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Finland Study Says Bad Bosses Cause Heart Attacks!!!

Finland Study Says Bad Bosses Cause Heart Attacks!!!

by Tami Tanoue, CIRSA General Counsel/Claims Manager

You probably saw or heard recently the sensational headline that begins this article. While this study received wide media coverage, few of the reports actually provided any details. It turns out to have been a scholarly examination of the effect on employee health of injustice or perceived injustice at work. The study provides some insights on the management and supervisory environment that can lead to unhealthy stressors in the workplace.

The Study Results

The study, published in the October 24, 2005 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, surveyed 6442 male British civil servants aged 35 to 55 years without prevalent coronary heart disease (CHD). The researchers found a clear association between employees’ perception of a just and fair workplace and a decreased incidence of coronary heart disease. In men who perceived a high level of justice, the risk of CHD was 30% lower than among those who perceived a low or an intermediate level of justice.

According to the researchers, this finding was not accounted for by baseline factors such as age, ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, socioeconomic position, cholesterol level, obesity, hypertension, smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity. The association between the level of justice and CHD was also independent of other psychosocial factors at work.

The Study Questions

While this result is certainly interesting, and filled with implications from the standpoint of employee wellness, equally interesting were the questions that were used to measure employee perceptions of a just workplace. The key survey questions were:

  • Do you ever get criticized unfairly?
  • Do you get consistent information from line management (your superior)?
  • Do you get sufficient information from line management (your superior)?
  • How often is your superior willing to listen to your problems?
  • Do you ever get praised for your work?

These study questions provide some insights into the management and supervisory behaviors that can lead to employee perceptions that the workplace is a just or unjust one.  Of course, some employees perceptions just can’t be altered despite reality, but doing all you can to provide both the perception and reality of a just workplace is a worth.

Providing a Fair and Just Workplace

Here are some issues to consider in gauging and increasing the level of “justice” in your workplace.

  • Are your employee evaluations fair and consistent? Do you resist the urge to “inflate” the evaluation out of a mistaken belief that you might be providing positive motivation? If you downgrade an evaluation in relation to a prior one, do you make certain that you can identify the factors that justify the downgrade?
  • Are you aware of these factors that might tend to influence an evaluation improperly:
    • The “recency” effect, where a significant event that occurs just before you do the evaluation influences the entire evaluation?
    • The “primacy” effect, where a significant event that occurred early in the evaluation period colors the entire evaluation period?
    • The “halo/pitchfork” effect, where a single very positive or very negative factor being evaluated influences your view of every other factor?
    • The “contrast” effect, where the person being evaluated suffers by comparison, because the previous person you evaluated is a “superstar” (or vice versa)?
  • Do you give employees a fair opportunity to participate and provide input during performance evaluations? Are you compassionate in any criticism? Do you set specific goals and measurements for those goals? Do you discuss problems that may be hampering performance, with a focus on listening with an open mind and achieving mutual “buy-in” to solutions?
  • Managers and supervisors hate “surprises” from those they supervise, but do you treat those you supervise as you would like to be treated with respect to “surprises”? Do you give adequate time for employees to do quality work and meet deadlines, or are you prone to dropping last-minute “rush” projects on them? Do you think through your instructions so that they’re clear and complete, or do employees waste time or have to re-do work because your instructions weren’t well thought out?
  • If you need to terminate someone’s employment for poor performance, is the termination something that the employee will understand and perhaps even have expected? This is another area where avoiding surprises will work to everyone’s benefit. If you’ve made your expectations clear, set achievable performance standards, and provided the tools and time to meet those standards, then you’ve been just. By doing so, you’ve supported the employee and provided the employee every fair opportunity to succeed. If the employee fails, a termination will likely be justified and defensible, and will not come as a surprise to the employee.
  • Do you make sure that employees learn about workplace developments directly from the source, rather than from the rumor mill? Rumor management is particularly important when the developments are or might be perceived as negative, but even neutral or positive developments can become the subject of corrosive rumors. Rumor-spreading can cause morale destruction throughout a workplace, without supervisors or management ever knowing what’s going on. Are changes in benefits being considered? Are wage freezes or layoffs a possibility? Anytime the organization has plans in the works that may affect employees, make sure those plans include ways to provide information to employees early and often:
    • Implement a comprehensive communication campaign, be truthful, and allow opportunities for questions to be asked and answered. Make sure all levels of managers and supervisors are well-versed in the issues and well-trained in their communications roles.
    • Confront tough questions honestly and accurately. Don’t try to put an unrealistic positive “spin” on something that’s going to be bad. Make sure you don’t take a defensive or punitive approach towards critics or tough questioners.
    • To achieve better “buy-in,” make sure employees understand the reasoning behind the plans. Why are the plans being pursued? What are the goals sought to be achieved? What alternatives were reviewed? What would happen if the plans weren’t implemented?
    • Identify the key “rumor-mongers” in the organization, and focus on neutralizing their negativity or, if possible, making them your allies in communicating accurate information. Those who are able to make a negative impact on co-workers often have leadership and communications skills that might be redirected for positive purposes.
    • Keep in mind that “venting” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If the entity’s plans may negatively impact the workforce, look for ways to acknowledge and address the anger and unhappiness that are likely to surface, and provide coping mechanisms. Don’t just ignore an anxious or unhappy workforce – the situation’s not going to get better or go away by itself.
    • Even during “quiet” periods, keep the rumor mill down to a dull roar by having regular staff meetings and using other opportunities for regular communication. Share information even if you think it would be of little or no interest. You may be surprised at the interest people have in what you think are boring, routine details, especially if they’re not involved in them day-to-day.
  • Do all supervisors and managers understand that maintaining and living by an “open door policy” is a key job responsibility? You may want to close your door or put your phone on “do not disturb” to get done what you think of as your “own” work. But if you do that too frequently as a supervisor or manager, think about the messages you’re sending: “Stop bothering me. Your problems are not important to me.” Don’t think of employee phone calls or drop-bys as “interruptions” in your “own” work, but as an integral aspect of supervising, managing, mentoring, and problem-solving. Listening to your employees is indeed part of your “own” work!
  • And finally, is your workplace praise-deficient? Don’t take your good performers for granted. They may be self-confident and self-motivated, but who doesn’t appreciate praise? One study found that “limited praise and recognition” was a primary reason why employees leave their jobs – ahead of compensation, limited authority, and personality conflicts! A praise-deficient employee is an employee who doesn’t feel valued and respected, who doesn’t feel that he or she is making a contribution to the organization, and who’s going to run out of motivation sooner or later. And don’t overlook your “weakest links,” either. Praise is a powerful learning tool. Reinforce any signs of improvement, no matter how slight, with praise. Be specific, so they understand which behaviors have earned your praise and should be repeated.

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