Do CEOs experience less stress than their staff?

A study reported in Time claims that, contrary to popular belief, CEOs actually experience less stress than their staff.

Actually, that was a side-effect. The core finding of the study was that those who have more control over their day have lower levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) than those with less control over their day. Because CEOs have more control on average, they experience less stress on average.

Makes sense to me. I’ve written before that people who report to me seem to find things more stressful than I do. And I certainly feel a lot more stress on days when the owners are in the building…


The good news is that this is something CEOs can help their staff with. Here are some ways I’ve implemented in the past:

  • Get ALL staff to at least propose their own objectives. That means ALL staff. Cleaners, receptionists, customer services, vice-presidents
  • Hold all-staff meetings where you explain what’s going on. Regularly. Far more regularly than you want to or have time for. In these meetings, tell people things they don’t strictly need to do to get their jobs done. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it
  • Unless there’s a really good reason not to — like a staff member works in customer service and need to be available at defined times — allow staff to set their own working hours
  • Unless your staff really need to wear a particular thing — for a branding or safety reason, for example — allow them to wear whatever they want. (Professional services firm? Don’t worry about clients. They don’t care. Truly. In fact often it’ll help your company feel more human.)
  • As far as possible, allow staff to work wherever they want to — including home, cafe, quiet office, open plan, a different desk each day
  • Provide training to help your staff understand their energy levels and how they change throughout the day. Then give them permission to move things — like meetings and solo working time — to better fit their energy levels
  • Let your staff listen to headphones if they want to. (This one might sound ridiculous — who wouldn’t allow a staff member to listen to headphones? But early in my career I got buttonholed by a peer manager. “When are you going to tell David to take those things off his ears?” he thundered at me. “Never,” I replied. David was a huge introvert, and I know those earphones were one of his coping mechanisms in an open-plan office.)

Interested in your views. What else would help?

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