Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The proof is in: bad bosses wreak havoc with our health

Old news has become new news but even more scary. Bad bosses raise our risk of heart disease and stroke, let alone other emotional and physical ailments. Studies around the world recently published resoundingly underscore that a poor boss-employee relationship can erode an employee’s wellbeing, even with seemingly mild infractions.

It’s surprising what can cause undue stress, anxiety, and headaches. According to Scott Schlieman, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto, in the November issue of Psychology Today, a boss giving unclear directions can trigger anxiety. To some, that kind of behaviour may sound benign and not within the definition of “bad”. But, unclear expectations (and lack of discussion to ensure a shared understanding of them) can drive employees “nuts”. This is backed up by extensive Gallup research. Marcus Buckingham (First Break All the Rules) lists clear expectations as the number one catalyst role of a great manager.

The more obvious stereotype of the bad boss also does its damage. Nagging, showing little respect, blaming and lack of consideration all lead to health problems for direct reports, according to researchers Brad Gilmore and Phillip Benson at the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and Nadia Wager at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University in the United Kingdom. While this information is not new, as numerous studies over decades have hammered home the same messages, the prevalence of the bad boss syndrome is not encouraging.

In my practice, clients lament weekly on the inappropriate behaviours of persons either with whom they work on a peer-to-peer basis or to whom they report. Participants in my leadership classes have a constant stream of bothersome boss stories. Frequently they joke that while they are in classes trying to learn how to become more effective leader-managers, their bosses (often the top executives) never set foot in a classroom. Or, the bosses do not take advantage of opportunities to interact with them at in-house sessions.

Clearly, we’ve got some work to do on developing great leaders and managers. My rationale self cannot understand why individuals in authority positions choose behaviours that are contrary to healthy relationship-building. Why? The enormous cost (in dollars) of not deliberately doing so. It doesn’t take a high IQ to make the leap from happy employees to greater productivity. That spells better customer service, more effective teams generating new knowledge, processes and products and simply more fun for all. Instead, smart people sabotage themselves: poorer results directly attributable to their less than desirable behaviours with employees.

Ego wins out over sound reason. Erroneous assumptions about how to “motivate” employees unconsciously drive the wrong actions over and over again. Control becomes more important than engagement. That feeling of importance supersedes humility. Judgments of others abound. Seldom is the scrutiny turned inward.

Maybe one solution is to try the sales technique “what’s in it for me” or WIFM on bad bosses. Surely their health is adversely affected by the stressful relationships. They might think twice if they were reminded by employees that the toxins they are spreading are contagious and do not respect position, title or hierarchy!

1 comment:

Foufolle said...

Thanks ... I sent this to my boss.