How Your Boss Can Ruin Your Health

Wellbeing can be profoundly affected by some very surprising elements of life.

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Are there elements of wellbeing more within an employee's control than the quality of a manager?

Figure out what you really love doing and use your strengths on a daily basis. As long as people have an opportunity to do what they do best every day, they're significantly more likely to be engaged in their jobs and satisfied in their lives overall. Also, people who had high levels of career wellbeing had a leader or mentor or someone that they looked up to. One of the interesting findings was that creating close friendships on the job makes quite a difference. People who say they have a best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in what they're doing. And if they don't have a best friend at work, the odds of being engaged are just 1 in 12.

[See 22 ways to be a better boss.]

How do you determine what is a best friend? That's kind of an ambiguous term.

When we were first working on this research, we tested a lot of different questions. We tested asking workers if they had a friend at work, if they had a good friend at work. The only item that really differentiated work groups who had higher levels of productivity, less turnover, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and the like were the people who said they had a best friend at work. One of the interesting things we've been drawing into recently is how just the sheer amount of time you spend socializing in a given day has a strong influence on your overall wellbeing. That's the time you spend at work socializing with colleagues, E-mailing back and forth, instant messaging, talking on the phone. When you add all that up, each additional hour you spend in social time each day dramatically increases your odds of having a lot of happy moments and fewer stressful moments in a given day.

E-mail and instant messaging aren't to workers' detriment?

I don't know that it is. We've begun to study the wellbeing levels of a few organizations now and when we segment out their remote workers—or people who work from home—they have wellbeing levels that compare favorably or a little bit better in some cases to the large physical offices where people come in every day.

Did you find that there is an ideal daily schedule for wellbeing?

It is so easy to put things off, but when people exercise in the morning, in many cases they did so because over time they realized that working out in the morning puts you in a better mood and you're more productive and you have more energy throughout the workday. People with high levels of wellbeing have been careful to work out early in the morning and not to have heavy meals throughout the day because you kind of fall off a cliff in terms of your energy by 2 or 3:00 if you have a lunch with a lot of heavy foods.

Were there companies that have done a particularly good job of encouraging wellbeing? For example, Google is famous from providing organic meals to its employees.

I'm sure all the things that Google does are perceived as helpful by employees and nice to have, but our engagement research shows that those more trivial benefits and perks—the doggie daycare and on-site dry-cleaning—don't have anywhere near as much impact as a manager who cares about what's going on with your family. So, I don't think companies can just pile on the benefits and see any real improvement in engagement or wellbeing over time.

In your own life, have you become really conscientious about exercising, eating right, and being engaged at work?

Yeah, I've made a lot of changes. The obvious one—that I think a lot of us who have worked on this research have learned—is that even if you have a lot to do in a given day and you have a lot of meetings scheduled, you actually get more done in less time if you start your day with a good workout and if you avoid some of the high loads of a sugars and carbs and fats earlier in the day. We've also seen a lot of people in our organization who rally around to say, "let's go spend time together," whether it's a work baseball team or everybody getting together after work to do one of the couch-to-5k running programs.