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Study: Boss stress level same as employees

July 14, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Survival of the fittest isn't just how the animal world operates. Scientists say it's the guiding principle of many workplaces. It's why some of us are bosses and many of us are not. But being on top isn't always a good thing.

In the film "Horrible Bosses," three friends conspire to murder their awful bosses when they realize how stressed out and unhappy they are in their jobs.

But a new report in the journal Science says in the animal world, it's the bosses who may be stressed out. Scientists took their cue from alpha male baboons.

Researchers say the highest ranking baboon or the head honcho should be enjoying the good life.

But it turns out alphas had stress hormone levels similar to the lowest-ranked males.

Authors now believe being on top produces stress because alpha males have to continuously preserve their status. And chronic stress can lead to health problems.

"Muscle tension, headaches, they might experience problems making very difficult decisions, they may become irritable," said psychologist Dr. Michael Nava.

Nava, at Kaiser Permanente L.A., says bosses, male or female, often feel isolated because they don't have that many people on their level to talk to.

"Some research tells us that 'Type A' personality usually tends to suffer more from cardiac conditions, and these are the individuals who are higher up, these are the individuals with higher-status positions," said Nava.

What this study shows is that times of extreme stress it can feel like we're working in a concrete jungle. So experts say the best way to survive is to know when to run.

"When you kind of see somebody huffing and puffing a little bit, you definitely retreat," said Nava.

So should we have sympathy for our CEOs? Nava says bosses need to reach out for help, but points out all working ranks have equal amounts of stress.

"Whether you're in control or don't have the control, I think individuals are actually equally affected. It is an animal world," said Nava.


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