Is your boss affecting your mental health?

Design 17

As a manager or supervisor have you ever stopped to think about what effect your conduct has on your employees? I bet it has a greater effect than you come to think.

Number 1 rule when it comes to people management is that this is people’s lives your dealing with, sure as a manager or HR representative at some point or another in your career you have to make business decisions that will have a negative impact on an employee or group of employees, but the way you choose to do it can be with respect and compassion that softens the blow or it can be hard lined that blindsides the employee and leaves a bitter taste in their mouth, and the way they communicate your actions to family and friends will make a dent on your reputation.

But it’s not just about disciplining employees or terminating their employment, the most damage is done in the day to day interactions, how employees are spoken to, the subtle (or not so subtle) indications of playing favourites, failing to address another employees’ poor behaviours or performance, I hate to be overdramatic but whether or not an employee enjoys their job, largely comes down to their manager, and whether or not an employee suffers situational depression as a result of a workplace incident, largely comes down to their manager. Food for thought isn’t it?

Toxic bosses are, unsurprisingly, the top cause of unhappiness in the workplace. Half of employees have left their jobs to get away from a bad manager, according to a 2015 Gallup survey, and 41 percent of workers say they’ve been “psychologically harassed” on the job.

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% 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.

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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
  • Lies
  • 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 an employees 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.

Individual coping strategies

If you are experiencing toxic leadership, and feel you are not in a position to report it, or leave the organisation, coping strategies reported in the study as helpful were:

  • Seeking social support from colleagues, mentor, friends and family
  • Seeking professional support, i.e. Employee Assistance Program, counsellor, psychologist, general practitioner
  • Seeking advice from Human Resources
  • Undertaking health and well-being activities, i.e. diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises
  • Restructuring your thoughts about the incidents in question to maintain a sense of calm and manage your state of mind.

What not to do

Coping strategies that were reported as having negative consequences or prolonging stress and fear of their leader were:

  • Confronting the leader
  • Avoiding, ignoring or bypassing the leader
  • Whistle blowing
  • Ruminating on the wrongs done and reliving the feelings of anger and frustration
  • Focusing on work
  • Taking sick leave (short-term relief only).

Individuals regularly on the receiving end of toxic behaviours commonly start questioning themselves, doubting their capabilities and feeling locked into their current situation/role/organisation.

To protect against such frustration, ensure you have an up-to-date career plan, clearly outlining your strengths, achievements, personal values, work preferences, development opportunities, and employability. Keep your resume and online profile up to date and ensure you are well networked in your occupation and industry – all part of a contingency plan to exit the toxic workplace situation should it become untenable.

So we’ve looked at the impact poor management has on employees but what is the impact it has on the organisation?

High turnover

A high turnover rate deters jobseekers from applying for the recently vacated positions you want to fill as the company earns a reputation of being a bad employer – and then you’ve got reviews from disgruntled former employees on sites like Glassdoor to worry about. Even if you miraculously manage to fill those vacancies, it can take as long as two years for replacements to reach the same level of productivity as an existing employee.

And when you consider the costs associated with employee turnover (including interviewing, hiring, training and lost productivity), well, you’re screwed. Analytics place the costs of turnover between 30% and 50% of entry-level employees’ annual salary to replace them, more than 150% for mid-level employees and a whopping 400% for senior-level employees. In other words, poor management isn’t just bad for business; it’s expensive, too.

Decreased productivity

“A boss manages their employees, while a leader inspires them to innovate, think creatively, and strive for perfection.”

Scientific research (as well as our daily experience) confirms this. Effective leadership, and particularly psychological and team empowerment, is positively associated with task performance, as well as job satisfaction, innovation, organisational commitment and more.

By comparison, poor management – whether that’s belittling staff, bullying, throwing temper tantrums, dismissing ideas, setting unreasonable expectations or generally failing to lead by example – has very serious consequences in terms of employee productivity. Their work performance takes a toll which, in turn, negatively impacts an organisation’s financial health. One study even found that workers who were exposed to rude behaviour were less creative during a brainstorming task.

Damaged organisational reputation

As briefly touched upon earlier, poor management isn’t just bad for employees; it’s also bad for an organisation’s health and overall reputation – something it depends on to survive. And that is kind of a big deal.

As a company’s reputation for being a bad employer starts to spread across the internet (thanks to review sites like Glassdoor), it doesn’t just lose potential candidates’ interest but also consumers’ trust. Beyond employee turnover, a bad manager will also contribute to a drop in company profits.

Reduced morale

Poor management doesn’t necessarily have to take the form of a racist or sexist boss; it can take the form of a supervisor who is incompetent, inexperienced or who simply has a God complex.

For example, they could continually ignore the input of staff, which typically results in a feeling of worthlessness. Similarly, employees who aren’t praised and recognised for their performance and achievements begin to feel unappreciated and unwilling to perform to a high level. They can sometimes even begin to display a passive-aggressive attitude.

Before long, a toxic workplace has been created and the reduction of morale is quickly spread around the office like a virus. Even if a manager’s behaviour doesn’t directly affect an employee, the effects their behaviour has had on others will be noticed eventually and could lead them to up and leave.

Based in Kalgoorlie, The People & Culture Office is an independent HR Consultant who can partner with you to offer a one stop HR solution, we only charge you for the work we perform; no contracts, no annual or monthly fees, just quality service. Click here to learn more