Bad bosses can actually make you sick, study finds

Toxic workplaces have been previously linked to compromised employee health, but new research suggests a major tenet of workplace incivility—the toxic boss—particularly increases the risk of heart disease.

In fact, according to a study published in the International Journal of Environment Research and Public Health, which features data on 400,000 American workers, employees who said they mistrusted their supervisors or felt their bosses didn't create an open, trusting environment showed an increase in odds for having four or more heart disease risk factors.

The risk factors are part of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 assessment and include the following: blood pressure, total cholesterol, blood glucose, body mass index, smoking, physical activity and diet.

Of those surveyed, men who mistrusted their bosses were 22% more likely to be smokers, have diabetes, report a poor diet and have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Women had a 29% increased risk for the same factors.

While the study is limited as a cross-sectional examination that cannot be viewed as causal and more information is needed to assess the influence of confounding variables such as job autonomy and work schedule, researchers believe the dataset is large, nationally representative and supports the idea that supervisor behavior is associated with employee heart health.

According to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. Approximately 610,000 people die of heart disease annually. That's 1 in every 4 deaths.

Thy study's authors advise employers to prioritize supervisor training and encourage an open, trusting environment between bosses and employees to address this issue. They also recommend workplace intervention programs that specifically target the seven Life's Simple 7 risk factors, such as access to nutritious food and workstations that allow sitting, standing and walking.

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