Study says bad leaders at work lead to overwhelming stress in workers

stressed worker
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New research is revealing one of the roots of toxic stress in the workplace.

According to "De-Stress at Work," a new book by wellbeing expert Professor Simon L. Dolan, leaders with low self-esteem are most likely to pass on stress to their teams.

"Leadership can make or break an organization with good leaders motivating teams to be creative and productive. But on the other side of the coin, a bad leader can demotivate teams, cause low morale and the effect on teams can be devastating," Dolan said in a statement. "Knowing you're affecting people's mental health is cause for leaders to take stock and ensure they're doing all they can to be their best and have their most positive impacts on people."

Almost every working adult will have experienced a bad boss at some point in their working career. But at what point does a bad boss become a truly toxic leader?

After extensive research, Dolan suggests the main characteristics to identify a toxic leader are those who: are jealous of their team's success; are constantly concerned about competition or workplace 'enemies'; often take credit for other people's work; constantly compare themselves to others; consider their self-worth to be solely driven by their latest results.

"There are many factors that contribute to a toxic personality, including a compulsive need to display their worth to others, but mainly out of a lack of deep-rooted self- esteem. This is usually a culmination of a lack of ethical and emotional development throughout their lives," Dolan said. "Whether knowingly or not, a toxic leader is one who abuses their authority and violates trust to satisfy their own ego."

According to Dolan, a healthy work environment hangs on how well bosses respond to stress, regulate their emotions and show their confidence.

"A leader needs to be able to proactively manage their emotions well enough to project a calm and rational persona to their teams," he said. "A great leader needs to be respectful, supportive and nurturing of growth – not just someone who is self-assured."

Recent data shows that three-fifths of the world's employees say their job impacts their mental health more than anything else.

According to a survey by The Workforce Institute at UKG, managers impact employees' mental health (69%) more than doctors (51%) or therapists (41%) — and even the same as a spouse or partner (69%). The survey shows that work stress negatively impacts employees' home life (71%), wellbeing (64%), and relationships (62%).

The survey also shows that more than 80% of employees would rather have good mental health than a high-paying job -- and that two-thirds of employees would take a pay cut for a job that better supports their mental wellness.

"We talk a lot about mental health in terms of a medical diagnosis or burnout. While those are serious issues, the day-to-day stressors we live with — especially those caused by work — are what we should talk more about as leaders," Pat Wadors, chief people officer at UKG, said in a statement. "Authentic, vulnerable leadership is the key to creating belonging at work, and, in turn, the key to solving the mental health crisis in the workplace."

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