Hey Boss: This Job Is Making Me Sick

sick beagle dog sleeping under blankets

I have worked for a number of different leaders. The best ones had a clear vision, shared their goals, and were eager to help people accomplish them. They also focused on outcomes and consistently showed respect for everyone on the team. But there was also the boss who never knew what she wanted, played favorites, and eagerly threw her peers under the proverbial bus. 

She also had a problem — lots of people on her team were on long-term leave. I now understand why. 

You may have figured it out too, especially if your inbox is flooded with “out of office” notifications. It may seem like everyone has been hit by the same virus. But actually, work frustrations may be the root cause.

If you have endured unfair treatment at work, you can probably relate. If it was a one-time thing, however, you likely got over it and moved on. But if the frustration persisted, your performance and even your health may have felt off-kilter. 

Research now confirms that connection. A longitudinal study of 5,800 participants found that employees who perceive a respectful workplace were more likely to self-report as satisfied, productive, and healthy. The flip-side, of course, is those who perceive an unjust workplace are more likely to report poorer health. 

A leader’s primary focus should be to strive for a workplace in which everyone has a fair shot to work to their highest potential. However, I think we all know this is not always the case.

If your team seems to be calling in sick more frequently, germs may not be the culprit. Instead, it might be time to examine whether your workplace is as equitable as it could be.

Here are some ways that leaders can help create a respectful and healthy working environment for everyone:

Strive for transparency
If your work environment is cloaked in secrecy, it may cause undue stress on the team. Do you really want them wasting time and energy fretting about all the unknowns? Sharing the whole picture — and where each person fits — will boost your team’s confidence and sense of belonging. And giving everyone a heads-up before major changes take place allows time to process and ask questions. 

Don’t say “never”
Transparency can help people quickly evaluate their ideas against the company vision. But it is also true that most ideas will not be winners. However, you do not want to discourage your team from sharing their thoughts. Instead of quickly shutting down a suggestion, actively listen and ask questions. A logical line of questioning can help the person figure out for themselves why their idea may not fly. 

Share opportunity
Do you always hand off meaningful projects to the same folks — because you know they will get it done right the first time? This is probably a proven way to accomplish the work efficiently (and maintain your team’s top-notch performance record). But you may be shortchanging other people waiting on the bench. Don’t underestimate potential. Give chances for others to contribute, even if that means slowing down a bit to help them grow. 

Show respect
It’s true — you may naturally like some employees more than others. But showing favoritism to certain people can cause team morale to take a nosedive. Instead, you should love everyone equally and hope for the best for every person on your team. This means treating everyone well and showing respect, even when you are not satisfied with someone’s effort or work.

Your team wants their work to matter, and to believe they are working to their full potential. It is your job to provide that fertile ground for them to thrive and produce their best work. 

You can begin by reflecting on your own work. Identify those areas where you could offer greater transparency or more opportunities to others. Take action and make an effort to lead with clear vision, share big-picture goals, and support individual growth.

Your efforts to promote a more equitable workplace will pay off with a happier and more productive team. And hopefully fewer “out of office” notifications.

Did you ever feel sick at work because of the job?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. J

    Excellent points and yes, I started to get physically ill due to stress from a job several years ago. I knew I had hit a breaking point when my hands started shaking due to the adrenaline response from an argument with a co-worker. I realized then that while my manager was excellent, the broader environment was not.


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