Bad bosses make you sick

2014-01-05 10:00

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New research shows unhappy employees are less likely to be healthy and productive.

The holidays are over and for many, it’s back to work tomorrow.

But while some are looking forward to getting back to their jobs, others are wishing they could turn back the clock to mid-December.

It’s not because they need more time to relax on the beach, but because they dread going to work where their bosses breathe down their necks.

Studies have shown that people who are unhappy at work – mainly because of their horrible bosses – often call in sick or stay away, citing a family emergency.

Now, an interesting research report into this phenomenon has revealed that when unhappy employees take sick leave regularly, they may in fact be sick.

A study conducted by Ohio State University in the US and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal revealed that horrible bosses affect the health of those who work under them.

It showed how chronic work-related stress changes gene activity in immune cells before they reach the bloodstream.

The changes prepare the cells to fight an infection or trauma that doesn’t actually exist.

This leads to severe inflammation, which is linked to many health problems including heart disease, obesity and dementia.

Dr Ralph Evans, an industrial psychology consultant based in Pretoria, says that although he has not analysed the study, he agrees with its findings.

“Based on my experience working for industrial or corporate companies, working for a horrible boss who is always screaming or pulling rank for no valid reason has a detrimental effect on employees’ physical and mental health,” he said.

“If your boss is always shouting at you the minute you set foot inside the office, morale goes and you prepare for a fight, and during that preparation your immune system prepares for a fight as well, not knowing that the fight is not physical.”

Dr Jacques Snyman, the owner of the Zurreal4employers programme, an employee wellness and human capital and financial services product, agreed and urged employers to find ways to deal with workplace bullying, saying this practice affected absenteeism rates and productivity.

One boss well regarded for nurturing her staff is Ayanda Nakedi, the senior general manager of Eskom Holdings who won the Boss of The Year Leadership award in November.

She agreed that some bosses lacked people skills, and said organisations need to find a way to deal with workplace bullying.

“We need to consciously rid ourselves of caustic behaviours, but strive to maintain and demonstrate tendencies that contribute to the relevance and sustainability of ourselves and the organisation.

“Without saying whether it is good or bad, what is rather important is that we should know ourselves as leaders. In knowing ourselves we will have empathy and be more authentic at the workplace,” she said.

Nakedi, who began her career at Eskom 20 years ago as a petty cash clerk, told City Press that believing in objectivity, fairness and justice in the workplace is what made her the boss she is today.

“We need to understand that as human beings we have different personalities, circumstances and journeys that we have travelled.

“Reprimands, debates and confrontations are normal in the quest for development.

“The effective way of staying sane anywhere is to be objective, steadfastly maintain focus and strive to excel,” she said.

She also advised bosses to admit their weaknesses and defy the need to be right all the time.

“At times, we need to express our vulnerabilities, as it is through this vulnerability that we will converse our strengths as leaders. If we can master this as leaders, we will improve the health of ourselves and the employees,” she said.

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