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back to article Monkey poo probe reveals secrets of middle-management brains

It might be tough at the top, or at the bottom - but it's even tougher in the middle. That's the claim made by boffins from Liverpool and Manchester universities who say their study of monkeys proves that middle managers suffer more stress than anyone else. 'If you could go ahead and remember to do that from now on' Katie …

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Facepalm

"Middle managers suffer more stress than anyone else"

No shit!

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Windows

Re: "Middle managers suffer more stress than anyone else"

Dont put too much pressure on them: they will shit bricks!

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Re: "Middle managers suffer more stress than anyone else"

Middle managers believed to suffer more stress. Also noted - monkeys shit in the woods.

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Re: "Middle managers suffer more stress than anyone else"

It should be spread out due to their being so many of them at each level.

And it is mostly trivial when it comes to really important stuff.

It is not even in the same league as certain things like :

1. Offspring going to fight in Afghanistan all day

2. Psychotic Offspring first time likely to end up dead or involved in serious crime if it is not dealt with very quickly.

(There is probably loads of others those just come to mind. The problem is things being too important to people that shouldn't be.)

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Anonymous Coward

Middle management: a bit like (I imagine) being the centrepiece of a spit roast.

You're continually getting it in both directions and you have to swallow more than your pride from time to time.

(One of those rare times that ACs really needs access to the Paris icon.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Middle management: a bit like (I imagine) being the centrepiece of a spit roast.

You're making it sound a lot better than it is.

- a middle manager

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Re: Middle management: a bit like (I imagine) being the centrepiece of a spit roast.

Except that getting spit roasted is way more fun.

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Joke

What this study mainly proves..

..is that most middle management is interchangeable with monkeys.

No news there then :)

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Holmes

Re: What this study mainly proves..

Are you hailing from the top or from the bottom?

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Re: What this study mainly proves..

Does it matter?

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Re: What this study mainly proves..

What I want to know is that if they wanted to apply this to human hierarchies, why didn't they just test the poo of people in human hierarchies for stress hormones, instead of mucking around with monkeys?

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Anonymous Coward

Those who want to be managers....

...are often people who have a strong need to feel they are in total control of their lives and environment. They think that becoming a middle manager will achieve that goal. They then find that they are under pressure from above to deliver on optimistic targets - but that the people they manage can subvert their orders.

In the end they find that they have less control over their lives than before.

Often the Peter Principle means they will keep getting promoted into positions of even more incompetence until they reach the top of their pyramid. At that point they are paid off or head hunted - and thus enter the magic circle of company hoppers touting a "cure all" management theory that never quite works.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Those who want to be managers....

"Those who want to be managers.... "

Back below stairs, underling!

I think it rather more likely that most middle managers have taken the kings shilling and accepted a promotion in return for more moolah. I could have staid as a public sector dev for my entire career and cruised to retirement on a mediocre wage and with stuff all challenge in my job. Instead I followed a path that led into middle management, and means I now earn three times what I would get if I were still a responsibility-free techy.

As for "wanting" to be a manager, I know of no company where managers are self selecting, or believe that being a manager gives them more control of their lives. The reverse is probably true, because the top dogs rarely engage with the real plebs, and the people who have to jump are the middle managers.

As for the Peter Principle, I've yet to see that institutionalised across an entire organisation. Individual cases, certainly, but it is far more instructive to think of managerial promotions as being random.

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Re: Those who want to be managers....

"As for the Peter Principle, I've yet to see that institutionalised across an entire organisation. Individual cases, certainly, but it is far more instructive to think of managerial promotions as being random."

In my own (admittedly limited) experience, I have found that those who normally get promoted to middle management are either;

a) ambitious and power hungry (at least to some degree) and want to rise to the top, whatever is involved, or

b) those who can't do their job, but current management sees some management potential in them, making promotion easier than firing them.

I have seen a prevalence of these two types. I have, of course, seen some press-ganged into a management position, almost against their will, but these seem much rarer than the above two cases (which, again in my experience, seem to be roughly equal).

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Re: Those who want to be managers....

I have never heard of the Peter Principle but I think usually people get promoted to a level where they become incompetent. (One promotion too many usually without enough benefit for it to be worth it).

Best manager I ever had only did a single thing get the rest of the company to leave me the hell alone and speak to her instead.

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Re: Those who want to be managers....

She got promoted again because of being good at doing that and was totally awful at the next job. (Required totally different skills deciding whether things are reasonable in the first place instead of just prioritising things the company has already decided needs doing).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Those who want to be managers....

"I have never heard of the Peter Principle but I think usually people get promoted to a level where they become incompetent."

It was a book that started off in bookshops under "humour" - then in the 1980s migrated to the "management" shelf.

