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When Bosses Attack, Send Them to the Gym

Tuesday, 21 Feb 2012 | 2:47 PM ET
Erik Isakson | Getty Images

When the boss is unhappy, everyone is unhappy. And when the boss goes to the gym, everyone in the office can breathe a sigh of relief.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study, “Supervisor Workplace Stress and Abusive Supervision: The Buffering Effect of Exercise,” conducted by researchers at Northern Illinois University on 98 employees along with their supervisors. The study found that “supervisor stress and abusive behavior can be diminished when supervisors engage in moderate levels of physical exercise.”

Great advice. But it’s hard to follow, as any business owner who works 12-hour days knows. Still, there are some that make the time. Eric Casaburi is one who has been there. And he’s done it. He’s the founder and CEO of Retro Fitness, a fitness-club franchise, as well as Let’s Yo Yogurt. Sure, he’s surrounded by exercise equipment, trainers and buff people that inspire him day in and day out. But the New Jersey-based entrepreneur says he needs to constantly remind himself of the benefits of exercise.

“If you’re in a high-stress job, it can result in poor performance,” says Casaburi. And that can bring down the rest of your staff. On the flip side, he says, “You can bring energy to a room if you have energy.”

Casaburi, who says he does some of his best work while on the treadmill, offers these tips for stressed-out bosses who are prone to taking it out on their employees.

Work out first thing in the morning. If you get it done before you start your day, everything else you do will be easier to handle. You’ve already taxed yourself, says Casaburi. "You've hung in there, and you’ve built mental endurance. And you won’t be looking for excuses all day to avoid the gym later in the day.”

Partner up: Get someone to make you go: a partner, a friend, a co-worker. "Create a contest with your partner," suggests Casaburi. "Like, who can lose the most weight, or who can lift the most. Use your competitive nature to your advantage."

Attack the gym like you attack business goals. Executives set all sorts of goals for themselves. Set one more. The secret to success here, says Casaburi, is to set realistic goals. Then, "once you hit the goal, reset the goal. And don’t forget to celebrate the successes, just like you would a business milestone."

One thing all bosses need to learn, says Casaburi, is that even when they think they’re doing their company a favor by always being present, “you’re not doing anyone any good if you’re miserable to other people.”

And that’s the bottom line, according to the Northern Illinois University study. “While the current economic conditions and a host of other trying workplace factors mean that supervisors are likely to experience workplace stress, we found evidence that they do not necessarily have to transfer these frustrations onto those they supervise," the researchers report. "Our study supports a link between supervisor stress and employee perceptions of abusive supervision, but this is a link that can be loosened if supervisors engage in moderate levels of physical exercise.”

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