Telling your boss what you think of them is good for your health

In pursuit of happy, healthy, stress-free employees, psychologists urge companies to allow employees to rate their managers’ ability to manage.

The research, co-funded by the Health & Safety Executive, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and Investors in People, is presented today 13th January 2010, by Emma Donaldson-Feilder, from Affinity Health at Work, at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology Annual Conference.

The research focused on the line-manager-employee relationship, which has been found to be the most commonly reported cause of stress in the workplace. One hundred and 50 managers were asked to self-rate their own management skills whilst almost 500 employees were asked to rate their managers’ management skills. The managers were split into two groups, one group received training and/or feedback on their management skills whilst the other group received no feedback. Both training and feedback focussed on management behaviours that are known to be important for the prevention and reduction of stress in staff.

When managers received feedback from their staff, they were more likely to change their management style and subsequently be seen as more effective line managers. Effective behaviours in this context include: managing their own emotions and having integrity; managing and communicating existing and future work; empathetic management of individuals within the team; and effectively managing conflict. Those managers who did not receive any feedback were less likely to change their management behaviour. Feedback was thus found to be a significant trigger for change.

Ms Donaldson-Feilder said: “Without holding a mirror up to a person, they can have blind spots about how they come across and if they think they are already good enough, why should they change.

“The consequences of stress are pervasive; those under stress may experience psychological symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, physiological symptoms, such as palpitations or raised blood pressure and/or cognitive symptoms such as reduced mental capacity. Stress is a significant cause of sickness absence and this puts pressure on those left behind to run the business, creating a cycle of uncomfortable pressure with costs to the individual and to the company.”

Ms Donaldson-Feilder and her colleagues are currently developing a number of tools for businesses including a questionnaire that staff can use to rate their line manager and learning materials for managers. These will be available later in 2010 as free downloads on the Health & Safety Executive website, see also