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And the Leading Cause of Stress at Work Is...

A good boss or a bad boss makes a huge difference in one's job experience.

I wrote a couple of posts recently on the rise of workplace stress and some ways to cope with it. But when it came to the social media feedback I received on these topics, there was one element that received far more attention than any other.

It involved a couple of stats from a recent Korn Ferry study discussing the single largest source of workplace stress. It was — yep, I suspect you guessed it — bosses, management, and leadership, however you want to describe it. Thirty-five percent of respondents named their boss as their single biggest stressor, and 80 percent felt that a leadership change "such as a new direct manager or someone higher up the organizational chart" spiked stress levels.

Stress levels can spike with a change in management.
Source: Pexels

Was I surprised by this finding? About as surprised as if you told me the sun will rise in the East tomorrow. In other words, not at all.

A difference maker

Anyone who's spent time studying or thinking about management knows the importance of the core manager-employee relationship. It's a difference maker. As I wrote on the first page of the introduction to my book, The Type B Manager, "A good relationship with a manager makes a bad job bearable, but a bad relationship with a manager can make a good job a misery." It's that crucial.

You can't overestimate it. Your boss affects your livelihood and has a great deal of influence over you, often on a day-to-day basis. How that influence is wielded shapes your experience of work, including whether you're highly stressed or hardly stressed at all.

What steps can you take?

So what's an employee to do about a stressful boss? There often aren't simple answers, but here are a few suggestions to guide you. I wrote a piece last summer on "3 Fundamental Steps In Dealing With Bad Bosses." A quick review of the key points:

First, it's always good to try to understand your boss as best you can. Try to see things through their eyes and understand the issues that are stressing them out. (And in turn, causing them to pass along that stress.) Much as you may not feel like it, it's worth trying to get that understanding in case there's any insight to be gained here.

Second, give it your very best shot — do your absolute best to try to make yourself indispensable. It may not work, it may not alter the relationship dynamics, but you'll have the most possible leverage as a star.

Third, if both empathy and performance don't move the needle in the right direction for you, it may be time to vote with your feet and leave. There's never benefit to suffering in silence or being a long-term victim. If a relationship appears endlessly stressful, far better to take positive action and take your talents elsewhere.

One further dimension to consider: How do you know if a difficult stressful boss can be turned around or is terminally toxic? Ultimately, you have to trust your own good judgment on this, but here are a few signals to look for. I did a 2017 piece, "If Your Boss Shows These 4 Signs, Head For The Hills," which has had over 170,000 readers and offers suggestions in this regard. In the article, I highlighted four traits common to bad bosses who are unlikely to change. A quick summary:

  • Rarely communicates
  • Scruples of a timber rattler (works in an ethics-free zone)
  • Takes no responsibility for their actions
  • Far more concerned with their career than yours

I hope this isn't the rather dark manager profile that's causing you stress, but if it is, voting with your feet may well be the most attractive option.

All of this, of course, is just scratching the surface of the vast subject of manager-employee relationships. They can be an enormous source of satisfaction or, oftentimes, of stress. But regardless of which way they cut, they're always important.

As I like to say, for better or for worse, management matters. Indeed it does.

This article first appeared at

Facebook/LinkedIn Image Credit: Jeanette Dietl/Shutterstock

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