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Tell Us: Is Executive Stress Overblown?


Pity the poor executive.

Actually, on second thought, don't bother.

There is new information that suggests all the science behind determining that stress kills the driven executive is just bunk. In fact, it's good to be the king, or at least it's good to be the boss rather than the garden-variety employee.

In an article for Scientific American, psychology professor Keith Payne argues research is wrong when it says that executives – because of the tough business decisions they need to make – are more prone to bad health, like heart attacks and ulcers. In fact, much of the research on the subject is based on a study from the 1950s involving Rhesus monkeys, not actual businessmen. Researchers shocked some monkeys to see how they dealt with stress, leaving other monkeys free from shock. Not surprisingly, the rhesus monkeys with the bigger jolt found themselves keeling over with stomach ulcers and the like.

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"There are of course two problems with an executive monkey: the executive and the monkey," Payne wrote. "For Rhesus monkeys are not people, and controlling electric shocks is not making business decisions."

What about studies involving people – like real, live bosses and their employees? Payne, associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes research that shows, whether in business or the military, people in leadership roles showed less stress than those who followed orders.

That, Payne says, echoes research from Great Britain that showed stress rises the further down the organizational chart you are, where "each rung down the ladder is associated with more stress-related health problems, including the biggest health problem of all, death."

Put unscientifically, being the boss is the boss.

What do you think? Is executive stress overrated?

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Ray Hennessey

Written By

Ray Hennessey is the former editorial director of Entrepreneur.