that loyalty to the aggressor can lead to preferential treatment and career opportunities may drive such alliances.

3.     Isolation And Alienation

Divide and Conquer Strategies: Narcissistic bosses may use divide and conquer strategies, isolating employees and creating an environment of distrust. Feeling alienated, employees may align with the boss as a means of self-preservation in a fractured work environment.

Belonging to the group is an evolutionary throwback to when being cast out of the tribe meant almost certain death. Therefore, being part of the tribe is deeply ingrained in our DNA, which is why the pain of rejection appears in the same parts of the brain as physical pain!

In a previous video, I talked about the evolutionary need to be connected to the group. You can watch it here.

4.     Cognitive Dissonance

When confronted with a narcissistic boss’s behaviour, individuals may experience cognitive dissonance. In other words, mental discomfort results from witnessing beliefs, values, or attitudes that conflict with their own.

To reduce discomfort, they may align with the boss’s actions, convincing themselves that the bullying is justified or acceptable within the organisational context.

Cognitive dissonance is a big one. I see situations where I know the employee is inherently a good person but convinces themselves that what their boss is doing is right because it’s too uncomfortable to believe the opposite.

Impacts On Workplace Culture and Individuals

1.     Erosion Of Trust

The alignment of some employees with a narcissistic boss can erode trust within the workplace. Co-workers may become wary of each other, hindering collaboration and fostering a toxic environment.

 2.     Silencing Of Dissent

Siding with a narcissistic boss may silence opposing opinions. Employees who would otherwise raise concerns or propose alternative solutions may choose to conform to avoid repercussions.

3.     Increased Stress and Anxiety

If you’re caught in the crossfire of a toxic workplace, where alliances with a narcissistic boss are formed, you may experience heightened stress and anxiety. The fear of reprisal and the negative impact on your mental health can be significant.

4.     Decline In Employee Engagement

A workplace with a narcissistic bullying boss and employees aligning with them may see a decline in overall employee engagement. The toxic atmosphere can lead to disengagement, apathy, and a lack of commitment to organisational goals.

The Wrap-Up

The impact of working in a toxic environment, especially one where other employees side with the bully, can have long-lasting, far-reaching negative consequences.

However, understanding the dynamics at play and why people do what they do is essential in understanding that it’s not you who is the problem.

Unless we are educated in narcissism, it’s difficult to understand how anyone could behave in such a callous and manipulative way. To be honest, when you do know, it’s still hard to understand.

But as with most things, awareness is everything. Once you’re aware of what’s going on, once you can see the patterns – narcissistic behaviour ALWAYS has the same patterns – you can keep reminding yourself that you aren’t the problem.

It also allows you to put steps in place to mitigate the effects on your physical and mental health and take positive steps towards a happier and healthier future.

What Next?

In the extended video version of this article, I also discuss ways of dealing with this type of situation if it’s happening to you. You can watch it here.

If you have any words of wisdom on this topic or any questions you’d like me to answer, please leave them in the comments section below. I love interacting with you and really value your feedback.

If you enjoyed this article and haven’t yet subscribed to get my weekly newsletter straight to your inbox, please click the ‘Newsletter’ tab at the top of the page.

If you head over to YouTube, please support me and the channel by liking, commenting and subscribing. It costs absolutely nothing, but really helps me get my content out and in front of more people.

As always, thanks for your continued support.

FREE Guide, 'How to Hack Your Happy Hormones!'

Unlock exclusive insights and stay up-to-date with the latest news by subscribing to my newsletter today - your source for valuable content delivered straight to your inbox! 


Claim your FREE gift: Instantly access my 32-page 'Happy Hormones Hacks' mini-course, a £39.99 value, as a token of my appreciation!

You have Successfully Subscribed!