Is your boss ruining your family life?

Andrea Black Sydney Morning Herald

Do you spend all day Sunday dreading what the next workday will bring? Do you wake on weekday mornings in fright? We all know that a happy workplace can mean a contented life but new research has found that having a bad boss can affect not only your mental and physical health but also the way you relate to your family.

According to a study published in the Journal of Business and Psychology by Dr Nicolas Gillet and his team from Universite François Rabelais in France, over-controlling managers who use threats as a way to motivate employees frustrate our basic needs for autonomy, a sense of competence, and how we relate to others. This, in turn, is likely to have a negative impact on our wellbeing.

Stressful situation? Bad boss?

While these findings may not be surprising, it is the first study that provides evidence for the mediating role of need satisfaction in the relationships between perceptions of a supervisor’s inter-personal style and a worker’s wellbeing.

Laura* had a boss who had inherited a successful and high grossing business from his family. She was hired on the basis that she would be able to work flexible hours.

“Within months I was being asked to stay till 11pm at night and return at 5.30am the very next morning with less than 5 hours sleep,” she says.

“I was bullied, as were several other staff and during my two years with the company it consumed my private life as I was constantly nervous about going into work or anxious whilst there, the stress of the environment made me quite ill.”

In some cases a worker can become so ill as to be at risk of a heart attack. A Swedish study found that the more a worker feels their boss is incompetent, the higher chance they have of having a heart attack.

Clinical psychologist  Jo Lamble says she sees many patients suffering as a result of supervisor workplace bullying.

“They are showing all the signs of stress including sleep difficulties, irritability, poor concentration and decision making, drug and alcohol abuse (to self-medicate), loss of confidence and anger,” she says.

Not only can a toxic boss affect your wellbeing, it can also affect the wellbeing of families. A recent study from Baylor University published in the journal Personnel Psychology found that the stress and tension caused by an abusive boss at work filters through to an employee’s personal relationships at home.

Author of the study, Professor of Management, Dr Dawn Carlson says: “Our study showed how the job incumbent carries that over to the family through greater work-family conflict and by experiencing more relationship tension with the spouse.  As a result this harms the family as the job incumbent is more tense and less able to engage fully in the family life.”

Lamble says the findings come as no surprise.

“We spend so much time at work, so if work is unpleasant, then it will affect our mood and can make us irritable and intolerant when we get home,” she says.

“Many people who work for a bad boss will feel the need to vent about it when they come home, which can become very tiring for the family who start wishing you would talk about anything else.”

Annabel* was working as an executive asistant for what she says was the ‘boss from hell’.

“It severely affected my ability to go to work and I ended up taking two weeks stress leave, I had also started a new relationship with my current partner and it put a great strain on things,” she says.

All studies put the onus for fixing the problem on the organisation, Carlson says,

“The implications are for individuals and organisations to realise that abusive supervision has far reaching effects beyond just the job incumbent. This compels organisations to do something to put a stop to this kind of abusive behavior from occurring.”

But these are the same organisations that hired and promoted the abusive boss. Some advocate trying to speak directly to the abusive boss or taking the problem to higher management.

Robert Sutton, professor of management at Stanford University, and author Good Boss, Bad Boss, thinks bad bosses are immune to their own weaknesses. He believes that there is even stronger evidence now that if you wield authority over others, it dulls your ability to be in tune with their needs, feelings, and actions and what it’s like to work for you.

Plus, in these days of decreased employee collective bargaining, unless an employee’s complaint contravenes anti-discrimination laws, often it is only when the problem overtly interferes with the primary objective of a business, that is, making money, that organisational change is likely to occur.

“What amazes me is how often I hear stories of an employee complaining about a boss bullying them and HR saying ‘Yes, we have heard this from other people too’ or ‘We have had a lot of trouble with this particular manager’,” says Lamble.

“Organisations need to take action if many complaints are being made about the same person. They have a duty of care to protect their employees from workplace bullying. Often, if the manager or boss is given a warning early enough, their behaviour improves. But sometimes, the bullying is condoned because there is a general culture of bullying from the top down,” says Jo.

*(surnames withheld to protect the speaker’s identity)

– Sydney Morning Herald

Does your boss have an impact on your family life?

Tune in over the next few days for tips in coping with difficult colleagues and/ or bosses.


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