Today’s Poll

Longer life from good work relationships

By Contributor
May 16th, 2011

By Andy Soos, ENN

People who have a good peer support system at work may live longer than people who don’t have such a support system, according research published by the American Psychological Association.

This effect of peer social support on the risk of mortality was most pronounced among those between the ages of 38 and 43. Yet similar support from workers’ supervisors had no effect on mortality, the researchers found.

In addition, men who felt like they had control and decision authority at work also experienced this protective effect, according to the study, published in the May issue of the APA journal Health Psychology. However, control and decision authority increased the risk of mortality among women in the sample.

According to a 2010 study from the University of Rochester Medical Center, sitting behind a desk all day, relying on vending machines and cafeteria food for meals, and the anticipation of heading home at 5 p.m. to ‘veg’ out appears to be a shared experience by American workers.

The study is just one of many studies that have associated job stress with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, depression, exhaustion, anxiety and weight gain.

The study suggests that workplace wellness programs should be implemented in order to provide ideas on how to be healthy, examine the organizational structure of the workplace and provide ways to minimize a stressful environment for everyone.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests that a stress prevention program should include the following:

  • Building general awareness about job stress (causes, costs, and control)
  • Securing top management commitment and support for the program
  • Incorporating employee input and involvement in all phases of the program
  • Establishing the technical capacity to conduct the program (e.g., specialized training for in-house staff or use of job stress consultants)

One item that was left out was peer support.

“[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.”

An additional (unexpected) finding “is that the effect of control on mortality risk was positive for the men but negative for the women,” noted the researchers.

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.

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.

The workers came from some of Israel’s largest firms in finance, insurance, public utilities, health care and manufacturing. They reported working on average 8.8 hours a day. One-third of them were women; 80 per cent were married with children; and 45 per cent had at least 12 years of formal education.

The researchers controlled for the physiological, behavioral and psychological risk factors of total cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose levels, blood pressure, body mass index, alcohol consumption, smoking, depressive symptoms, anxiety and past hospitalizations.

They obtained the data on the control variables from each person’s periodic health examinations, including tests of physiological risk factors and a questionnaire completed during the examinations by all participants.

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, PhD, 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.

If you don’t truly like what you do, you need a change, or your happiness and even your health can be affected.

Whether you alter things about your current position so that you enjoy your days at work more, or you switch fields entirely, it’s important that you’re spending your days doing something where you feel challenged (but not overwhelmed,) appreciated (but not desperately needed to the point that you can’t take a day off), and where your strengths are being utilized, among other things.

And having people who are your friends as work peers helps immensely.


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