with Ed Reid, owner of The Alternative Board

WE’VE all been on holiday and experienced it. For me, it comes around lunchtime on the third day when you feel the muscles in your back relax. Stress? What stress? But holidays end. You go back to work and, before you know it, the muscles in your back are as knotted as ever.

So let me consider two closely connected species: the baboon, and the British civil servant.

Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University is a primatologist who studies the social structure and stress levels of baboons.

Sir Michael Marmot is professor of public health at University College London, who has conducted a 40-year study into the British civil servant.

Both studies come to the same conclusion: the higher up the social order you are, the less stress you suffer. Lower-ranking baboons had higher heart rates and higher blood pressure than their leaders: their arteries contained more plaque, significantly increasing their risk of a heart attack.

Marmot’s findings mirrored those of Sapolsky. Men in lower employment grades were more likely to die prematurely: there was a ‘social gradient’ for mortality.

Why? Surely those at top of the tree – literally and figuratively – have bigger decisions to make?

Apparently not: Sapolsky identified five factors responsible for the more stress/lower down the pecking order correlation:

You feel like you have no control

You’re not getting any predictive information – how bad is this going to be? How long will it last, and so on

You feel trapped

You interpret things as getting worse

And you’ve no support system or ‘shoulder to cry on’.

Every single one of us has known that feeling of not being in control of our business, of feeling trapped, of not knowing how things will turn out – and of not having anyone who truly understands the problem.

I’ve written down all six factors that cause me stress. By the end of this year I’ll have the list down to three, and I challenge you to do the same.

By all means share your list with your fellow board members. It will be mirrored around the table - and the solutions will be there too, in the knowledge, insight and experience of your fellow baboons.