Pity the poor, beleaguered partner. It’s not such a cushy job these days. I know the pressure to bring in business and keep fickle clients happy is relentless. And if you’re the head of the firm, you have to pacify the troops at home, too. The further you go up on the pyramid, the more thankless the job gets.
Do you really buy that? I don’t. Maybe I’m just a proletarian down deep, but my gut tells me that associates are the ones we should pity. Guess what? I am so right!
According to a four-year research project conducted by Harvard Kennedy School’s Decision Science Laboratory, Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego, those in leadership positions have lower stress levels than those in the lower ranks, reports the Harvard Gazette. The reason: Bosses have more control over their work life and underlings don’t.
“The conventional wisdom is it is very stressful to be the top dog, the CEO, or the military general,” Harvard professor Jennifer Lerner told the Harvard Gazette.
“Our results indicate that the top dog has less stress as measured by baseline cortisol. That is quite surprising to some people.”
Frankly, I’m not sure why anyone should be surprised by this.
In a law firm context, at least, associates are expected to be at the beck and call of the partners they work for. I know it’s a cliché, but I think it’s still true that when partners ask you to jump, the only acceptable response is, “How high?”
The study compared stress indicators (levels of hormone cortisol and self-reported anxiety) of leaders and nonleaders. What explains the reduced cortisol in the ruling class, said the researchers, is “the greater sense of control that comes with higher leadership levels.”
Also “significant in creating that sense of control” among the leaders were “the total number of subordinates and authority over subordinates.” That seems to indicate that the more people you can boss around, the more control you have, and the better you feel about yourself.
Put another way, the boss’s sense of control grows in proportion to the underling’s forfeiture of control.
So the more people you are oppressing, the more chipper you’ll feel. Hail Caesar!
But, alas, how long you can feel like a Roman emperor depends on how well your empire is faring:
“[The researchers] noted that the study primarily tested leaders who are in stable positions and supported by their organizations. Leaders in unstable situations they termed ‘contested hierarchies’ likely have higher stress levels.”
Obviously, if you’re ruling over a declining empire like Dewey & LeBoeuf, being a leader sucks. But until things crumble, it’s still far better to be in the ruling class.