Three hidden costs of tolerating a bad bossBy Michelle McQuaid | Sep 13, 12 12:41 PM
Is your boss ruining your health? You wouldn’t be alone, with three out of every four employees reporting their boss as the most stressful part of their job.
Unfortunately most of us confronted with a bad boss will put up with the misery for months on end, because bad bosses have a tendency of creeping up on us. Their offences usually start out quite small – a personal insult here, a dirty look there – making it easy to dismiss their unpleasant behaviour.
These little episodes gradually add up to big traumas because of the hidden costs their constant stream of negativity takes on our health, our relationships and ultimately our employment prospects. This is because the feelings of anxiety, fear and anger created by our boss’ behaviour don’t just make us feel bad, they quite literally change the way our brains and bodies operate.
Cost 1: Bad bosses damage our health
On average, it takes people 22 months to extract themselves from a bad boss and this prolonged period of stress can eventually shift our brain’s chemistry towards anxiety or depression and affects our immune response and cardiovascular functioning, elevating the risk of colds, diseases, strokes and heart attacks. It’s no coincidence heart attacks are more likely to occur on Mondays or that employees who have a difficult relationship with their boss are 30 per cent more likely to suffer from coronary heart disease. The fact of the matter is, people who experience an excess of cortisol become sick more often, recover slower and live shorter lives.
Cost 2: Bad bosses destroy our relationships
By design, negativity inspires us to protect ourselves, which often means pulling back from others. Unfortunately, this separation can set us on a dark and lonely path that insulates us from the one thing we need most – the love and support of other people who care about us. So, it comes as no surprise the tension caused by bad bosses has been found to detrimentally affect our marriages and families.
Cost 3: Bad bosses undermine our performance
Finally, an overload of negative emotions makes it difficult for us to perform well. They narrow our view of the world, making it hard to see opportunities. They also rob our brain of dopamine and serotonin – which are only stimulated by positive emotions – making it really tough to think quickly, creatively or laterally, leaving us in a decision-making rut. Left to linger, the stress of negative emotions eventually harms our ability to learn by shrinking our hippocampus, which is our fortress of memory. This is why studies show the unhappiness inflicted by a bad boss, decreases our effectiveness and undermines our performance causing us to make less money, receive fewer promotions and find our goals at work more difficult to achieve.
It’s natural to feel victimised when someone we perceive as powerful – like our boss – starts infringing upon our rights, yet new research suggests we all have the capacity to act heroically. All it takes is the choice to actively try and address injustice or create positive change despite the fear that we may fail. So if you’re ready to put a stop to the impact your bad boss is having try the following:
1. Get real about what you’re telling yourself. Being honest about what you’re putting up with, the stress and negativity it’s creating, what it’s costing you in terms of your health, your relationships and your career, along with the stories of “victims”, “villains” and “helplessness” that you might be using to comfort yourself, helps you to recognise that the situation with your bad boss needs changing.
2. Own your own stories so you’re ready to act. Heroes work out what they’re fighting for (not against) and behave accordingly, they challenge their beliefs that impede their progress, they find the compassion to understand the beliefs that drive others and they can access their powers of empathy, optimism and confidence to improve their relationships.
3. Connect with others to create win-win outcomes. Every hero needs a sidekick, so you need to reach out to someone whom you can trust and share your stories, so you can break the grip of shame, multiply your resources and come up with different ways to create a win-win plan that delivers the miracle you want.
4. Realise the best revenge is lasting happiness. In order to bask in the glory of your win, you need to protect your well-being at work by building healthy habits and continuously measuring and celebrating your progress. If you’re happy in your job, you’re more likely to increase your effectiveness and fuel your performance so you can earn more money, achieve goals more easily, receive more promotions, enjoy better job security, receive better supervisor ratings and avoid becoming burnt-out, therefore, providing the best revenge.
There’s no need to live your life in chains, when the key to change is in your hands. Are you ready to be a hero and rescue yourself from your bad boss?
With a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology, Michelle McQuaid is passionate about helping people to cultivate beliefs and scientifically proven behaviours, ignite their strengths, broaden their mindset, improve relationships and build resilience.
Currently studying her PhD, Michelle has been recognised by positive psychology founder, Martin Seligman as “one of the world’s leaders in designing and delivering positive psychology interventions in workplaces”.
Michelle has also written her first book "5 Reasons to Tell Your Boss to go F**k Themselves: How to Use Positive Psychology to Get What You Want" in bookstores and on Amazon October 1st 2012.