Bosses are less stressed than their employees

Government and military executives show less stress hormones than ordinary employees

“Managers have a lot more stress,” is the common opinion of many. But a study by Harvard University in the United States came to a completely different conclusion. A large number of bosses are apparently less stressed than their employees. The researchers used a saliva sample to analyze hormone releases in a study.

Is the pressure and thus the stress at work passed on from the managers to the employees? Surprisingly, bosses are less stressful than normal employees, as study leader Jennifer Lerner and team from Harvard University found in a small study.

Saliva samples were taken from a total of 148 men and women in senior positions in government agencies and the U.S. military for the study. A further 65 participants of both sexes and different professions who had little or no management positions served as a comparison group. The scientists evaluated the samples in the laboratory and then measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Less stress hormones in management tasks
The result showed that the concentration of the hormone was significantly lower among executives than among the comparators. Using a standardized questionnaire, the participants were asked about symptoms such as “inner restlessness”, “nervousness”, “fear” and “uncertainty”. Here, too, it was shown that bosses suffered less from the described stress than the group of ordinary employees.

To ensure the results, the leaders were grouped according to the level of control. Previously, they had to state how much responsibility and authority they have over their employees. It was shown that the number of stress hormones decreased significantly, the more the subjects exercised control.

Sense of power reduces mental workload
Previous work showed that the feeling of power over situations lowers stress levels in humans, ”explained the psychologist Lerner. "Based on our results, this can also be assumed for hierarchies in working life." The higher the position in the company, the more control over people and the work environment, the less the task is combined with stress, the authors write in the journal "Proceedings" United States Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Clear relationship between stress and leadership
"Overall, these results show a clear relationship between leadership and stress," says Lerner. "The higher the management level, the less stress". However, the results cannot be transferred to the private sector, since other competent people such as “economic success of the company” could contribute to a higher level of stress on the executive floor. In addition, the study results cannot be used to determine whether the low cortisol level among executives is actually to be found in the context of the workload in the job, or whether it reflects the personal disposition that a person needs to take on managerial tasks. The question of whether executives have better access to interference reduction due to the higher salary was not included. Although increased consumption can hardly compensate, people in management positions generally have more financial means to take advantage of special offers such as yoga or sports seminars.

Monkey study supports observations However, the study supports previous research with monkeys. It was shown that the rank in the monkey group produces a lower stress hormone level. "But this only applies if the monkey male is exposed to little competition within the group hierarchy," said the scientists. This can also be transferred to people, since most of the participants with managerial duties held a secure job as an official. Therefore, the researchers next want to investigate how a lower stability and more competitive pressure affects people. (sb)

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Image: Gerd Altmann,

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