Bosses must create more caring environments — study

Nelson Mandela University Business School MBA graduate Michelle Simms
Nelson Mandela University Business School MBA graduate Michelle Simms
Image: Werner Hills

Up to 15% of staff take sick leave daily, costing the SA economy R16bn a year, according to research conducted by an MBA graduate of the Nelson Mandela University Business School.

Michelle Simms’s research found that happiness in the workplace depended largely on inspirational managers who encouraged positive qualities among staff.

“Worker wellbeing is important to drive a healthy sustainable organisation.

“However, you often see the negative ‘dark side’ of management,” Simms said.

“Abusive leaders lead to less efficient workers, higher emotional stress, less work fulfilment and company dedication, and higher numbers of work-family turmoil.

“These statistics are indicative of low employee wellbeing in SA and should be red flags for manager,” she said.

Simms, the finance manager at Springbok Discount Meat Centre in Sidwell, said she was surprised by the results of her research at different organisations across the country.

“I really didn’t think the results would come up so high, but it’s been wonderful to see the effects of positive psychology,” Simms said.

The study was triggered by previous research Simms had done on happiness, supervised by Prof Margie Cullen of the university’s business school.

“I was fascinated by the information I found and, as the university has a strong focus on humanising research, when my supervisor Prof Paul Poisat urged me to go in that direction I was very keen,” Simms said.

She has also seen the differences at Springbok.

“We were trying to apply the theory so I tested the staff and the atmosphere and motivation has changed —  there is a definite change in attitude.

“One of the changes was to make work more a family environment and, for example, we encourage staff to wear a Springbok jersey to work, so people can recognise us as from Springbok,” she said.

Simms polled staff at all levels from a range of businesses.

Her results revealed that qualities such as appreciation, kindness, integrity and humility were significantly and positively related to employee wellbeing.

“Compassion, however, was significantly negatively related to employee wellbeing,” Simms said, suggesting this could be because too much concern for a colleague’s worries and woes could cause pain, which would lower their wellbeing.

The results showed that retail staff were the kindest, followed by food and catering and then engineering, and that women displayed more kindness than their male counterparts.

Poisat congratulated Simms on her research.

“This study in spiritual leadership spearheaded our leadership research at the business school in examining more contemporary approaches to leadership,” he said.

“The complexities of the new world of work demand examination of non-traditional approaches to leadership.

“This study provided empirical evidence that a leader needs to create a caring environment.”


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