Selye (1974) suggested that having to live with other people is one of the most stressful aspects of life. Good relations between members of a work group are considered a central factor in individual and organizational health (Cooper and Payne 1988) particularly in terms of the boss–subordinate relationship. Poor relationships at work are defined as having “low trust, low levels of supportiveness and low interest in problem solving within the organization” (Cooper and Payne 1988). Mistrust is positively correlated with high role ambiguity, which leads to inadequate interpersonal communications between individuals and psychological strain in the form of low job satisfaction, decreased well-being and a feeling of being threatened by one’s superior and colleagues (Kahn et al. 1964; French and Caplan 1973).
Supportive social relationships at work are less likely to create the interpersonal pressures associated with rivalry, office politics and unconstructive competition (Cooper and Payne 1991). McLean (1979) suggests that social support in the form of group cohesion, interpersonal trust and liking for a superior is associated with decreased levels of perceived job stress and better health. Inconsiderate behaviour on the part of a supervisor appears to contribute significantly to feelings of job pressure (McLean 1979). Close supervision and rigid performance monitoring also have stressful consequences—in this connection a great deal of research has been carried out which indicates that a managerial style characterized by lack of effective consultation and communication, unjustified restrictions on employee behaviour, and lack of control over one’s job is associated with negative psychological moods and behavioural responses (for example, escapist drinking and heavy smoking) (Caplan et al. 1975), increased cardiovascular risk (Karasek 1979) and other stress-related manifestations. On the other hand, offering broader opportunities to employees to participate in decision making at work can result in improved performance, lower staff turnover and improved levels of mental and physical well-being. A participatory style of management should also extend to worker involvement in the improvement of safety in the workplace; this could help to overcome apathy among blue-collar workers, which is acknowledged as a significant factor in the cause of accidents (Robens 1972; Sutherland and Cooper 1986).
Early work in the relationship between managerial style and stress was carried out by Lewin (for example, in Lewin, Lippitt and White 1939), in which he documented the stressful and unproductive effects of authoritarian management styles. More recently, Karasek’s (1979) work highlights the importance of managers’ providing workers with greater control at work or a more participative management style. In a six-year prospective study he demonstrated that job control (i.e., the freedom to use one’s intellectual discretion) and work schedule freedom were significant predictors of risk of coronary heart disease. Restriction of opportunity for participation and autonomy results in increased depression, exhaustion, illness rates and pill consumption. Feelings of being unable to make changes concerning a job and lack of consultation are commonly reported stressors among blue-collar workers in the steel industry (Kelly and Cooper 1981), oil and gas workers on rigs and platforms in the North Sea (Sutherland and Cooper 1986) and many other blue-collar workers (Cooper and Smith 1985). On the other hand, as Gowler and Legge (1975) indicate, a participatory management style can create its own potentially stressful situations, for example, a mismatch of formal and actual power, resentment of the erosion of formal power, conflicting pressures both to be participative and to meet high production standards, and subordinates’ refusal to participate.
Although there has been a substantial research focus on the differences between authoritarian versus participatory management styles on employee performance and health, there have also been other, idiosyncratic approaches to managerial style (Jennings, Cox and Cooper 1994). For example, Levinson (1978) has focused on the impact of the “abrasive” manager. Abrasive managers are usually achievement-oriented, hard-driving and intelligent (similar to the type A personality), but function less well at the emotional level. As Quick and Quick (1984) point out, the need for perfection, the preoccupation with self and the condescending, critical style of the abrasive manager induce feelings of inadequacy among their subordinates. As Levinson suggests, the abrasive personality as a peer is both difficult and stressful to deal with, but as a superior, the consequences are potentially very damaging to interpersonal relationships and highly stressful for subordinates in the organization.
In addition, there are theories and research which suggest that the effect on employee health and safety of managerial style and personality can only be understood in the context of the nature of the task and the power of the manager or leader. For example, Fiedler’s (1967) contingency theory suggests that there are eight main group situations based upon combinations of dichotomies: (a) the warmth of the relations between the leader and follower; (b) the level structure imposed by the task; and (c) the power of the leader. The eight combinations could be arranged in a continuum with, at one end (octant one) a leader who has good relations with members, facing a highly structured task and possessing strong power; and, at the other end (octant eight), a leader who has poor relations with members, facing a loosely structured task and having low power. In terms of stress, it could be argued that the octants formed a continuum from low stress to high stress. Fiedler also examined two types of leader: the leader who would value negatively most of the characteristics of the member he liked least (the lower LPC leader) and the leader who would see many positive qualities even in the members whom he disliked (the high LPC leader). Fiedler made specific predictions about the performance of the leader. He suggested that the low LPC leader (who had difficulty in seeing merits in subordinates he disliked) would be most effective in octants one and eight, where there would be very low and very high levels of stress, respectively. On the other hand, a high LPC leader (who is able to see merits even in those he disliked) would be more effective in the middle octants, where moderate stress levels could be expected. In general, subsequent research (for example, Strube and Garcia 1981) has supported Fiedler’s ideas.
Additional leadership theories suggest that task-oriented managers or leaders create stress. Seltzer, Numerof and Bass (1989) found that intellectually stimulating leaders increased perceived stress and “burnout” among their subordinates. Misumi (1985) found that production-oriented leaders generated physiological symptoms of stress. Bass (1992) finds that in laboratory experiments, production-oriented leadership causes higher levels of anxiety and hostility. On the other hand, transformational and charismatic leadership theories (Burns 1978) focus upon the effect which those leaders have upon their subordinates who are generally more self-assured and perceive more meaning in their work. It has been found that these types of leader or manager reduce the stress levels of their subordinates.
On balance, therefore, managers who tend to demonstrate “considerate” behaviour, to have a participative management style, to be less production- or task-oriented and to provide subordinates with control over their jobs are likely to reduce the incidence of ill health and accidents at work.