Research published last month in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal showed that people working for bad bosses have a significantly increased risk of angina, heart attack and death, whatever their age.
Researchers monitored the hearts of 3,100 men over a period of three years and compared their rates of heart disease with those of the general population. People who thought their bosses were incompetent suffered a higher rate of heart disease than those who worked for bosses they deemed competent. As competence of the boss declines, the rate of heart disease increases.
What makes a bad boss? Apart from technical incompetence, our research, conducted over a 30-year period and involving more than 5,000 managers, has identified three types of behaviour that have negative effects.
- Defensive-aggressive behaviour.
- Conflict avoidance behaviour.
- Responsibility avoidance behaviour.
We are capable of reacting adversely to strains at work, regardless of our personality. If you're being pressured by your boss to produce some work, but the people to whom you've delegated are not delivering, this puts you under emotional strain.
Humans tend to react in one of three ways -- fight (defensive-aggressive behaviour), flight (responsibility avoidance behaviour) or submission (conflict avoidance behaviour). Whether you get angry and tear a strip off your subordinates, pass the responsibility for the failure to deliver on to them, or fail to address the issue with either them or your boss and hope for the best, your being a "bad boss". You'll leave others feeling threatened and stressed. And stress relates rather strongly to a number of health problems, from heart disease to diabetes.
You may not recognise this behaviour in yourself. We need someone or something to point it out and help us to think about the causes, try to deal with them, or at least learn to stop reacting to them.
So what can you do if you're a boss?
Get some feedback on your behaviour. If you find it difficult to ask people around you at work, there are confidential questionnaires available that will tell you what you're doing. Or ask your partner or someone close to you for an honest appraisal.
Ask yourself what's causing that behaviour. Bad bosses generally aren't bad people -- they're just frustrated and pressured.
Oh, and by the way, if you are being a bad boss, have your heart checked because it's not only the people who work for you who are at risk.