As published in The Vancouver Sun newspaper, May 29, 2014
It could happen at school, work or in rush-hour traffic – most of us remember running into a jerk at some point in our lives. But what if that jerk is your boss?
Over a 40-hour work week, working for an abusive manager can take a serious toll on your physical and emotional well-being, says Sandra Robinson, a professor in the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.
“Bad bosses are repeatedly found to be one of the biggest sources of psychological pain at work, and one of the primary reasons employees quit,” says Robinson, a specialist in workplace psychology. “Probably the number one employee stressor, and an important cause of toxic workplace culture, comes from what we refer to as ‘abusive supervision’ – bosses who manage by using fear, shame and threats.”
Some examples include repeatedly changing rules, requirements and deadlines, micro-managing, and doling out unconstructive criticism. Bad management causes excessive workplace stress, which leads to absenteeism, poor work performance and low productivity – and that, in turn, affects the bottom line.
In 2012 alone, absenteeism in the workplace cost the Canadian economy more than $16.6 billion, according to a study by the Conference Board of Canada.
“The cost of not dealing with workplace stress is huge to individuals and companies,” says Dr. Elisabeth Sherman, the director of brain and psychological health at Copeman Healthcare Centre.
“My perception is that pressures on employees are increasing while opportunities for work-life balance are decreasing. When not managed correctly, stress converts to anxiety, burnout, and depression.
“This has a direct impact on performance, leading to poorer quality products, disruptions in work flow, high sick time costs, and wasted managerial time responding to conflicts. Employers are becoming more aware of these costs, but they’re not necessarily aware of the right preventative measures.”
No one is immune to the effects of workplace stress, which can often turn a manageable physical, psychological or cognitive health condition into a larger problem.
These include conditions ranging from headaches and back pain to coronary artery disease and autoimmune disorders; suicidal behaviour and overeating; and even an increased risk of dementia.
Dr. Sherman often sees patients who have noticed a dwindling ability to focus at work. “They wonder if it’s Alzheimer’s, but it’s often work stress,” she says.
As part of the brain health program she runs at Copeman, Dr. Sherman’s team helps patients optimize their stress management skills using a variety of tools, including mindfulness meditation, relaxation training, executive coaching, and individual therapy.
Copeman also creates effective workplace programs for employers. This fall, they’re launching a new tool for workplace stress prevention, a web-based form of peer support for the workplace called LikeMinder. It will be part of a suite of internet-based tools for personal health and wellness that consolidates and monitors personal health information from a variety of sources.
“The view that only the bottom line, and not the psychological health of staff, is a managerial responsibility is outdated,” says Dr. Sherman. “Those two are intimately tied – you can’t have one without the other.”
UBC Workplace Psychology expert Sandra Robinson and Neuropsychologist Dr. Elisabeth Sherman speak to mental health in the workplace. In particular, the delicate line between isolated mental health issues and outmoded management practices that cause widespread & unnecessary workplace stress & anxiety — ultimately leading to a sick company culture.
Prevention is key to managing workplace stress. Here are some key tips for employers:
- Provide management training on work stress
- Encourage staff participation in decision-making
- Clearly define employees’ roles and responsibilities
- Enforce a zero-tolerance policy for workplace bullying
- Provide family-friendly benefit plans and work schedules
Tips for Employees:
- Clarify your job description
- Find a mentor; broaden your view outside the workplace
- Get enough sleep, follow a healthy diet and take allotted vacation time
- Shorten commutes when possible
You could save money in the long run by investing in the health of your employees! Find out your potential savings using our free Healthcare ROI Calculator