One of its examples is a nursery teacher who was very good at teaching small children. She was promoted to being a lecturer at a teacher training school. A complete disaster - she treated the students as small children.

Many competent techies in the IT industry avoid being promoted into middle management by giving an appearance of having reached their level of incompetence in some unimportant respect. The example in the book is a person whose office was filled with chaotic piles of papers and boxes. These were just a dummy front - anything valuable could be retrieved instantly.

A small IT company was struggling to deliver a big contract on time. So they recruited a lot of new people - and made all their existing experienced techies into ineffective hands-off managers. They dramatically missed even more deadlines and were effectively bankrupted. Very predictable for anyone who had read that other project bible - "The Mythical Man Month".

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Re: Those who want to be managers....

"Best manager I ever had only did a single thing get the rest of the company to leave me the hell alone and speak to her instead."

That's what my current manager does, for the most part.

I'm sure he does more than I can see, but he is fantastic in a crisis. We had a serious problem in the systems I look after, resulting in a good week's work to get everything working again. I had nobody hassling me for that time. He asked me for updates regularly, drafted in help for me, and kept everyone off my back. Basically, he let me do my job and provided me everything I needed to get it done quickly and smoothly. Without that, it would have taken me a good month.

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Joke

The management heirarchy is exactly like a tree full of monkeys. The ones in the middle look down and all they see are smiling faces. They look up and all they see are ar$eholes.

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Anonymous Coward

6 months into my 'Middle Management' career and those who look up to me see a smiling face. Those who look down see a smiling face. When I look in the mirror I see my hair failing out/going grey, no way to meet my targets and my staff who, ultimately, I have minimal control over. Since this is my first real management outing, you take less pay than you should to get the 'experience'. Essentially I am a metaphorical toilet - getting paid to absorb the sh1t/be the fall guy! AC kinda obvious :)

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Childcatcher

Whole animal biology

Good to see the study of animal behaviour is still producing papers... not everything is computational microbiology!

My favourite aspect of middle management was when the priorities shifted because some suit somewhere changed the parameters in their spreadsheet. As if we can switch things round instantly...

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If only someone would invent a "search engine"

> human middle managers have a harder time than their bosses and their underlings.

The researcher would have found dozens of studies, on actual people, that have been done over the past 50 years that all reached the same conclusion. And she wouldn't have had to watch 600 hours of monkey poo - just a couple of minutes in front of what might (in the future, if anyone ever develops it) be called "Google" could have saved her from wasting her life away.

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Re: If only someone would invent a "search engine"

@Pete 2

"The researcher would have found dozens of studies, on actual people, that have been done over the past 50 years that all reached the same conclusion."

What, you have studies comparing the level of stress hormones in poo for human groups? Please share references.

Note the name of the journal the research was published in.

Mild rant: scientists are criticised for not engaging with wider society. So they try to, by pointing out possible links. Then their work is treated as trivial because the link to wider society is perhaps strained (pun intended).

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Re: If only someone would invent a "search engine"

Yes, but then she wouldn't have been paid to spend hours sitting in the park, when the rest of us are stuck in oiffices. Nice work if you can get it, she's obviously not a middle-manager.

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Facepalm

Re: If only someone would invent a "search engine"

Well done, you've more or less summed up exactly why the education system is in such a mess in the 21st Century! "Yeah, I'll just go on the internet and read someone else's work, no point if it's already been done!"

Ever wondered why kids in the upcoming 2nd and 3rd world nations are 10 times smarter than our fat, complacent little offspring?

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Re: If only someone would invent a "search engine"

You're starting from a fallacy. There is currently no known way to accurately compare how "smart" kids from different countries are. The educational systems have vastly different foci. You could be referring to those nice IQ test reports talking about how Asian people are "smarter" until you realize the part of their populations that have actually been tested ( hint: elite ).

That said, I agree with your first statement. Direct observation beats the crap out of reading about it on Wikipedia.

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Re: If only someone would invent a "search engine"

Or, how for example, South Koreans have a distinct culture of keeping their heads down and working hard in a single-minded effort to do the work faster than the next guy. Sure, it ensures that all the top Starcraft players are from Korea, but then, none of the strategies they use come from Korea - top players elsewhere come up with the winning strategies, they just hone them to a fine point.

Creativity is what wins you Nobel prizes. Hard work just wins you more hard work.

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Joke

Its easy to spot a middle manager's poo

As it has come out of an enormous asshole.

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FAIL

Monkey Shit For Brains

This is the worst pseudo-science I have ever seen.

1. Watching “one specific female over the course of a day” tells us nothing that is applicable to other individuals or other days.

