Career, Inside Scoop

Top Management Roles Stressful? Study Says No.

September 27, 2012
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Photo Courtesy: gcoldironjr2003

In a surprising new study from Harvard it seems those folks in upper management aren’t as stressed out as you’d think.

Compared with people of the same age and gender who were at lower career levels, the “leaders” in the study declared themselves less stressed and anxious. And it wasn’t just what they were saying their bodies proved it too — their levels of cortisol (the hormone that circulates when we are super stressed) was in line with what they were reporting.

The study did report that the source of the leaders’ chilled-out demeanor was simply control. The upper management had control of their schedules and financial security. Think about it: top management has the option to come in late or leave a bit early with no questions asked…but the admin assistant would probably get written up for the same behavior. We also think another reason could be the hefty paycheck that comes with being in upper management. When you have the options to hire help in your personal life (chef, household cleaning and pesky assistant work covered) suddenly you’re a lot less stressed.

“Leaders possess a particular psychological resource — a sense of control — that may buffer against stress,” the research team reported Monday in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Apparently our primate relatives have also shown similar results in studies. According to the LA Times:

“Baboons and monkeys who rise to positions of power in their social groups show lower levels of anxiety and stress, so long as their status is not under constant challenge. A recent study of female macaque monkeys demonstrated that rising and falling through the social ranks not only dialed their stress up and down, it turned genes on and off in ways that can powerfully influence health.”

The study is clear — having a sense of control protects against stress. So if you can’t (immediately) rise the corporate ladder try creating control in other parts of your life—budgets and planning help — but so does creating a career trajectory for yourself. Write out career goals for 3 months, 6 months and 1 year and constantly touch base on those goals.

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