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Is your boss ruining your family?

Date

Andrea Black

Stress ... a bad workplace impacts on family life.

Stress ... a bad workplace impacts on family life.

Do you spend all day Sunday dreading what the next workday will bring? Do you wake on weekday mornings in fright? We all know that a happy workplace can mean a contented life but new research has found that having a bad boss can affect not only your mental and physical health but also the way you relate to your family.

According to a study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology by Dr Nicolas Gillet and his team from Université François Rabelais in France, over-controlling managers who use threats as a way to motivate employees frustrate our basic needs for autonomy, a sense of competence, and how we relate to others. This, in turn, is likely to have a negative impact on our wellbeing.

While these findings may not be surprising, it is the first study that provides evidence for the mediating role of need satisfaction in the relationships between perceptions of a supervisor's inter-personal style and a worker's wellbeing.

Laura* had a boss who had inherited a successful and high grossing business from his family. She was hired on the basis that she would be able to work flexible hours.

"Within months I was being asked to stay till 11pm at night and return at 5.30am the very next morning with less than 5 hours sleep," she says.

"I was bullied, as were several other staff and during my two years with the company it consumed my private life as I was constantly nervous about going into work or anxious whilst there, the stress of the environment made me quite ill."

In some cases a worker can become so ill as to be at risk of a heart attack. A Swedish study found that the more a worker feels their boss is incompetent, the higher chance they have of having a heart attack.

Clinical Psychologist, Jo Lamble says she sees many patients suffering as a result of supervisor workplace bullying.

"They are showing all the signs of stress including sleep difficulties, irritability, poor concentration and decision making, drug and alcohol abuse (to self-medicate), loss of confidence and anger," she says.

Not only can a toxic boss affect your wellbeing, it can also affect the wellbeing of families. A recent study from Baylor University published in the journal Personnel Psychology found that the stress and tension caused by an abusive boss at work filters through to an employee's personal relationships at home.

Author of the study, Professor of Management, Dr Dawn Carlson says,

"Our study showed how the job incumbent carries that over to the family through greater work-family conflict and by experiencing more relationship tension with the spouse.  As a result this harms the family as the job incumbent is more tense and less able to engage fully in the family life."

Jo Lamble says the findings come as no surprise.

"We spend so much time at work, so if work is unpleasant, then it will affect our mood and can make us irritable and intolerant when we get home," she says.

"Many people who work for a bad boss will feel the need to vent about it when they come home, which can become very tiring for the family who start wishing you would talk about anything else."

Annabel* was working as an Executive Assistant for what she says was the 'boss from hell'.

"It severely affected my ability to go to work and I ended up taking two weeks stress leave, I had also started a new relationship with my current partner and it put a great strain on things," she says.

All studies put the onus for fixing the problem on the organisation. Dr Dawn Carlson says,

"The implications are for individuals and organisations to realise that abusive supervision has far reaching effects beyond just the job incumbent. This compels organisations to do something to put a stop to this kind of abusive behavior from occurring."

But these are the same organisations that hired and promoted the abusive boss. Some advocate trying to speak directly to the abusive boss or taking the problem to higher management.

Robert Sutton, professor of management at Stanford University, and author Good Boss, Bad Boss, thinks bad bosses are immune to their own weaknesses. He believes that there is even stronger evidence now that if you wield authority over others, it dulls your ability to be in tune with their needs, feelings, and actions and what it's like to work for you.

Plus, in these days of decreased employee collective bargaining, unless an employee's complaint contravenes anti-discrimination laws, often it is only when the problem overtly interferes with the primary objective of a business, that is, making money, that organisational change is likely to occur.

"What amazes me is how often I hear stories of an employee complaining about a boss bullying them and HR saying 'Yes, we have heard this from other people too' or 'We have had a lot of trouble with this particular manager'," says Jo Lamble.

"Organisations need to take action if many complaints are being made about the same person. They have a duty of care to protect their employees from workplace bullying. Often, if the manager or boss is given a warning early enough, their behaviour improves. But sometimes, the bullying is condoned because there is a general culture of bullying from the top down," says Jo.

*(surnames withheld to protect the speaker's identity)

28 comments

  • The problem is a culture in which these managerial animals are glorified. The tyrannical boss is usually a moron, and can prove it. They're also major liabilities to their employers, and usually take the credit for everything that goes right while blaming everyone else for what goes wrong. God alone knows why business managers and major shareholders actually pay them. It'll be a great day for the human race when the whole pack of non-achieving, parasitic, infantile, prehistoric pigs are wiped from the face of the Earth.

