Do Bosses Who Kill Talent Through Poor Leadership Practices Go to Hell?

March 28, 2010 by Ken Nowack

“The quality of leadership, more than any other single factor, determines the success or failure of an organization.”

Fred Fiedler & Martin Chemers


It’s not surprising that research suggests unequivocally that leadership has tremendous impact on talent engagement, retention and productivty1. Can leaders directly affect the health of talent to the extent that they are quickly becoming an independent risk of death for hard working talent?

Can bad bosses actually kill?

With limbo now officially canceled, do bosses who kill go directly to hell?


A recent prospective study of 506 males and 3,570 females measured “perceived justice” (supervisory practices) and absenteeism due to illness and self-reported health2. The rates of absence due to sickness among those perceiving low justice were 1.2 to 1.9 times higher than among those perceiving high justice. These associations remained significant even after statistical adjustment for behavioral risks, workload, job control, and social support.

Wagner and her colleagues recently showed how working for jerks can directly cause an increase in blood pressure and how these leaders can be a potent workplace stressor which has clinically signicant impact on cardiovascular functioning3.  Their field study of female healthcare assistants explored blood pressure as it related to perceptions of supervisor interaction style. Ambulatory blood pressure was measured every 30 minutes over a 12-hour period for three days. Statistically significant SBP differences were observed for those working for supervisors perceived to be less favorable.

In one of the most startling studies, 6,442 male British civil servants were asked to rate supervisory practices (perceived justice at work) and were followed for cardiovascular events. Those employees who perceived their supervisors treated them fairly had 30% lower CHD incidents after adjustment for other known coronary risk factors4.

Yikes, I guess poor leaders can actually kill talent both emotionally and physically.

Gary Namie,Ph.D. who is a social psychologist and founder of the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute in Bellingham, Washington has studied bosses that terroize others (70% of all workplace bullying is done by those in leadership roles). His 2003 study found that 37 percent of victims were fired, 33 percent quit and 17 percent were transferred. The bullies were punished in only 4 percent of the cases, while they were transferred in 9 percent5.

Interestingly, 12 states since 2003 have introduced 27 bills aiming at “bullying bosses” but so far none have passed. Well, legislation to deal with these workplace jerks might just introduce more litigation risks and nightmares then it attempts to solve (e.g., if the jerk thinks their obnoxious behavior can be attributed to a medical condition that deserves reasonable accommodation or if the jerk is in a protected class and claims discrimination by the employer).

Additional information on workplace bullying:

Workplace Bullying Institute

Bully Busters

Maybe if leaders who kill just automatically go to hell, that might at least eliminate the judicial middle man…..Be well….


[tags]emotional intelligence, bullies, competent jerks, stress, job burnout, leadership, heart disease, talent management, engagement, productivity, bad bosses, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]

  1. Nowack, K. (2006). Emotional intelligence: Leaders Make a Difference. HR Trends, 17, 40-42 []
  2. Elovainio, M. et al., 2002. Organizational Justice: Evidence of a New Psychosocial Predictor of Health American Journal of Public Health, 92, 105-108 []
  3. Wagner, N., Feldman, G. & Hussy, T. (2003). The effect of ambulatory blood pressure of working under favourably and unfavourably perceived supervisors. Occupational Environmental Medicine, 60, 468-474 []
  4. Kivimaki, M. et al., 2005. Justice at Work and Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease Among Employees: The Whitehall Study. Archives of Internal Medicine, 165, 2245-2251 []
  5. Namie, G. (2003). Workplace bullying: Escalated incivility. Ivey Business Journal, November/December, 1-6 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Relate

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