Clock-Watching Bosses Can Harm Your Mental Health—Even in a Pandemic

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Life is short, but it can become much quicker if you work with an inept, toxic, or clock-watching boss. Employees of bad managers are reported to be at greater risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks, and other physical ailments. Their mental health is affected, as well. Many don’t get enough sleep as they dread going to work the next morning, while some even experience symptoms of anxiety attacks.

Out of all the bad bosses, micromanagers can be the most common. That’s especially true now that thousands of people work remotely, and many managers try to get a firm grip on the situation by clock-watching and having a body-in-seat mentality. But such behaviors can impact workers’ mental health.

Elevated levels of stress

Bosses who are always hovering over you (or sending you repeated emails or messages on Slack), monitoring your progress every other hour, and obsessing over minor details can get on your nerves. Their behaviors can trigger your body’s natural fight-or-flight response. Your body pumps out adrenaline and stress hormones—just as it would if you were running away from a prowling tiger.

If a tiger is chasing you, it makes sense to break into a sprint. But you can’t run away from your boss. So your body manifests the stress response: your heart beats faster, and your breathing quickens. When that physical stress response goes on too long or occurs often, it can also take a toll on your mental health.

Moreover, that micromanaging boss-induced stress can seep into your personal life. Stress can bring out the worst in you and strain your relationships with your family, friends, and partner.

Lower self-esteem

Angry businessman with laptop computer shouting over blue background and falling papers

Being continuously monitored and criticized doesn’t only impact your productivity but also your self-esteem. You may feel that your boss doesn’t trust you enough. And their overbearing leadership style can make you feel powerless, unable to use your knowledge and skills to figure things out on your own.

Though you may not have chronic fatigue that requires treatment, that everyday feeling of being closely monitored can tire you out. You may stop believing in your abilities. But keep in mind that the controlling tendencies of your boss likely come from a place of insecurity. Often, micromanagers control their employees and even put them down to make them feel better about themselves or their performance.

Higher risk for depression

In his research, social scientist Michael Marmot found that those who work in an environment where they feel controlled or have limited choices on how they do their tasks are more likely to become depressed.

As humans, we intrinsically look for meaning and purpose in our work to feel fulfilled. So, if we don’t feel we have the freedom to make decisions, have more ownership in our projects, and innovate to achieve better results, our work becomes meaningless or less fulfilling.

Micromanagers exert excessive control over their employees because they believe it’s the most effective way to get work done. They may also have adopted the leadership style from their supervisor. Either way, micromanagement isn’t only ineffective but also puts workers’ mental health at risk—especially now that the pandemic leaves most of us feeling anxious or on edge.

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