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Is it possible for your boss to be too inspirational? Research says yes.

Studies reveal that inspirational leaders may negatively influence the health of their employees.

by Anna Johansson /  / Updated 
Perfectionism might help you be more detail-oriented, it has a negative effect on your mental and physical wellbeing in the long run.Sitthiphong / Getty Images/iStockphoto
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We’ve all had our run-ins with bad bosses. Some of them are too harsh or critical, some of them micromanage and make life more difficult, and some of them are just plain boring. In any case, working for a lousy boss can make you wish you had a more dynamic, successful, interesting and charismatic one — one who could inspire you to do better work.

But before you go hoping for an inspirational boss, you should know there’s also a downside to having one.

The Latest Research

A recent study published in Work & Stress looked at the relationship between presenteeism, transformational leadership, and the rate of absence related to sickness. What researchers found was surprising; “transformational” leaders who inspire their employees and team members to perform better at work increase the risk of health complications and absence due to illness.

Professor Karina Nielsen, who led the study, said, “It is possible that high performance expectations pose a risk to both healthy and vulnerable employees and the motivational aspects of transformational leadership may backfire… Such leaders express values to perform above and beyond the call of duty possibly at the expense of employees' health because they have a self-interest in demonstrating low sickness absence rates in their work groups.”

In other words, inspirational leaders have a handful of effects, all of which indirectly and negatively influence the health of their employees:

  • Inspirational leaders push for longer hours. Transformational leaders need their team members to work hard to make change happen. Accordingly, they often demand longer hours and more commitment to work. All that extra work, without sufficient breaks or vacations, can add up to more stress—and more susceptibility to illness.
  • Employees are less likely to take sick days (at first). Employees who want to make a good impression (and who may be genuinely excited about work) may be reluctant to take a sick day when they first show signs of illness. They don’t take the time they need to get better, end up infecting the entire office, and the entire group loses more productivity as a result.
  • Inspirational leaders influence perfectionism. These leaders may also stoke perfectionist tendencies in their employees. And while perfectionism might help you be more detail-oriented, it has a negative effect on your mental and physical wellbeing in the long run.

Just as an inspirational boss may encourage people to work themselves too hard or neglect their own recovery time, an employee monitoring system may make employees paranoid and lower morale — even more than it boosts productivity.

Just as an inspirational boss may encourage people to work themselves too hard or neglect their own recovery time, an employee monitoring system may make employees paranoid and lower morale — even more than it boosts productivity.

Double-Edged Swords

We’ve known for years that a bad boss can be bad for your health. One study from Sweden found that “people who consider their bosses to be unfair, arbitrary, inconsiderate and generally deficient in managerial skills are at greater risk for having a heart disease event such as a heart attack.”

The new research is surprising because it illustrates that what we believe are best practices for productivity may also have counterintuitive, negative side effects that at least partially counteract their benefits. Just as an inspirational boss may encourage people to work themselves too hard or neglect their own recovery time, an employee monitoring system may make employees paranoid and lower morale — even more than it boosts productivity.

Related

In the words of Don Stephens of CCTV Camera World, “We’re seeing higher rates of employee surveillance these days. On one hand, it has the potential to boost productivity and reduce the risk of fraud, but on the other, it can reduce trust and transparency if it’s not executed properly.”

It’s All About Balance

There’s no single management style or trick that can boost productivity without issue. Almost any supervisory style can have potential negative drawbacks. The key is to realize what those drawbacks are and adjust your own working style to compensate for them.

For example, if you’re working with an inspirational, transformational boss who’s pushing for long hours, don’t be afraid to take a sick day when you need it; you might just spare the team a whole week of sick days.

Of course, different management styles work differently for different people. If you find that your boss or your organization boasts a management style that just doesn’t work for you, it may be time to seek employment elsewhere. No job — and no boss — is worth compromising your health and happiness for.

NEXT: How to bond with your boss

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