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A Bad Boss Can Send You to an Early Grave

September 24, 2008
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It seems there’s always a steady supply of sympathy available for anyone stuck working under a bad boss. Most everyone I know has been there at one time or another, working under a tyrant who somehow manages to survive in this world without people skills. If you haven’t had a boss like this, you should consider buying a lottery ticket - soon. You are that lucky.

 

According to a recent study published in Human Resource Executive magazine, a third of U.S. workers spend a minimum of 20 hours per month at work complaining about their boss. The Gallup Poll estimates U.S. corporations lose $360 billion annually due to lost productivity from employees who are dissatisfied with - you guessed it - their boss. And if there’s but one hard truth the Gallup Polls have taught U.S. corporations in the last decade, it’s that people may join companies, but they will leave bosses.

 

In the days of a strong dollar, bulging tech bubble and robust housing market, people working for a bad boss had options. Careers were mobile and talent was in short supply. It was a snap to pack up and leave. Nowadays, things are decidedly different. Jobs are scarce and the prudent worker stays put, even if he or she is working under the worst type of boss imaginable - the seagull manager.

 

The roots of seagull management can be traced back to the days when “micromanager” was the worst non-expletive you could utter behind your boss’ back. Managers fear of this label grew so intense that they learned to keep their distance from employees, assuming a “good” boss is one who spends as little time as possible breathing down people’s necks. And most do. They give people room to breath until the moment a problem flares up. Then - instead of getting the facts straight and working alongside their staff to realize a viable solution - seagull managers come swooping in at the last minute, they squawk orders at everybody, and deposit steaming  piles of formulaic advice before abruptly taking off.

 

Seagull managers interact with their employees only when there’s a fire to put out. Even then, they move in and out so hastily - and put so little thought into their approach - that they make bad situations worse by frustrating and alienating those who need them the most. Today, seagull managers are breeding like wildfire. As companies flatten in response to the struggling economy, they are gutting management layers and leaving behind managers with more autonomy, greater responsibility, and more people to manage. That means they have less time and less accountability for focusing on the primary purpose of their job - managing people.

 

As it turns out, seagull managers aren’t just a U.S. phenomenon. After reading a study that found employees have lower blood pressure on the days they worked for a supervisor they think is fair, researchers from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health decided to take a closer look at this phenomenon. They followed British civil servants for a period of 15 years to see if the type of boss one works for has any impact upon long-term physical health.

 

The researcher’s findings cast a grave shadow upon anyone working for a seagull manager. The team from Helsinki found that seagull-type managerial behaviors lead to a much higher incidence of employee coronary heart disease. Employees working for a seagull manager were 30% more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who were not. What’s more, the incidence of coronary heart disease - the #1 killer in Western societies - was measured after the researchers had removed the influence of typical risk factors, such as age, ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, socio-economic position, cholesterol level, obesity, hypertension, smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity.

 

No one influences an employee’s morale and productivity more than his or her supervisor. It’s that simple. Yet, as common as this knowledge may seem, it clearly hasn’t been enough to change the way that managers and organizations treat people. Few companies recognize the degree to which managers are the vessels of a company’s culture, and even fewer work diligently to ensure that their vessels hold the knowledge and skills that motivate employees to perform, feel satisfied, and love their jobs. The very individuals with the authority to alter the course of company culture lack the facts that would impel them to do so.

 

With the stoic pragmatism that one might expect from a Finnish University professor, Dr. Mika Kivimäki, the director of the study, had this to say about the study’s findings, “Most people care deeply about just treatment by authorities.”
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