WORKPLACE / MAR. 23, 2015
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Why Being The Top Dog May Harm Your Health

I’m sure in your career you’ve come across people that will seemingly stop at nothing to obtain power and status in whatever way they can.  They’ll often be incredibly aggressive and competitive, trampling over their ’weaker’ peers as they climb their way to the top of the tree.

See Also: How to Deal With Power-Hungry People at Work

It’s quite probable that if you know someone like that, they aren’t your favourite person at work. Taking their unpopularity aside, however, a recent study also suggests that such aggressive power seekers are harming their long-term health to such an extent that they’re reducing their life expectancy.

The research, from academics at the University of Utah, suggests that people who seek power are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. The good news is that those who seek power through friendly and respectful ways may be building up a kind of natural buffer against such conditions, thus improving their life expectancy.

The Pursuit of Power

The research consisted of four experiments to try and understand the health implications of an aggressive and dominant personality versus one that is much warmer, if no less dominant.

Participants were surveyed to understand both their own personality types, but also how much stress they experienced in life. The results revealed that those who were both hostile and dominant experienced much higher levels of conflict in their lives, which led to higher stress levels. Those who were warmer however managed to achieve the same status levels but with much lower stress associated with their status.

The researchers also measured the blood pressure of participants as they responded to stressful events and conversations with other people.  Their conversational partners were instructed either to act dominantly or submissively. As expected, those on the receiving end of a dominant partner suffered from higher blood pressure than their peers in more deferential conversations. This matters as previous studies have made a strong connection between stress induced blood pressure and a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases.

The third experiment asked a group of married couples to wear a monitor to measure their blood pressure throughout the day. The data revealed that when there was a hostile and dominant man in the relationship, blood pressure was very high, but the same was not true for hostile and dominant women. When the woman was warm and dominant, however, it resulted in lower blood pressure for both parties.

This style was associated with lower levels of conflict and greater support for one’s partner.  A more hostile approach, by contrast, was linked with a range of health issues, including atherosclerosis.

"It’s not a style that wears well with other people," the authors say.

While the implications are severe, the authors do suggest that it is a style that is far from fixed, and we can change our approach if we work at it.

"Something usually has to fall apart first before they are willing to entertain that option," they conclude. "But there is some evidence that it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks, and if you do, it can reduce coronary risk."

See Also: “I Hate My Colleagues” - A Good Enough Excuse to Quit?

Do you have a co-worker at the office in pursuit of unlimited power? Do you think this is causing stress to either them or you? Your thoughts and comments below please...

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