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Health & Balance

That Bad Boss May Be Toxic to Your Family, Too

Research shows employees bring workplace stress home to spouses, children
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In Ford's study comparing American and Chinese workplaces, he found that people in supportive work environments tend, in turn, to be more supportive of their spouses.

Hammer said, "In the research literature there's correlational evidence that when parents are more stressed, kids are more stressed. Kids experience that stress, and it comes out in terms of health compliance, it comes out in terms of behavioral difficulties."

Managers and supervisors are a primary source of work support -- or work stress.

"Lack of support or abusiveness of the supervisor can spill over into home life, both in terms of the time and energy that it takes away from people, but also if it affects their mood," Ford said. "That can, of course, potentially affect the life of your family members."

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.

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