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Co-worker support can extend lifespan

2011-08-08 09:54

Getting along well, enjoying and connecting with co-workers can increase lifespan, say researchers. One benefit of a friendly workplace includes better health for employees, who were found to live longer from social support in the workplace.

Dr. Sharon Toker of the Department of Organizational Behavior at Tel Aviv University’s Leon Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration explains emotional support from co-workers at work is important for health.

“We spend most of our waking hours at work, and we don't have much time to meet our friends during the weekdays," explains Dr. Toker. "Work should be a place where people can get necessary emotional support."

The finding, published in the journal “Health Psychology”, found employees lacking social support in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the 20 year study period.

The researchers looked at health records of 820 adults, age 25 to 65 to find the link between positive work relationships and longevity.

Even after adjusting for risks of mortality like smoking, obesity and depression, the study found lack of social support at work increased the chances of dying by 140 percent.

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Questionnaires were used to assess level of co-worker friendliness. During the study period, 53 participants died who reported having little emotional support at work.

Dr. Toker says many employers are negligent when it comes to ensuring face to face interactions among employees. E-mail, instant messaging and other technologies can keep co-workers from connecting socially.

To alleviate the problem, Toker suggests employers should do anything that encourages social networking and support in the workplace – informal gatherings, coffee corners to sit and chat, Facebook-like networking or peer assistance programs for employees to discuss work related stress.

Another finding from the study was that women in power positions – that is, those who had control over their own work - had shorter lifespans. For men, being in charge of workflow had no impact on longevity. The risk of a woman dying over the 20 year study was 70 percent higher for women allowed to make their own decisions about how to handle work tasks.

Being independent at work can be a good thing, Toker says, “But there is a lot of responsibility on your shoulders. If you have to make important decisions with no guidance, it can be stressful." Trying to find balance between stress and work and stress at home may be harder for women, she adds.

Health Psychology: doi: 10.1037/a0023138
“Work-based predictors of mortality: A 20-year follow-up of healthy employees”
Arie Shirom, et al.; May, 2011

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