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That Bad Boss May Be Toxic to Your Family, Too

Research shows employees bring workplace stress home to spouses, children

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Lisa Esposito

HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 9 (HealthDay News) -- When workplace stress spills over into your personal life, your family's well-being can also suffer, new evidence suggests.

A recent conference on work, stress and health, sponsored in part by the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, included research on family-supportive workplaces and the influence of supervisors -- good or bad -- on employee health.

"Survey results vary, but you can find that large numbers of individuals report that work is the biggest source of stress in their life," said Michael Ford, an assistant professor of psychology at the University at Albany-State University of New York.

"At the same time, everybody has a life outside of work," Ford said. "So we need to continue to understand how this affects the psychological and physical well-being of the population as well. I think it's something that a lot of people can relate to."

Another presenter at the Los Angeles conference explained that when it comes to work-related stress, health consequences are wide-ranging. Leslie Hammer is a professor of psychology at Portland State University in Oregon, and director of the Center for Work -- Family Stress, Safety and Health.

"With high levels of job stress and work-life stress, we see mental health problems," Hammer said. "We see increased levels of depressive symptoms. We also see increased levels of negative health outcomes. Cardiovascular disease has been a clear link with job strain. We see obesity problems. We see general physical health complaints."

Positive health behaviors can fall by the wayside, she added.

"When people are stressed at work, when their supervisors are really not supportive around work-life issues, we are seeing more negative health behaviors in the sense of poor food choices, lower levels of exercise, poor sleep hygiene," Hammer said.

Work stress takes a toll on relationships as well.

"Marriage quality is definitely impacted," Hammer said. "That relationship quality goes down. When one experiences negative stress/strain, work-life stress, that ends up crossing over to their partner or spouse or children, and it results in similar stress and strain among those family members."

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."

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