Bad Boss May Get Your Blood Boiling – Literally

June 25, 2003 ( - Blood pressure reading going through the roof? New research suggests an unfair boss may be the culprit.

Female health care assistants in the United Kingdom who reported working for an unfair supervisor had higher blood pressure than their colleagues. Further, blood pressure levels tended to go up on days when they worked under a supervisor they particularly disliked compared to days when they were not reporting to the unfair manager, according to a study conducted by Dr. Nadia Wager at the Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College reported by Reuters Health.

Both assistants who believed their supervisors to be fair and those who deemed them unfair saw an increase in blood pressure on days when they worked under a supervisor they particularly disliked. However, that increase was markedly higher among health care assistants who rated their supervisors as generally unfair, and was significant enough to cause a measurable increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The study demonstrates “that persons in supervisory roles need to be aware of the effects that even trivial incivilities and acts of unfairness can have on those they supervise,” Wager said; adding she expects the results transcend gender and career differentials to affect men and women in other fields, particularly those where there is a steep workplace hierarchy.

These findings suggest that subtle workplace behaviors, beyond overt bullying and harassment, can have a significant impact on others, and may even endanger their health. Wagner said that with the results, she hopes supervisors will be encouraged to “take a more reflective stance on their role,” and perhaps encourage employers to train supervisors in “people management” skills.

Supervisors deemed the most fair were those who were consistent, offered praise for a job well done, treated others with trust and respect and did not practice favoritism in the workplace. Alternatively, for the unfortunate worker whose unfair supervisor does not seem willing to change their behavior, the study suggest ways to help alleviate the strain:

  • Try to talk to the supervisor about the problem
  • Assertiveness training
  • Focus on relaxing outside of work, perhaps via exercise.

Study finding were based on blood pressure readings taken by monitors worn by 28 healthcare assistants for three days, which recorded their blood pressure every 30 minutes. Half of the women included in the study indicated on a questionnaire that they did not appreciate how their supervisors interacted with them, noting, for example, that their supervisors did not take input before making decisions, or did not treat them fairly.