Stress in Middle Management

In 1999, Monster.com aired a commercial in which stern-faced children satirically recited the all-too-real possibilities of where they may land in the office hierarchy.

“I wanna claw my way up to middle management,” said a kid with a textbook bowl cut.

There are plenty of reasons why no child would want to do that. It’s well known that middle-managers face greater stress than other workers, but some of our tree-climbing cousins in England are showing us that humans aren't the only ones who must cope with the stresses of being a boss. 

And other recent research shows that giving in to these daily stresses can negatively impact our long-term health.

Monkeys and Middle Managers

A PhD student at the University of Liverpool recently published a study in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology that may help explain why middle managers are the most stressed at work. 

Katie Edwards spent nearly 600 hours studying the behavior of female Barbary macaques at a monkey preserve in Staffordshire, England. She studied each monkey individually for a day and recorded its social behaviors. The following day, she collected stool samples and had them tested for the presence of stress hormones

She found that monkeys near the middle of the social hierarchy produce the highest levels of stress hormones, causing researchers to conclude it's because they must balance competing interests in their troop. 

“What we found was that monkeys in the middle of the hierarchy are involved with conflict from those below them as well as from above, whereas those in the bottom of the hierarchy distance themselves from conflict. The middle ranking macaques are more likely to challenge, and be challenged by, those higher on the social ladder,” Edwards said.

Edwards said the behavior of the stressed-out monkeys could be applied to help understand how humans interact in the workplace. 

“People working in middle management might have higher levels of stress hormones compared to their boss at the top or the workers they manage,” Edwards said in a press release. “These ambitious mid-ranking people may want to access the higher-ranking lifestyle, which could mean facing more challenges, whilst also having to maintain their authority over lower-ranking workers.”

Another recent study showed that companies with women directors fair better than those run solely by men, so perhaps researchers should see how they can promote those female Barbary macaques for the betterment of the troop.

How Daily Stress Impacts Emotional and Mental Health

Psychology and social science researchers at the University of California, Irvine, wanted to answer a vexing question: Do daily stresses pile up until that final straw breaks our back, or do small stresses make us stronger over time?

The researchers found that negative emotional reactions to daily stressors—like arguing with your spouse or getting stuck in traffic—may contribute to psychological and mood disorders as much as 10 years later.

To reach that conclusion, they used data from two national longitudinal surveys involving 711 men and women between the ages of 25 and 74. Their research was recently published in the journal Psychological Science.

Lead researcher and UC Irvine professor Susan Charles said the findings highlight the importance of properly managing emotions and stress.

“It's important not to let everyday problems ruin your moments,” Charles said in a press release. “After all, moments add up to days, and days add up to years. Unfortunately, people don't see mental health problems as such until they become so severe that they require professional attention.”

The Importance of De-stressing

There are no real benefits to holding onto stress. It’s the voice in your head that keeps you awake at night. It’s the pull behind the craving for bad things, like junk food, alcohol, and other coping mechanisms. 

Regular exercise and a balanced diet low in fatty, salty, and processed foods can help you protect your body and mind from stress on the job. If all else fails, talking out your problems with a trained professional counselor may help. 

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