Emerging research suggests a strong peer network in the workplace helps individuals live longer – and that it helps if you are a guy who feels like you’re in charge of your job.
Benefits of peer social support on the risk of mortality were most pronounced among those between the ages of 38 and 43. Having a supportive supervisor did not seem to have much effect on this age group.
Men who felt like they had control and decision authority at work also experienced this “protective effect,” according to the study. But conversely, the same authority seemed to increase the risk of mortality among women.
The study is published in the May issue of the American Psychological Association journal Health Psychology.
The researchers, at Tel Aviv University, looked at the medical records of 820 adults who were followed for 20 years, from 1988 to 2008.
The workers were drawn from people who had been referred to an HMO’s screening center in Israel for routine examinations. Workers came from some of Israel’s largest firms in finance, insurance, public utilities, health care and manufacturing
“[P]eer social support, which could represent how well a participant is socially integrated in his or her employment context, is a potent predictor of the risk of all causes of mortality,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers rated peer social support as being high if participants reported that their co-workers were helpful in solving problems and that they were friendly.
Control and decision authority were rated high if participants said they were able to use their initiative and had opportunities to decide how best to use their skills, and were free to make decisions on how to accomplish the tasks assigned to them and what to do in their jobs.
In addition, participants were administered another questionnaire that measured job demands, control at work and peer and supervisor support. During the 20-year follow-up period, 53 participants died.
Asked why workplace control was positive for men but not women, the lead researcher, Arie Shirom, Ph.D., said that for employees in blue-collar type of jobs (and most respondents belonged to this category), high levels of control were found in jobs typically held by men, rather than jobs typically held by women.
“Providing partial support to our finding, a past study found that for women in blue-collar jobs, having low levels of control does not increase their risk of becoming ill with stress-related disorders,” Shirom said.
One limitation of the study was that the researchers did not have data on changes in workload, control or support during the 20-year period.
“Still, we argue that other researchers have consistently found that the job characteristics of workload, control and support tend to be stable across time,” Shirom said.