OK, if you’ve ever had a bad boss – and come on, who hasn’t? – you know they have the power to make your day-to-day work existence miserable. But did you also know that your bad boss may be making you fat? Research shows that the term “toxic boss” may be more than just a cliche.

Ana Swanson looks at research related to the toll that bad bosses take in an article in the Washington Post:  Research says your bad boss may be making you sad, lazy and fat. She notes that:

“But even the little slights can add up. And these behaviors are not just unpleasant for employees. Research suggests they are actually bad for worker health.

Experiencing rudeness at work, and even replaying the event in your head later, elevates levels of hormones called glucocorticoids, Christine Porath, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, recently argued in an op-ed for the New York Times. That can lead to disparate health issues, including increased appetite and obesity.”

Other researchers at the University of Louisville looked at dysfunctional boss behaviors, plotting them on a dysfunctional behavior chart, ranging from annoyances like bosses who take credit for others’ ideas to traumatic behavior such as verbal or physical mistreatment.

At the root of the bad behavior Porath’s research finds that many people believe that having a tough or curt attitude helps them to project authority.

“A quarter of Porath’s respondents thought that people would regard them as less of a leader if they behaved more civilly. Almost 40 percent said they were afraid they would be taken advantage of if they were too nice, and nearly half said it was better to “flex one’s muscle to garner power,” Porath writes.”

The Kellogg School of Management’s Insight series often discusses the topic of “bad bossism.”
A recent podcast focused on the topic of toxic bosses and how you can avoid bringing them into your organization. Jon Maner, a professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School, has made it his business to study bad bosses, with a particular focus on the power-hungry boss — the type of manager who will squelch good performers and promote poor performers to keep from being overshadowed.

As shown in the research discussed above, a fundamental insecurity may be one of the driving forces in this type of manager. In the podcast, Maner is joined by James Shein, a clinical professor of strategy at the Kellogg School, who has observed managers at failing companies, finding that hubris is often the culprit. Shein says that often “The power is more important than the decision as to recognizing that they need to change.”

How can organizations avoid these toxic bosses? One way that Maner and Shein suggest is to push for more accountability and transparency among managers; or even better, avoid hiring the power-hungry bosses in the first place.

How do you do that? Look for what motivates them:

“Maner’s research looks at the differences between leaders who are motivated by power versus those who are motivated by prestige, meaning they want people to like and respect them. What our work suggests is that people with a real thirst for respect and admiration are probably going to be better bosses than people with a real desire for power and control and authority.

That often means, ironically, picking people who don’t crave power. I think there’s a natural selection by us. When people really want power they do whatever they can to rise through the hierarchy. Ironically those aren’t necessarily the best people for the job.”

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Need better bosses?  Check out ESI’s Management Academy, just one of the many employer-focused services offered by our EAP.

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