Is it actually less stressful to be in charge?

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Jena McGregor writes on leadership in the news for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.

Think your job is more stressful than your employees’? Think again.

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A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and featured on the news service HealthDay Monday found that people in leadership positions suffer from less stress, surprisingly, than those in less powerful positions.

The researchers, in what they say is the largest of such studies, asked 148 leaders and 65 non-leaders attending a leadership program at Harvard University about their stress (many of whom worked in government jobs). They found the leaders were more likely to exercise and less likely to smoke, yet also consumed more caffeine and slept less, HealthDay reports. Still, they reported lower stress levels than non-leaders, and their levels of the stress hormone were 27 percent lower than in those not in leadership positions.

The study’s lead author, Harvard Kennedy School postdoctoral fellow Gary Sherman, told HealthDay that the counterintuitive results do “point to the importance of gaining leadership and a sense of control that would buffer against stress.” When you’re the one in charge, in other words, you’re better able to control the factors that could bring you anxiety.

But there is another possible explanation, as HealthDay’s Randy Dotinga writes: “The findings in the new study don't prove that leadership is a natural stress reliever, however. It’s possible that people with lower anxiety levels are better able to tolerate being at the top of the ladder.”

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