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That Bad Boss May Be Toxic to Your Family, Too

Research shows employees bring workplace stress home to spouses, children

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What separates good and bad supervisors?

An unsupportive manager, Hammer said, "will have a complete disregard for workers' own non-work needs."

"Sometimes bad bosses post schedules at the last minute so that people who have family responsibilities or non-work responsibilities -- anything, not just family -- have to readjust their whole non-work lives around their work schedules," she said. "When supervisors basically don't allow for schedule control and control over work, that leads to high levels of stress."

Hammer and colleague Ellen Kossek at Michigan State University train supervisors to be more family-supportive and are completing large-scale research on the training's effects.

"First of all, training focuses on providing emotional support," Hammer said. "Teaching supervisors [that] simply listening to your employees and paying attention and showing that you care is incredibly helpful. It's not rocket science, but what we find is many supervisors don't do these things."

The training starts with a workforce survey, which usually reveals a disconnect: When it comes to work-family conflict, managers tend to think they're more supportive than workers perceive them to be.

Supervisors can contribute to a healthier atmosphere by demonstrating their own work-life balance "in the sense that they are taking care of their own work, life and family integration and that, for example, they take time off to go to their kid's basketball or baseball game," Hammer said.

One challenge is convincing organizations that being family-supportive means the work still gets done.

"Employers are paying for health care and employers are taking a hit when workers are absent, and what we see are higher levels of stress related to higher levels of absenteeism and higher levels of health complaints and health problems," Hammer said. "Employers can be paying attention and understanding what they can do to help alleviate that stress. It will help their bottom line as well as help employees' health and well-being outcomes."

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