Bad management is driving staff to the edge, here's how to avoid falling into the same trap

17 August 2016 -


Bad management can be dangerous, as well as frustrating and demotivating, with unnecessary pressure on employees leading to physical and mental health illnesses

Jermaine Haughton

The increasingly 24-hour, globalised and highly-connected nature of many jobs provides enough stress for employees, but numerous recent cases have demonstrated the failures of managers and management structures can amplify this pressure even further, leading to fatal results.

A meta-analysis published in 2012 in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at 279 studies to examine the associations between perceived unfairness and employee health; it found a link between unfairness and mental health complaints, such as depression, and physical ailments, such as sleep problems, high blood pressure and being overweight.

Earlier this year, Zurich Insurance's former boss Martin Senn committed suicide six months after leaving the company.

Having led the company between 2010 and 2015 during a challenging period, Senn’s death came less than three years after the company's finance director Pierre Wauthier's suicide in August 2013.

Then at the start of July, a lengthy inquiry into the 19 employees who took their own lives at France Telecom, later rebranded Orange, in 2008 and 2009 led to the Paris prosecutor recommending that its former chief executive Didier Lombard and other key figures are put on trial for bullying.

In submissions made late last month, the Paris prosecutor accuses France Telecom of enacting a policy in 2007 that resulted in unsettling workers and creating a "professional climate that provoked anxiety" at the time of a "delicate restructuring" of the company, a judicial source told AFP news agency.

Lombard accepted the restructuring upset employees but he has rejected the idea that it led to people taking their own lives.

An examining judge will now decide whether Lombard and others will go on trial for bullying.

“The evidence is clear that the leadership qualities of ‘bad’ bosses over time exert a heavy toll on employees’ health,” said Jonathan D. Quick, an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the book Preventive Stress Management in Organizations. “The evidence is also clear that despite the rationalisations some leaders may use to defend their stress-inducing, unsupportive style, such behavior by leaders does not contribute to improved individual performance or organisational productivity.”

In the food and beverages industry, coffee chain Starbucks has also found themselves in hot water.

A tribunal found that a woman with dyslexia who worked at the coffee giant nearly killed herself because the coffee giant treated her so badly, due to a lack of understanding and support for her condition.

Despite making her employer aware of her issues, the tribunal found that Meseret Kumulchew’s difficulty with reading, writing and telling the time led to her supervisor duties being reduced, leaving her with suicidal feelings.

In another tragic incident, a NHS 111 operator killed herself in a staff toilet halfway through her fourth 12-hour night shift in a row.

Emma Alsopp was found hanged at a non-emergency call centre in Devon, run by the same NHS trust under fire for failing to save the life of toddler William Mead.

The 22-year-old had complained to family and friends about the pressures of her job at the South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust's (SWASFT) West Hub office in Exeter in the weeks before her death.

She is said to have felt under enormous stress coping with both the number and urgency of calls the centre was receiving.

Such disastrous circumstances can take a toll at anyone or everyone at a company, and therefore businesses must create from the onset a genuinely supportive culture and not just policies that are applied inconsistently by different managers.

Through continuous training, line and departmental managers should be trained to recognise the warning signs of stress, know how to communicate with employees about this, and help them to recover and return to optimum health as soon as possible.

So how can you ensure your managerial style doesn’t put undue pressure on your staff?

Introduce a No-Tolerance Policy

Making an employee feel safe, protected and comfortable is among the key responsibilities for any manager, and this can be achieved by developing a strict and bold no-tolerance policy for harassment, bullying, or intimidation.

In addition to codifying a set of simple guidelines which outline the rights and responsibilities of employees of all levels across the company, managers can help enforce the regulations by holding regular workshops and seminars for staff, as well as being available for conversations with employees on potential issues.

Maintain an Open Line of Communication

Managers who are approachable and willing to talk (and listen) openly with their employees can help ensure their team feels a sense of value and involvement within their organisation.

That inclusion can help concerned staff voice their problems sooner to managers and calm any anxieties.

Michelle Chance, an employment and partnership lawyer at Kingsley Napley, advised: “Managers should inform and consult employees on changes that are likely to affect them before they take place and encourage them to ask questions before, during and after workplace change so that they feel involved, buy into it and feel that their opinions are valued and respected.”

Reward Mental Wellness

Increasingly big companies and start-ups are investing more money into wellbeing programmes for staff. But as well as incentivising the improved nutrition and fitness of employees, workplaces can also create motivation and opportunities to obtain optimal mental health.

Managers should also make sure adequate flexible working and annual leave opportunities are afforded to employees, ensuring they get the downtime needed away from the office.