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Being Middle Management Sucks For Monkeys, Too


The corporate ladder has a lot of rungs, but there are three basic places you can be on it: at the top, where you’re making the rules, at the bottom where you’ve got nothing to lose, and everywhere else. Studies have shown that folks in that vast middle management hierarchy are generally the most stressed out people at a place of employment, and a recent study by the University of Manchester suggests that phenomenon might not be confined to humans working thankless white collar jobs. Monkeys in the middle of the social hierarchy — those who aren’t leaders, but aren’t losers either — seem to suffer more stress from the effects of unpleasant behavior while also getting less benefit from stress relievers like grooming,

The University of Manchester team spent more than 600 hours closely monitoring the daily lives of individual Barbary macaques living in England’s Trentham Monkey Forest. Researchers took notes on all of the social behavior that they engaged in during the course of a day, whether it was positive, like being groomed by a subordinate, or negative, like being screamed at by a superior. By following individual apes, rather than populations, researchers hoped to gain new insight into how stress affects primates on a personal level, and it looks like they may have succeeded.

Their findings, published online this week in the journal General and Comparative Endocrinology, showed that after a bad day at the office — which for a macaque can include being screamed at by co-workers and slapped by supervisors, so there but for the grace of God go I — Macaques expressed higher levels of stress hormones in samples of their feces. Good days, though, weren’t followed by a corresponding drop in levels of stress hormones, suggesting that the monkeys in the middle were more prone to be stressed out than not. That makes sense, though, considering that like Assistants to the Regional Manager around the world, middle management macaques have to worry about both keeping their superiors happy and making sure that no one below them usurps their position in the social order. Dr. Susanne Shultz put it this way:

“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. The middle ranking macaques are more likely to challenge, and be challenged by, those higher on the social ladder.”

While it’s not super flattering to compare middle managers all over the planet to monkeys, hey, everyone like to know that they’re not alone, right? Lots of people have the same problems, and it turns out that some of them aren’t even people.

(via ScienceDirect, image courtesy of flickr)

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