Bosses Less Stressed Than Workers, Study Says

bosses less stressed

Think all the responsibility associated with being the top boss makes for a more stressful life? According to a new study, not so much.

Researchers at Stanford University and Harvard University found that leaders at higher levels had less stress than those in lower- or non-leadership posts. The findings runs counter to conventional wisdom that suggests that those in decision-making positions have the greatest level of anxiety within an organization.


"Leaders possess a particular psychological resource -- a sense of control -- that may buffer against stress, researchers reported Monday in the journal," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study, which examined 231 middle- to high-level government officials and military officers in the Harvard Business School's executive education program, measured participants' levels of cortisol, a hormone excreted by the body during times of high stress.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the research showed that compared with those of similar age, gender and ethnicity who haven't made it to the top, leaders were less stressed and anxious.

The study participants, which included 136 men, benefited from having more control over many aspects of their lives, including their schedules and financial security, researchers found.

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Nichole Lighthall, who studies the effects of stress at Duke University and wasn't involved in the study, told ABC News that "having a sense of control is protective against stress." While workers at lower levels may be worried about being laid off, chief executives feel much more secure. Regardless of what happens to the organization they work for, CEOs can bank that "they'll keep their position in society, their superiority, their lifestyle and their income," Lighthall said.

James Gross, a Stanford psychologists and a study co-author, told the network that the findings don't suggest that leaders can't get stressed. "But ... leaders appear to be less stressed."

Gross said the study found a correlation and not necessarily a causal relationship between leadership and stress, suggesting it's "totally possible" that people who experience less stress are the ones who rise to top jobs, rather than leadership itself resulting in less anxiety.

Another recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that working long hours at the office gave workers a 40 to 80 percent greater chance of heart disease, compared to working an eight-hour day.

The authors were not able to discern why the risk of heart disease increased so much, but the results suggested a correlation between long working hours and heart disease that was tied to "prolonged exposure to psychological stress."

Looking to reduce stress in your work life? offers these tips:

  • Allocate more time to important tasks: One of the main causes of stress is realizing that you haven't allocated enough time to complete your important tasks. You need to start your day earlier to allocate more time to those activities.
  • Handle your worries: Accumulated worries add to your stress. When you allow problems to accumulate they will stress you out throughout the day. Set aside an hour each week to think about your main problems and to find solutions for them.
  • Set deadlines wisely: Avoid setting deadlines that causes you more stress. Instead stay relaxed while you are working on the task. People make impossible promises and deadlines to themselves only to discover that they are short on time or resources.
  • Limit stressful situations: Traffic jams, loud noises and outdated equipment can add stress to your day, so find solutions to eliminate them. The more stress triggers that you remove the less chance for stress to influence your life.

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