Some bad bosses are better for your health than others, finds new research from Michigan State University.
In the study, supervisors gave participants feedback after they completed work-related tasks. Some “employees” received a negative response from their managers every time, while others received a mixture of both fair and unfair feedback—like if your boss suddenly chews you out for something he approved last week.
The participants who were both praised and criticized had heart rates that were 5 points higher—a physical marker of stress—than those who were given consistently unfair feedback.
Employees with fickle supervisors also reported more stress, job dissatisfaction, and emotional exhaustion than those who worked for complete a-holes.
“People want to know what’s coming,” says lead study author Fadel Matta, Ph.D. (c), of the study results. “It’s stressful to not know how you’ll be treated from one interaction to the next.”
Still, no one wants to work for a jerk. So regardless if your manager is a constant prick or just occasionally flips his lid, you’ll need to figure out a way to handle the hardass.
One sneaky trick: Give him the silent treatment. Ignoring your boss might make you feel better, suggests a study from Ohio State University.
Researchers surveyed employees about how much hostility they felt from their managers and found that workers who returned that hostility—such as by ignoring their boss, making a half-hearted effort, or acting like they didn’t know about their boss’s requests—had better mental health, greater job satisfaction, and more commitment to their employers.
Best of all, your boss might actually back off.
“Abusive bosses tend to focus their hostility on weak and vulnerable employee targets,” says the study’s author, Bennett Tepper, Ph.D. “But employees who fight back in some way come across as less inviting targets for supervisor hostility.”
Just don’t use your finest passive-aggressive tactics all the time. Tepper’s research didn’t examine the long-term effects this approach could have—like its impact on your job security.
If your manager doesn’t respond to your mind games and becomes a straight-up bully, consider polishing up your LinkedIn profile.
“Based on my many years of studying hostile bosses, I believe that if a person has a truly abusive boss, he should make every effort to try to find alternative employment,” says Tepper. “My advice is to get out if you can.”