There’s a lot to like about being in a position of power at work. Bosses, managers, and team leaders enjoy greater autonomy than lower-level workers, not to mention more perks as well. Who doesn’t want a bigger office or a larger salary?
Of course, there are two sides to every coin. A new study just released by the University of Florida finds that feeling powerful on the job isn’t all sunshine and roses.
Researchers say high-ranking positions are often a double-edged sword. While many leaders derive meaning and satisfaction from the demands of their position, all the pressure that comes along with being a leader can also take a physical and mental toll.
“Power is generally considered a desirable thing, as leaders often seek power, and it’s very rare for leaders to turn powerful roles down,” says study co-author Trevor Foulk of the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business. “However, this view is qualified by the fact that many leaders feel exhausted and overburdened by their work. Our work helps shed light on this paradox, as it helps us understand why leaders might want powerful positions (they achieve more goal progress and feel that their work is more meaningful), but also face substantial consequences (their jobs feel more demanding in a way that causes anxiety and physical pain).”
Leaders or managers with an especially neurotic personality tend to be more vulnerable to both the highs and the lows of positions of power. Neuroticism is defined as a propensity toward unneeded worry and stress.
“Neuroticism is generally associated with negative outcomes like stress, job dissatisfaction, and a focus on failures and frustrations,” study authors write. “However, our results demonstrate that neuroticism can strengthen the indirect effect of power on goal progress and meaningfulness, highlighting that neuroticism can also have positive implications for powerful employees at work.”
For better or for worse, most neurotic individuals have a great eye for detail. So, while many neurotic managers excel in their positions, all the pressure they put on themselves to live up to their title can be detrimental to their wellbeing.
According to the research team, the demands of a leadership position most often result in feelings of intense anxiety and or physical pain caused by long hours spent on the job. As such, they recommend that organizations and employers provide managers with social support and mental health resources that can help them cope with anxious feelings. Company-sponsored mindfulness or stress management seminars, for example.
Regarding physical pain, leaders should be encouraged to take more breaks and be provided with ergonomic office equipment.
“Such strategies may help employees and organizations realize the positive effects of power-induced job demands, while minimizing or mitigating their negative effects,” the study reads.
From the perspective of an entry-level worker, the life of a manager can appear almost care-free. But, as they say, the grass is always greener. This research just goes to show landing a position of power also comes with some drawbacks. With great power comes great responsibility, and more responsibility usually means more pressure and anxiety.
The full study is set to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.