A recent article published in the Academy of Management Review highlights what many of us have experienced or observed at work – a bad boss can be hazardous to your health. As people managers we need to constantly be aware of how our behaviour is impacting our employees (and by extension, our employee’s home life).
Co-author Ryan Vogel of Temple University states that, “we typically think about abusive supervision as having a very limited impact on employees in terms of its duration. But we now know that’s not the case. Abusive supervision impacts people in the long-term. It affects the way they think about themselves, it affects the ways they deal with others, and it affects their work and personal life.”
Abuse in this study was defined as “sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal supervisor behaviour,” and did not include physical or sexual harassment. The study also noted that:
- Employees can suffer long term post traumatic stress symptoms even after moving to a different job or company
- Employees who have other interests and relationships outside of work are less susceptible to post traumatic stress (ex. “life is too short to worry about work..”)
- Employees who hold work as a core element of their identity are more vulnerable to this type of stress (ex.”my work defines who I am..”)
So what can we as managers do to help employees who’ve had a previous bad boss?
1. Let them know that one bad experience doesn’t define them, or their career. I once left a bad work situation early in my career and immediately experienced new life under a new boss elsewhere. That person provided positive feedback right away and it lit me up inside when I really needed it. When you start in a new role, it means a lot to hear a positive message from your manager.
2. Create safety. Let your employees know you are there for them as people, not just workers. And this requires you stating that clearly and not just assuming they know. For example, “Steve, I care about you and want you to bring your best self to work. Just so you know, you can speak to me at anytime when things at work or at home are getting difficult.” Some employees will share more details than others of course, but at least they know you have their back.
3. Seek to understand your people. It’s fine to tell people you care, but if you don’t make a habit of inquiring about their well being regularly, it’s disingenuous. Try starting a 1:1 meeting with your employees by asking about their spouse, kids, pets, parents, hobbies, etc. For example, send yourself a calendar invite for Wednesday at 8:30am to remind yourself to check in on a team member’s home life that day. What gets scheduled gets done.
Have you ever had a bad boss? What advice would you give a new manager to help them best support their people?