If you think that your boss is under tremendous pressure (and therefore makes the big bucks), you could be wrong. According to a new study, bosses have it easy compared to their subordinates.
The study, published in the Journals of Gerontology, found that lower-status workers tend to be more stressed than people higher up on the corporate ladder. The research concluded that this is true for low-status workers even as they transition into retirement, suggesting that the economic disadvantages that accumulate over time can have a lasting effect on people’s health and stress levels later in life.
According to study author and professor of medical sociology at the University of Manchester Tarani Chandola, the way lower-paid workers are treated by their employers and colleagues can have damaging effects on their mental health. “Workers in lower-status jobs tend to have more stressful working conditions — they have lower pay, poorer pension arrangements, less control over their work and report more unsupportive colleagues and managers,” Chandola tells Motherboard.
The U.K.-based researchers measured people’s cortisol levels — an actual biological markers of stress — to come to their conclusions. According to the researchers, our cortisol levels typically fluctuate throughout the day, peaking shortly after we wake up and reaching a low around the time we go to sleep. (For the record: The more stress you’re under, the higher your cortisol levels.)
Through their research, the scientists discovered that the cortisol levels of people with lower-status jobs remained higher than the cortisol levels of people with higher-status jobs. These high cortisol levels indicate that low-status workers are stressed out like nobody’s business.
Why does this matter? Because high levels of cortisol are associated with numerous health problems, including the No. 1 killer in America, heart disease. And stress, like many other health problems, disproportionately affects people with lower incomes (we’re looking at you, overworked millennials).
So what can us low-level workers do about our stress load? Some places are already working to find solutions. Motherboard reports that one province in Ontario, Canada, plans to launch a pilot study on “the effects of basic income for everybody, regardless of employment status.” Admittedly, just the thought of free money makes our stress and anxiety go down.
But there’s no guarantee that tactics like this one will help to make workers feel less stressed or less exploited. So look to yourself and others in a similar position for the solution, which may involve setting boundaries at work and saying no.