RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Maybe it's not good to be the king. A study of stress in the workplace published this week in the medical journal Social Science & Medicine revealed that people in positions of authority often experience particular stressors that can negate the health-enhancing perks of being the boss, such as higher earnings, job autonomy, nonroutine work, and control of their own schedules.
THE DETAILS: Using data from a 2005 national telephone survey of 1,800 American adults working in a broad cross-section of occupations and job sectors, researchers from the University of Toronto set out to examine the links between job authority, stress in the workplace, and physical and psychological health. Participants were asked questions about each of these "health measures," as well as interpersonal conflict at work and interference of work with home life. They were also questioned about their job authority, their personal income, their autonomy on the job, their work hours, and a host of other particulars about their work life.
What the researchers found was that people in high-powered positions report significantly higher levels of interpersonal conflict at work, and that their work is much more likely to spill over into family and leisure time. And these two factors alone increase their stress levels to a degree that the health benefits from having a higher income and a flexible schedule, among other things, are canceled out.
WHAT IT MEANS: While higher-status jobs carry with them loads of perks that should contribute to reduced stress and improved health, people in higher-status positions aren’t likely to have better health, thanks to some stress in the workplace that's unique to jobs at the top.
Consider, for instance, the challenges execs and business owners face in the current economic climate, points out David Ballard, PsyD, assistant executive director for corporate relations at the American Psychological Association (APA) and head of its Psychologically Healthy Workplace Program. "The recession has forced many leaders to make tough decisions about layoffs, hiring freezes, pay cuts, and the elimination of other benefits," he says. Some managers have to contend not only with their own job insecurity, but also the anxiety their staffs are feeling. "Employees are understandably worried about how they’ll be affected and what's coming down the pike, so tension in the workplace is running high—and not just for the people with little control over their work situations. It's running high for the people with all the control, too," Ballard says.
Here’s how to better control the stress associated with a primo job, and improve your health in the process: