Back during the whole Marissa-Mayer-is-pregnant dust-up this summer, I mentioned that being the CEO is actually a great job for the mom of small kids. If you’re late to a 9 a.m. meeting, people will wait for you. If you don’t want to work from 5:30-8 p.m., people will take your calls at 8:30. They fly to see you. Such accommodation means that you’re less stressed.
It turns out that there’s some research backing this up. A new study from several Harvard researchers, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that reported stress levels — and levels of cortisol — are lower for people at the top than those who haven’t made it.
Why? The researchers theorize that it’s about control. People at the top control their time. When you control your time, you feel like you have more of it. You’re probably making good money, so you’re in control of your financial life. If you want something to change, you have a lot of levers to push to make that happen, and you’re accustomed to pushing those levers. A sense of control — that you can customize your world — apparently corresponds with feeling pretty calm.
Now, to be sure, people at the top don’t always stay at the top. Just look at the revolving door of Yahoo CEOs lately. It would seem that having people constantly gunning for your job could be nerve-wracking. But what this study shows is that it’s important to keep this in perspective. As Duke University stress expert Nichole Lighthall (who was not involved in this study) told the Los Angeles Times, chief executives can rest assured that “they’ll keep their position in society, their superiority, their lifestyle and their income” even if the organization over which they preside tanks. Recall Bob Nardelli’s $200 million exit package from Home Depot, and you soon realize that a family making $460/week would probably love that kind of stress.
In what kind of job have you felt the least stressed?