Can Your Bad Boss Make You Sick

Your bad boss probably makes you dread going to work in the morning, but she might also be making you seriously sick. Incivility in the workplace is connected to a deteriorating immune system and a host of other significant health issues like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and ulcers, according to Robert M. Sapolsky, author of Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

Even intermittent exposure to stress, “like experiencing or witnessing uncivil incidents or even replaying one in your head,” bump up your hormone levels. It gets worse: A 2012 study found that stressful jobs increased the chance of a cardiovascular event by 38 percent. If you’re checking your pulse right now or always feel sick, you’re not alone.

bad boss
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Terrible bosses have a special ability to screw things up in your life, says researcher Christine Porath. Here are some common ways managers can demoralize their employees:

  • Taking credit for your ideas, or taking sole credit for team wins
  • Failing to accept responsibility for team failures
  • Answering calls during meetings
  • Calling you out in front of your coworkers
  • Reminding you of your role (i.e., subordinating you)

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you feel a cold coming on?

It’s not just your health that takes a toll. Your work suffers, too. Porath points out that not only do people perform less effectively if they’ve been belittled or otherwise treated poorly, but workers in offices with overarching rudeness actually miss information that’s right in front of them.

So why are some bosses so awful in the first place? Porath determined that rudeness is a misconception about leadership: People assume that warm, caring leaders simply don’t exist. In fact, the opposite is true — civil people are twice as likely to be viewed as leaders than their prickly counterparts. Furthermore, that annoying coworker who made it to the top did it in spite of his nasty demeanor, not because of it.

If you plan to wait things out to see whether conditions improve, take note of a 2009 study that shows the risk of heart attacks associated with having a bad boss. You may not want to expose yourself to the risk any longer, especially if the situation isn’t likely to improve. Lead author Anna Nyberg, of Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute, told The Washington Post that “if you are working under a boss who stresses you 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.”

If you’re a boss depending on your asshole manner to showcase your leadership acumen, you might want to course correct. And if you’re constantly popping Emergen-C while you scurry after an evil boss, start looking for other job opportunities. You deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Your body will thank you.

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