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Last Updated: Monday, 23 June, 2003, 23:39 GMT 00:39 UK
Unfair bosses raise blood pressure
One in five Britons suffer from high blood pressure
Bosses that people perceive to be unfair not only make your working life a misery - they can also pose a significant threat to your health.

A study has shown that unfair bosses can drive up their employees' blood pressure, increasing their long-term risk of a heart attack or stroke.

The research comes as new figures show that many people die unnecessarily each year because they fail to control their blood pressure.

A team from Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College carried out tests on 28 female healthcare assistants (HCAs).

HCAs are supervised by nurses and take on some of their work, with varying levels of responsibility, but they are lower down the job status hierarchy.

Each was asked to rate their boss by being asked whether they agreed with a series of statements. These included:

  • "My supervisor encourages discussion before making a decision"
  • "I am treated fairly by my supervisor"
The researchers then took the readings from blood pressure monitors worn by female healthcare assistants every 30 minutes for 12 hours over three working days.

Blood pressure
Systolic: Measures the force that blood exerts on the artery walls as the heart contracts to pump out the blood
Diastolic: Measures the force as the heart relaxes to allow the blood to flow into the heart
Thirteen of the HCAs were supervised by two people - one perceived as more unfair than the other.

The other 15 were either supervised by just one person, or by two whose working manner was viewed in the same way.

Among this second group, working with either of their two supervisors produced only the tiniest changes in blood pressure.

But blood pressure readings increased among the first group when they were working for a boss they considered to be unfair.

The systolic reading rose by 15 mg Hg, and the diastolic reading by 7 mm Hg.

Take a deep breath, count to 10 and try not to let others wind you up
Belinda Linden
An increase of 10 mm Hg in systolic and 5 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure is associated with a 16% increased risk of coronary heart disease and a 38% increased risk of stroke.

The researchers argue that their findings provide clear evidence that show a boss who is perceived as being unfair can cause stress, and undermine health and wellbeing of their staff.

They say that cardiovascular disease would be less of a problem if everybody was happy with their boss, and felt that their views were taken into consideration.

Belinda Linden, of the British Heart Foundation, said: "I'm sure, at one point, everyone's had a boss who's literally made their 'blood boil' - but really, it's down to us to learn to manage work stress and not let difficult bosses affect our health.

Long-term problems

"You would expect a person's blood pressure to rise temporarily when faced with a tense situation - and occasional stress is part of everyday life which people shouldn't hide from.

"However, health problems can arise in the long term if people are constantly 'stressed out' - whether at work or at home - and persistent high blood pressure can increase the risk of coronary heart disease.

"So, take a deep breath, count to 10 and try not to let others 'wind you up'."

The research is published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Dying unnecessarily

Research has found that around 62,000 people die unnecessarily in the UK each year because they fail to control high blood pressure.

If everyone in the UK with high blood pressure had it controlled to the target level, 21,000 deaths from stroke and 41,000 deaths from heart attacks could be prevented.

The number of non-fatal strokes and heart attacks could also be cut by a third.

Overall this would mean 120,000 fewer heart attacks and strokes each year.

The figures are published in the Journal of Human Hypertension.

Professor Graham MacGregor, chairman of the Blood Pressure Association, said: "The risks of high blood pressure have been greatly underestimated.

"If we all work together, government, health professionals and individuals, the impact as shown from this study will be immense."

Bryan Williams, president of the British Hypertension Society, said: "This is a major public health issue and it is a tragedy that people in this country suffer premature strokes, heart disease and death for want of simply effective treatment.

"It is not about more resources it is about more effective use of resources."

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25 Jun 01  |  Health


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