Preening bosses mimic behaviour of monkeys

Do you know a boss who struts around the office, preening himself and puffing out his chest, showing off a splash of colour – perhaps a red tie? According to a study of male managers, he is behaving like much of the animal kingdom, particularly monkeys and chimpanzees.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales interviewed hundreds of managers and employees, and concluded that in every work environment, bosses – like dominant animals – mark out their territory, assert their authority and display their power. In the same way that monkeys flaunt brightly coloured body parts, or peacocks their plumage, male managers often team a dark suit (denoting gravitas) with a pink shirt or vividly hued tie. In the wild, the aim is to attract a mate. In the office, according to Professor Jeffrey Braithwaite who led the study, it is to assert one's place in the hierarchy.

Professor Braithwaite said yesterday: "From an evolutionary point of view, about 200 species are known to strut and puff out their chests. Homo sapiens evolved over two million years to be tribal and hierarchical, and it's really not much different from other species at the evolutionary, biological level. Perhaps it's imprinted on our genes."

The study, published in Australia's Journal of Health Organisation and Management, says that male bosses in most workplaces, from the advertising and construction industries to the health service, display similar attributes.

To demonstrate their status, they have bigger chairs than everyone else, speak more loudly and interrupt more frequently. They lace their conversation with management jargon and acronyms, in order to confound people. They spend most of the day in meetings, jealously guard their personal space (office with view), and show off their superior gadgetry, including cars and mobile phones.

"What we found was universal animalistic displays of power, masculinity, sexuality and authority that seem to be hard-wired in," said Professor Braithwaite. "This tribal culture is similar to what we would have seen in hunter-gatherer bands on the savannah in southern Africa."

He told The Sydney Morning Herald: "Groups were territorial in the past because it helped them survive. If you weren't in a tight band, you didn't get to pass on your genes. But it is surprising how many ... workers are still very tribal in their behaviour.

"It explains all sorts of undesirable behaviours, including bullying."

The Alpha males of numerous species, particularly chimpanzees, capuchin monkeys and Japanese macaques, assert themselves in similar ways to senior male managers. The study also compares such men with "lekking birds", which congregate during the mating season to defend their turf and put on ostentatious displays to attract females.

The study focused solely on men but Professor Braithwaite said some female managers become "Alpha females" to compete with men, while others adopt "a more team-oriented style".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own