    Commenter
    Paul Wallis
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    March 05, 2012, 12:42PM
    • Nice trolling, not at all obvious.

      Commenter
      Elmer
      Date and time
      March 06, 2012, 6:31AM
    • Paul for President

      Commenter
      reality bites
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 06, 2012, 8:04AM
  • I know that all too well. It happened to me with 3 consecutive jobs. The bullying, the stress, the unrealistic expectations. It was awful and each time I changed jobs I thought things would get better but they didn't. I just changed geography. The boss was the same, although in a different body. My already fractured relationship with my partner dissolved completely under that final strain.

    It got the to point where I couldn't face working any more. I've been unemployed for a week now. I was offered a well paying job in the health industry but it meant two buses there and two buses back. I said no thanks.

    I question the wisdom of that a little but I don't care how broke I am. Being broke and living hand to mouth is better than being constantly bullied for a year with no respite. Now I'm only choosing jobs I think will make me happy, even if the money is crap.

    Crap money is better than a stress induced heart attack.

    Commenter
    Audra Blue
    Location
    Brisbane
    Date and time
    March 05, 2012, 1:07PM
    • This is not meant to be an attack on you Audra but don't you think that if the same issues arise in three consecutive jobs then the problem could be with you and not your bosses. I have known individuals who simply find it difficult to fit into office jobs and seem to take it personally when they are asked to actually do work. They then feel they are being bullied when they do not get the work done on time and people start to put pressure on them.

      I just find it hard to accept that three different organisations can have the exact same problem.

      Commenter
      Look Within
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 3:05PM
    • Look Within, I did think of that because there are 2 sides to each story. But I've been working for 27 years without a problem and in the space of 12 months, I get slammed 3 times. It was just difficult because all the badness came in such a short amount of time.

      During that year my partner and I were having serious relationship issues and it did affect me more than I realised. A job I loved turned into a nightmare due to staff changes and I was pretty much forced out of it and then jumped from that job to another without looking into it more.

      Then my relationship imploded and I was barely holding myself together. The second job ended unceremoniously and I took sometime off to get myself together. The last job came along and I was happy about it but the politics was awful and I was quite reactive instead of ignoring it like I usually do.

      Things are on the mend now, so I'm not expecting any more issues job wise. I have myself pretty together so life should go back to being smoother and calmer.

      Commenter
      Audra Blue
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 6:05PM
    • (continued from above)

      Next job, I was doing well until the manager, searching for candidates online in LinkedIn, saw that I was "looking for opportunities" due to salary/cost of living pressures. My manager had lost 4 of 6 higher level staff in a year (some sacked, some ran). Better to sack me for manufactured cause than suffer another resignation to further blemish her poor record. This entailed over-assignment of work (mostly busywork, such as giving copies of my diplomas), lots of complaints I had to constantly answer, etc.

      Sometimes, you really do hit a few bad managers/organisations in a row.

      It is not helpful at all to a victim of bullying to tell them, maybe they're the problem, if the bullying has affected them to the degree it apparently has that poster. People don't sign up for that just to cover up because they were asked to do work for their paycheck and don't want to.

      Commenter
      Carol
      Location
      Beenleigh
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 8:34PM
    • Understand exactly what you are talking about, Audra Blue. The health industry is notorious for a culture of workplace bullying. A lot of middle managers and bureaucrats are bullies and liars. It seems to be a culture within the public service, nepotism, bullying, mediocrity and dishonesty. Education, corrective services, etc seem no better. Your 27 years of service and the loyalty that that entails, is worthless to these people. I feel they often don't like experienced people because you are a wake up to their short comings. Hang in there, Audra Blue.

      Commenter
      The Genuine Article
      Date and time
      March 06, 2012, 11:24AM
  • Stress ! Ridiculous expectations ! Threats and abuse ! Yes. I know that all too well at work. My boss is a nightmare. One minor problem... I am my boss. I am self employed. It can be no easier from the other side.

    Commenter
    One
    Location
    NSW
    Date and time
    March 05, 2012, 1:40PM
    • You call these guys stupid but then talk about their salaries being paid by "major shareholders and business managers". I think you'll find the company picks up the tab.

      Commenter
      I lolled at you
      Date and time
      March 05, 2012, 1:59PM

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