THURSDAY, Aug. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Good relationships with
your co-workers and a convivial, supportive work environment may
add years to your life, new Israeli research finds.
Published recently in
Health Psychology, the study tracked 820 adults with an average age of 41 who worked 8.8 hour days for about 20 years; a third of them were women. Employees who reported low social support at work were 2.4 times more likely to die during those two decades, compared with their colleagues who said they had a good social support system in the workplace.
During the study period, 53 people died, most of whom had
negligible social connections with their co-workers. Lack of
emotional support at work, in fact, was associated with an 140
percent increased risk of dying in the next 20 years, the
"We spend most of our waking hours at work, and we don't have much time to meet our friends during the weekdays," co-author Dr. Sharon Toker of the department of organizational behavior at Tel Aviv University in Israel, explained in a statement. "Work should be a place where people can get necessary emotional support."
Dr. Toker and her colleagues surveyed the study volunteers about
their relationships with their supervisors and peers.
They found that peer or informal social support at work was a
more potent predictor of health and longevity than relationships
with a supervisor or boss. This effect was significant among
employees aged 38 to 45, but not in those younger or older.
The findings held up even after the researchers controlled for
factors such as age, sex, obesity, smoking, alcohol use, blood
sugar, cholesterol, depression and anxiety.
Study participants were also asked if they took initiative at
work and if they had the freedom to make their own decisions. Men
did better when they were given more control at work, while women
with the same amount of control actually had shorter lifespans.
Specifically, women who reported significant control over their
tasks and workflow were 70 percent more likely to die during the
20-year period, the study showed. Exactly what is behind this
finding is not known, but the study authors suggest that women in
positions of power may be overwhelmed by the need to be tough at
work and still carry out stressful duties at home.
The study authors also noted that the modern workplace often
lacks a supportive environment. Many people telecommute; others
communicate via e-mail even if they are in the same office. Coffee
corners where people can sit and talk, informal social outings for
staff members and/or a virtual social network may encourage
employees to feel more connected, the researchers suggested.
"Being happy at work can be a huge productivity booster, and happy people work better with others, are more creative, have more energy, get sick less often, learn faster and worry less about mistakes," said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a psychiatrist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study. "The old-fashioned coffee break, talking to people face to face or having an employee picnic on the weekend are very good morale boosters," he said.
However, the study can't answer whether the happy, healthy
employee is the chicken or the egg, Manevitz said. Are these
employees happy because they work in a supportive environment, he
asked, or does their positive energy spill over into how they
perceive their work place?
New companies like Google and Zappos are famous for their work
hard, play hard credos, and this really speaks to balance, he said.
"You don't want to play hard without working or work hard without
playing," he said. These companies break down the traditional
workplace hierarchies and create bull-pens where people can
approach one another freely, but this only works in companies where
people are not worried about losing their jobs, he said. Due to the
economy, "job security has gone out the window."
Dr. Elyse Schimel, a psychologist in private practice in New
York City, said that in the current economy, you have to really
weigh your options. "Feeling supported and having a good work
environment isn't as important as keeping a roof over your family's
head and food on the table," she said. "There are buffers that can
help you cope with stress including exercise, sleeping well, eating
well, family support and social support," she said. "If you are in
a hostile work environment, but don't have feasible options to
leave, you want to get balance elsewhere in your life."
Find out more about maintaining a work-life balance at the
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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