November 26, 2008

Are managers a health risk for their employees?

Companies seem very interested these days in saving healthcare costs. So here's a new hitch---pay more attention to the Manager-Employee relationship. It saves money in reduced healthcare costs. It also appears to save lives.

A Swedish study by Anna Nyberg, a psychologist at Karolinska Institute's Department of Public Health Sciences in Stockholm, established a clear link between management style and employee health. This study looked at 3,122 men over a period of close to a decade and found that employees who see their managers as passive, uncommunicative and inconsiderate were more likely to suffer from heart attacks. Those who thought well of their bosses were less likely to have cardiac problems. In essence, the better the relationship, the lower the risk.

When discussing this new study over the dinner table, my 22 year old son said it best. He said, "Well, Duh!"

I have discussed the Manager-Employee relationship in other blog postings and articles, usually focused on the value of a positive working relationship to ensure employee engagement, productivity and retention of valued staff. Now it seems there is another reason companies should pay close attention to this critical relationship--it may help reduce the costs associated with medical problems.

Most "lousy" managers are not evil people. They may be professionals who were stellar employees as individual contributors who were promoted without the proper training to excel in the new management role. Being a high-performing scientist, software engineer, financial analyst, physician or other role that requires technical knowledge and expertise does not necessarily prepare you for managing people. There is a new set of skills required and they largely center on communicating and interacting with others.

Sometimes "lousy" managers are themselves too stressed out with the multiple challenges faced in today's complex, ever-changing business environment. Maybe they do not have great relationships with their managers, and so on and so on.

Changing this cascading effect of poor management-employee relationships requires a strong message from the top that managing people--having an open, trusting and productive relationship with your direct reports---is a priority. It is the right thing to do, it is cost-effective and it may save lives.

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