Wick Communications

Monkey with your stress

In Management on November 1, 2012 at 3:08 pm

Are you stressed out? If so, perhaps you just don’t have enough control over your situation.

You’ll have to stay with me on this one because it may not seem to have much to do with our chosen profession. But, after nearly 30 years in the business, I think it just might.

An academic has written in the New York Times about managing stress and it boils down to biology. It turns out there are these professors who study baboons in the wild. They measure the amount of cortisol – a stress hormone – in various members of baboon society. (Baboons, like congressmen, newspaper people and Walmart employees, arrange themselves into elaborate hierarchies. So there are analogies to be made.) These researchers have found the baboons at the top of the chain of command have lower levels of cortisol. Other Harvard researchers found the same is true of human decision-makers.

All of this flies in the face of our traditional vision of leaders. We think presidents carry the weight of the world on their shoulders, but it could be that they perceive some measure of control over the world around them and they therefore sleep more soundly than, say, a mother of three scraping by on two part-time jobs. …

So what does all this have to do with us?

When people ask me what I like about my job, I always answer something like this: I work for a newspaper that can be as good as I can make it. Because it’s small and I’m the editor, I’m in a position to exhibit some control over my day, our product, the little bubble of world around us. I have long thought that that control is key to my own happiness.

The trick is extending that sense of control to others throughout the operation. That is why I think it’s important to let reporters and photographers control their own schedules to a large degree. They should come up with their own story ideas, help plan periodicals and special sections, take charge of their own beats.

Top-down management might make the monkey at the top feel better about things, but it seems to only increase the stress on the rest of us chimps.

Clay

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