Image: Warner Brothers.
In Australia, workplace health and safety legislation effectively holds employers responsible for ensuring the emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing of employees.
Mental stress claims lodged by affected employees against their employer increased by 25 per cent from 2001 to 2011. Although the proportion of stress claims specifically relating to “poor relationships with superiors” was not reported, a Medibank Private commissioned study reported that in 2007 the total cost of work related stress to the Australian economy was A$14.8 billion; the direct cost to employers alone in stress-related presenteeism and absenteeism was A$10.11 billion.
A recent study into the impact of systemic toxic behaviours exhibited by managers found that even one or two toxic behaviours, such as manipulating and intimidating, was enough to cause significant harm to employees’ mental and physical health.
The most common toxic behaviours exhibited by managers include:
- Constantly seeks and needs praise
- Has to win at all costs
- Lapses into time consuming, self-praising anecdotes
- Charms, cultivates and manipulates
- Plays favourites
- Takes credit for others’ work
- Bullies and abuses others
- Incessantly criticises others publicly
- Has mood swings and temper tantrums
- Treats all workplace interactions as a fault-finding exercise
- Takes all decision making authority away
- Micro manages everything you do
- Promises to take action but later reneges
- Ignores requests
Impact on wellbeing
Negative consequences for wellbeing reported by participants in the study included:
Anxiety, depression, burnout, cynicism, helplessness, social isolation, loss of confidence, feeling undervalued.
Anger, disappointment, distress, fear, frustration, mistrust, resentment, humiliation.
Insomnia, hair loss, weight loss/gain, headaches, stomach upsets, viruses and colds.
One way to deal with toxic managers is to escalate the risk and report it to senior management. However, a common theme in the study was frustration felt by participants when no action was taken after reporting the leaders’ toxic behaviours. Sometimes organisations are reluctant to take action against the offender, perhaps because they hold important relationships, bring in significant revenue, or for fear they will become litigious if challenged. Organisations that choose to ignore toxic leadership behaviours are likely to incur increased stress claims and litigation costs.
Check out a few of the most infamous awful bosses we all love to hate (post continues after gallery).