Every time your boss bums you out, your heart takes a hit, finds new research published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. And the bad health effects linger long after you leave the office.
In the clever new study—the master’s thesis of Jennifer Wong of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia—researchers recruited 55 care workers with an average age of 43 from several nursing homes. They had been at their jobs for about 11 years. The people in the study wore a specialized blood pressure monitor for a whole workday until they went to sleep. The cuff inflated every hour to take an automatic reading.
Every time they had a blood pressure reading, the workers answered brief survey questions asking what they had been doing at the time, how stressed they were, the last time they talked to their boss, and—on a 10-point scale—how positive or negative the chat with their supervisor had been.
Even after controlling for a range of factors that could influence blood pressure, the researchers found that when people had negative interactions with their boss, blood pressure went up. Surprisingly, these bad boss vibes also predicted elevated blood pressure at home.
“This is important, because this now speaks to more than just an instantaneous stress response,” says study co-author E. Kevin Kelloway, Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health Psychology at Saint Mary’s University. When a boss berates you, the effect “carries over, and it doesn’t go away at night.”
The researchers think that one mechanism at play is rumination: the tendency to play a negative episode over and over again in your head. “People in a sense re-traumatize themselves,” Kelloway says, and this may contribute to the link between stressful work conditions and heart problems like hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Past research has shown that the boss-employee bond can either be a source of social support or a big stressor. “Your boss controls so much of your workplace: the task you’re assigned to, whether you get a bonus or a raise.” It’s a powerful relationship, says Kelloway—and having a good one seems to be better for the heart.