Why You Are Way More Stressed Than Your Boss

It turns out your level of stress correlates with your level of leadership responsibility -- and whether you feel in control of your life.

Photo Credit: T-Design/

“As you become a leader or climb up leadership ranks, is it true things get more intensely stressful for you?” That’s the question a newly released study aimed to answer, said James Gross, one of the study’s authors.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that the more leadership responsibility a person has, the lower the person’s stress level is.

Researchers from Stanford University and Harvard University recruited 148 managers in various fields, including government officials, military officers and business supervisors. The researchers then asked them questions concerning their power and control in relation to others. A saliva sample was then taken to measure their levels of cortisol, a hormonal indicator of stress. High levels of cortisol have been linked to heart disease, depression and several other diseases.

Researchers then recruited 65 community members of similar ethnicity, sex and age, who do not manage others and repeated the steps. They found that those in leadership positions were less stressed than workers who were not. According to reports, the cortisol levels in those who were not “leaders” were, on average, 27 percent higher than those who were.

In a second study, researchers analyzed the differences among 88 leaders by interviewing them about their leadership responsibilities. They were also asked to measure their social control, by using a scale of one to five to agree to such statements like: “I can get people to listen to what I say.” When a saliva sample was taken, the results were found to be consistent with the first study — the more control people perceived they had, the less stressed they were.

Samuel Barondes, director of UC San Francisco's Center for Neurobiology and Psychiatry, told the LA Times that he noticed the study did not state whether or not leadership positions caused the low stress, or whether people who have lower levels of stress are prone to being leaders. Barondes said he believes it is a combination of both.

The study reminds us that when our livelihoods are dependent on the money we make from our jobs, then our livelihoods lie in the hands of the unstable market forces and our bosses, and that is extremely stressful. Plus, those in leadership positions make more money than those who don’t, which is another reason they have less stress.

The study also exposes the myth that those with power deserve more respect and wealth because they tolerate more stress.

As ABC reported:

[Gross] said one common perception of leaders is that they are paid more money to endure high stress levels and perhaps become ill more frequently, or even die sooner.

So, if for some reason, you held an especially high reverence for the all mighty and powerful people who must deal with so much pressure, it’s time to think again. It’s more likely that your next-door neighbor is dealing with much more hardship. 

Alyssa Figueroa is an associate editor at AlterNet. 

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