The stress of chasing professional success can shorten an executive’s life more than that of lower staff workers, a new study by Harvard Business School suggests.
The research found that CEOs and other top executives in high-pressure positions could die younger than lower-level workers.
The study by Harvard Business School’s professor, Tom Nicholas, tracked the mortality rates of over 1,000 managers and other employees at General Electric from the 1930s.
It found that high-level executives died three to five years earlier on average than lower-level workers at GE. The research suggests the deaths to work-related stress.
The findings were published in the Harvard Business School, titled “Status and Mortality: Is There a Whitefall Effect in the United States.”
Mr Nicholas, a professor of Business Administration, said persons in high-pressure positions are likely to die young due to job stress.
These effects, even though not transitory, he believes, “Could manifest through the duration of a lifespan leading to premature mortality.”
“Beyond income, or access to health care, a wider set of mechanisms including work-life balance and the psychology of employment may matter,” Mr Nicholas said.
The dangerous health impacts of pressure-filled professions, he said, are increasingly getting the attention of business leaders globally.
Scope of the study
The study at General Electric found that the likelihood of mortality for upper management was 1.4 times that of lower-level employees.
The result contradicts the influential Whitehall studies, a British research initiative that tracked workers in the Whitehall area of London in the 1960s.
The Whitehall researchers, according to Jay Fitzgerald, “attributed shorter life expectancies among lower-level civil servants, who tended to die at younger ages than their bosses, to the psychological stress of working in subordinate positions.”
“Despite similarities with Whitehall civil servants in terms of race, lifestyle, education, work environments, low employment turnover rates, and access to health care, I find higher-ranked employees at GE were more susceptible to a shorter lifespan,” the author said.
“While the harmful effects of GE’s high-level jobs may appear worrisome to people currently working in the upper ranks of their companies, not every organization or industry may see the same grim results.
“Work-related management pressures likely vary from company to company, industry to industry, and between the public and private sectors,” parts of the study read.
The research does not claim that white-collar management jobs are more dangerous than other positions, such as blue-collar jobs that are physically demanding.
“No one is saying CEOs have more dangerous jobs than loggers,” Mr Nicholas said.
He said more research is needed to determine whether the findings of his study apply to other organizations.
“We need to do more work to find what mechanisms are causing health problems,” he said. “The next step is to research other companies and organizations to get a better understanding of what’s going on.”
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