Bad bosses can make you sick—literally

Studies link poor management to blood pressure, sleep problems

A bad boss could literally make you sick, researchers warn.

Over time, the poor leadership qualities of "'bad bosses" can take a toll on employees' physical and mental health. Several studies have revealed that having a bad boss has been linked to high blood pressure, sleep problems, anxiety, unhealthy habits, and heart attack.

"The evidence is clear," says Jonathan Quick, Harvard Medical School professor.

A 2009 study in Occupational & Environmental Medicine examined data from 3,122 men who rated their managers' leadership qualities. Employees who had good managers were 20% less likely than their peers to develop heart disease over a 10-year span. The longer someone worked under a bad manager, the stronger the association with poor health.

The effects are not just physical, either. For a 2012 report in Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers analyzed 279 studies and found that individuals who have a bad boss are more likely to be unfair and have mental health issues in addition to physical health problems.

In short, "if you are working under a boss who stresses you out in a destructive manner, and your possibilities or chances to change the situation are limited, you should try to change jobs as soon as possible," says Anna Nyberg, lead author of the 2009 study.

For those who cannot immediately leave, other approaches can still help. Talking to trusted coworkers about the situation can relieve stress, says psychotherapist Richard O'Connor (Shannonhouse, Washington Post, 10/20).


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