Ambitious, middle managers tend to suffer more stress and social conflicts than either their bosses or their subordinates in the workplace, new research suggests.
The study, conducted by researchers at the universities of Manchester and Liverpool who observed monkeys, found that those in the middle of the pecking order suffer the most social conflicts — findings that may explain studies in humans that have found that middle managers suffer the most stress at work.
"It's possible to apply these findings to other social species too, including human hierarchies,” said the researchers, who detailed their findings in in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology.
“People working in middle management might have higher levels of stress hormones compared to their boss at the top or the workers they manage. 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."
To reach their conclusions, Katie Edwards and her colleagues from Liverpool's Institute of Integrative Biology spent nearly 600 hours watching female Barbary macaques at Trentham Monkey Forest in Staffordshire. They tracked social behaviors — including threats, chases, and slaps, as well as embracing and grooming — and analyzed their levels of stress hormones. They also noted where the monkeys ranked in the social hierarchy of the group.
Overall, the results showed that monkeys from the middle order had the highest recorded levels of stress hormones.
"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,” said Susanne Shultz, a researcher with the University of Manchester who oversaw the study. “The middle ranking macaques are more likely to challenge, and be challenged by, those higher on the social ladder."
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