New-breed work sites such as Google and Whole Foods recruit associates with the promise of a “work hard, play hard” culture and a work setting where relationships matter.
That approach may pay off in unexpected ways: a new study finds that employees who believe that they have the personal support of their peers at work are more likely to live a longer life.
A new research study investigates if a work environment that promotes positive relationships can influence long-term health.
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“We spend most of our waking hours at work, and we don’t have much time to meet our friends during the weekdays,” said researcher Sharon Toker, Ph.D. “Work should be a place where people can get necessary emotional support.”
Toker and her colleagues at Tel Aviv University in Israel followed the health records of 820 adults who worked an average of 8.8 hours a day through a two-decade period. Those who had reported having low social support at work were 2.4 times more likely to die sometime within those 20 years, she said.
The study is published in the journal Health Psychology.
Study participants were between the ages of 25 and 65 with inclusion in the study initiated when the individual went to their local HMO for a routine check-up.
As part of the investigation, researchers controlled for various psychological, behavioral or physiological risk factors, such as smoking, obesity and depression. Investigators also administered a questionnaire to participants, who represented a wide variety of professional fields including finance, health care and manufacturing.
Researchers asked study participants about their relationship with their supervisors, and also assessed the subjects’ evaluation of their peer relationships at work.
Researchers were especially attuned to whether an individual viewed their peers as friendly and approachable, a reflection of emotional and professional support.
This component – the perception of emotional support – was the strongest indicator of future health.
During the course of the study, 53 participants died, most of whom had negligible social connections with their co-workers. A lack of emotional support at work led to a 140 percent increased risk of dying in the next 20 years compared to those who reported supportive co-workers, she concluded.
Toker believes that while building a supportive environment for employees may seem intuitive, she believes many workplaces have lost their way. Ironically, technology may have a mixed role in the distancing of employees.
Despite open concept offices, many people use email rather than face-to-face communication, and social networking sites that may provide significant social connection are often blocked.
Toker believes workplaces and the work environment can be designed to improve camaraderie, making the office friendlier to your health.
She suggests coffee corners where people can congregate to sit and talk; informal social outings for staff members; an internal virtual social network similar to Facebook; or a peer-assistance program where employees can confidentially discuss stresses and personal problems that may affect their position at work — anything that encourages employees to feel emotionally supported.
The study also addressed “control issues” in the workplace. Study participants were asked if they were able to take initiative at work and if they had the freedom to make their own decisions on how tasks should be accomplished.
Results indicate that while men flourished when afforded more control over their daily work tasks, women with the same control had a shorter lifespan. Those women who reported that they had significant control over their tasks and workflow had a 70 percent increased risk of dying over the 20-year period.
In one sense, said Toker, power at work is a good thing.
“But there is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders,” she said. “If you have to make important decisions with no guidance, it can be stressful.”
Women in high power positions, she adds, may be overwhelmed with the need to be tough at work, and still be expected to maintain stressful duties when at home.
Source: Tel Aviv University