Career Watch

This feature originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

The 'It's All About Me' Syndrome

Five years ago, Jean Ritala had never heard the term narcissism. Then someone described her as having been "stung by a narcissist" and shared books and Web sites with her on the topic. Now, besides being the IT support services manager at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel in Prior Lake, Minn., Ritala educates and coaches others on how to deal with narcissists.

Narcissists show a pervasive need for attention and admiration and a lack of concern for others. But are they dangerous in the workplace?

"The cost to organizations from narcissism in the workplace is staggering," as the narcissist's co-workers become ill with stress, teamwork deteriorates, projects fail and turnover rises, says Ritala.

"Up to one-third of a narcissist's victims in the workplace will quit the company or transfer to another department if nothing is done" to address the behavior, she says.

Once she had become educated on the topic of narcissism, Ritala began to recognize narcissistic traits in the workplace. Feeling that it is a problem that is pervasive but too often ignored, she and management consultant Gerald Falkowski wrote a booklet on the topic, called Narcissism in the Workplace (Red Swan Publishing USA, 2007).

Ritala, former president of the IT Service Management Forum - U.S., spoke recently with Computerworld about dealing with narcissism in IT organizations.

Is narcissism prevalent within IT organizations? I think IT is more competitive than some parts of the business, so yes. But people are getting educated. Five years ago, few people knew about narcissism. Now there are online discussion groups which deal with the topic. And the dynamics of the workforce have changed so that narcissist personalities are standing out more.

What steps can IT managers take to address these issues? You need a health care professional, like a psychologist who specializes in employee counseling services, to get involved. Managers need to document behaviors and not be afraid to go to HR and say, "This is what I'm seeing and what people are telling me."

Once narcissistic employees are identified, how do you deal with them? HR should encourage them to use an employee-referral service such as counseling. Some narcissists, when confronted, can see how their behavior is impacting staff and their own performance. If they can't, HR has to calmly play back what they did. And you must establish firm boundaries, with timely, progressive consequences. You need to follow up to see if behaviors are improving or getting worse. But people's behavior patterns typically don't change unless they get help or become enlightened. And once a narcissist's behaviors are observed and documented, they can become even more cruel and offensive, since they no longer can hide their behaviors and rationalize them away.

Socially Acceptable

IT professionals have become extremely active on social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Xing.

How often do you visit social networking sites?

More than three times a week: 42%
At least once a week: 35%
Less than once a month: 22%
Note: Percentages do not total 100 because of rounding.

Source: Survey of 430 Fortune 1,000 IT professionals by outsourcing firm Syntel Inc., April 2008

19%: Percentage of IT workers responding to a recent survey who said that their bosses expect them to work or at least check voice mail and/or e-mail while on vacation. In comparison, just 9% of all respondents said that their bosses have similar expectations. IT was the occupation most likely to be required to keep in touch.

Source: online survey of 6,987 full-time employees, May 2008

Page compiled by Jamie Eckle.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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