Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Are your colleagues good for your health?


We spend a lot of time at the office. This means that we usually spend more time with our colleagues than with our friends. But have you ever thought about what impact your colleagues have on your health and well-being?

Arie Shirom and his colleagues from Tel Aviv University and Clalit Health Services were interested in exactly this question. Two decades ago, they assessed 820 employees’ health and twenty years later their mortality. They found that among those who reported high levels of support from their colleagues, the risk of mortality was significantly lower than for those who experienced low levels of support from their peers. Therefore, support from our colleagues seems to have a great impact on our longevity.

They also found the level of perceived control to influence mortality: While low levels of perceived control increased the mortality among men, the reverse was the case among women. This might seem surprising because researchers thought that low perceived control would always cause stress and therefore be detrimental for one’s health. The authors of this study here assume the reason for their finding to be the fact that many of the women in their study were also mothers and that being in control meant making a lot of stressful decisions for them.

The original study was published in the journal Health Psychology.

Jonah Lehrer discusses the article on his blog against the backdrop of the Whitehall study in which social determinants of health among British civil servants were investigated.

Thus, employers should try to give their employees as much control over their daily work as possible. And probably women could profit from high levels of control in combination with support concerning family life. However, further research is needed here. In any case, friendly and helpful colleagues seem to be good for our health and longevity. If we expect our colleagues to help us, we should do the same for them. That’s for everyone’s benefit.

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