2. Watching an individual over an unnaturally long period, is a sure fire method of inducing stress.

3. Monkeys in captivity are known to “perform” for watchers. There is no way of knowing if this is natural behaviour.

4. “Monkeys... were forced into conflicts” this is the worst kind of anthropomorphism. She has no way of knowing what the monkeys are thinking of feeling. Maybe they seek conflict for entertainment, like some drunken lads on a Friday night. Maybe it's playing, not conflict etc.

5. “Edwards suggested the results might prove...” These observations (NOT results) cannot possibly PROVE anything about anything, and to suggest such is absurd.

6. Stress is not caused by exterior factors, but by one's reaction to them. These is simply observed by telling a stressed person to “calm down” or “chill out”, which they are immediately able to do if they choose.

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Re: Monkey Shit For Brains

I mostly agree, except for the last part about stressed people being able to calm down on command. That's simply not true, the whole problem for people with stress problems is that they can't calm down.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Monkey Shit For Brains

"These is simply observed by telling a stressed person to “calm down” or “chill out”, which they are immediately able to do if they choose."

Try telling that to anyone who's had a nervous collapse / breakdown / whatever it's called these days. You obviously belong to the 'Pull your socks up and get on with it' / 'Snap out of it' brigade. Such empathy is awe-inspiring.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Monkey Shit For Brains

Stress is not caused by exterior factors, but by one's reaction to them. These is simply observed by telling a stressed person to “calm down” or “chill out”, which they are immediately able to do if they choose.

<rubs hands> Alrighty then, *you* have been selected for our next crisis management test. Trust me, after that exercise you will never utter those words again other than as an exceptionally bad joke. You really have never been *near* stress if you can make such a statement, so glad to help. You can plan ahead by preparing a nice soft and dark spot to curl up in afterwards. You'll need it.

Stress is a natural reaction to circumstances perceived as dangerous (for clarity, that IS external). The problem is, the whole adrenaline system was designed for immediate consumption through flight or fight, and in an office setting either is not going to happen. Thus you ending up repeatedly with the equivalent of unspent rocket fuel in your bloodstream which eventually starts to do very ugly things to your body as well as your head.

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Boffin

Re: Monkey Shit For Brains

1. Watching “one specific female over the course of a day” tells us nothing that is applicable to other individuals or other days.

It might, it might not. Depends how much variation you are expecting. Observing one teacher three times over two days might not tell you much about a whole department but try telling that to OFSTED (been there, got the video).

At the risk of repetition, look at the title of the journal. The main issue was to measure the presence of stress hormones in poo by 'levels' in the pecking order. The ethnology angle may have been there to 'calibrate' the pecking orders and get anecdotal evidence I guess.

Try Of Moths and Men by Judith Hooper for the true background to something you will find in every school Biology textbook. The Lickey Hills in Birmingham (up the road from where I am posting this) figure prominently.

For a different take, try The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. Whole animal biology at its most time consuming.

Whole animal biology is hard. But needed.

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Facepalm

"Maybe they seek conflict for entertainment"

Frack I DETEST people who are so retarded that they believe they can competently criticize research because they once read an article in "Jesus News" about this and now think they know everything about it.

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes.

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Monkey poo probe reveals secrets of middle-management brains

There is so much you can read into that catchline...

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Subtitle

<a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0351283/">Madagascar</a> reference?

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Pint

"her examination ... will encourage them to breed"

"...Edwards is now studying horny rhinos at Chester Zoo. She hopes her examination of sexy hormones in the animals will encourage them to breed."

That depends on how she examines their hormones, doesn't it? I mean, maybe she's doing her fieldwork whilst wearing that sexy off-grey number that accentuates her horn and shows off her well-muscled...

Wait, did I misunderstand that sentence?

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Pint

From my detailed experimental work carried out on a brief visit to London Zoo, I can confirm that poop-flinging monkeys are not fond of having it flung back at them. I think this applies equally to middle managers.

Keep the Nobel Prize. A beer will suffice.

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Anonymous Coward

poop-flinging monkeys are not fond of having it flung back at them. I think this applies equally to middle managers

I fear the scientific research process requires evidence. With pictures. Youtube videos optional, though.

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Analyzing monkey poo and extrapolating that to saying middle managers are more stressed than their counterparts is a bit daft. The ability exits to perform direct observation and even testing on real live humans. I bet they could get volunteers from an insurance company,who might even fund it.

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Daddy, why does the lady in the white coat watch you poo all of the time?

It seems to me that Dr. Shultz needs to methodically study the faeces of middle managers and compare it with the control samples from underlings and upper management, as well as middle management waste during hours of relaxation. Only then can she claim that her findings are valid.

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