People who have a high opinion of themselves and their job skills tend to be below-par performers in the view of their managers and colleagues, researchers have revealed.
The delightful discovery that conceited, vain and self-absorbed employees rarely live up to their high opinions of themselves comes in research from Timothy Judge, a University of Florida (UF) management professor, whose research is scheduled to be published in the January issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.
"It's one thing to think you're better than other people when in fact you're no better; quite another to think you're better when you're actually worse," he said.
"Not recognising your own limitations in the workplace is going to keep you from trying to develop skills that would help you improve and make your organisation more effective."
The research examined how people who scored high on a psychological measure for narcissism rated their leadership and job skills compared with reviews by bosses and co-workers of how well they did.
What emerged was that although narcissists were no happier or unhappier than other people in their jobs, they considered themselves superior at doing them.
But those they worked for and with reported they did an inferior job compared with other employees.
"We expect people to be self-confident to succeed in business — even to the point of idolizing the Donald Trumps of the world — because we see some real limitations in the shrinking-violet type."
"The paradox is most of us would agree that being arrogant and overly obsessed with yourself are not positive qualities."
Because narcissists lack empathy and have self-serving motives, they are less likely to contribute positively to the office social climate by helping others, being a good sport and going above and beyond the call of duty for the greater good, he explained.
Judge added that studies suggest that narcissists unnecessarily perceive threats which could result in aggressive behaviour at work if their inflated view of themselves is challenged.
For instance, if a co-worker gets a better performance rating or a higher raise, the narcissist may try to undermine that person with derogatory remarks or by reacting in some other angry way.
In short, it appears that narcissists report themselves as better out of an honest belief, but also as a defensive strategy to maintain appearances.
"Given the social undesirability of narcissism – few would wish to be described as vain, self-absorbed, egotistical, selfish, conceited and grandiose – organisations might be expected to screen out narcissists, at least implicitly, in hiring decisions," Judge said.
Some consulting firms even offer special training programs in developing empathy for managers who may be technically competent but deficient in interpersonal skills.
But whether one must atone for self-aggrandizing behaviour may ultimately depend on an employee's place in the company hierarchy, Judge suggested.
"It may be easier to get away with being narcissistic if you're kind of the kingpin of the organisation," he said.
Gender was not a factor in whether an employee was likely to be narcissistic.
"Some evidence suggests that women are more interested in building relationships and men are more interested in getting ahead," he said.
"I thought men would be more likely to be narcissistic and exploitive of other people because of their macho image, which may just be a stereotype."
Taken to an extreme, the lack of a realistic appraisal of oneself can have dangerous consequences, Judge warned.
"A lot of tragedies in the world have been committed by people with grandiose views of their capabilities. Most delusional rulers and dictators tend to think they're invulnerable and have an inflated view of who they are."