Friday, February 3, 2012

Work Relationships And Health

"….Ain't it good to know you've got a friend" ~~~ Carlole King

What exactly do relationships at work do for talent? Do close relationships with one's boss and colleagues have any impact on engagement and productivity? Current research suggest strong relationships with one's boss and direct reports are associated with:

  1. Less inflammation measured as C-Reactive Protein1.
  2. Enhanced immunity2.
  3. Less burnout in professional working women–lower depersonalization and higher personal accomplishment3.
  4. Increased depression4.
  5. Enhanced job satisfaction5.
  6. Greater longevity and less illness during our life based on meta-analytics reviews of over 148 studies6.

We have taken a look at some social support research results from our stress and health risk assessment called StressScan by analyzing availability, utility and satisfaction of social support by gender. We tested gender differences by using a statistical test called analysis of variance (ANOVA) and found some interesting differences in gender with a sample of almost 800 professional working men and women.

  1. In general, women reported greater availability and use of their social support network (supervisor/boss, colleagues/co-workers, partner, family and friends) than their male counterparts (all p's < .01).
  2. Women reported using their boss or supervisor significantly more frequently than men which was surprising as research suggests that more successful women indicate that mentoring was less important to their career advancement than did less successful women.
  3. Women reported significantly more availability, use and satisfaction with their friends compared to males. They also reported greater availability and use of their partners, families and friends (all p's < .01) which is consistent to what Shelly Taylor, Ph.D. has suggested as part of the female "tend and befriend" response to coping with work and life stress7.

What else do we know about social relationships, psychological health and physical well-being?

Work Relationships and Job Burnout

A recent study by Claude Fernet at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières explored the relationship between friendships at work and job burnout8.

A total of 533 college employees participated in this study. Data were collected at two time points, two years apart. Their prospective study suggests that high-quality relationships with coworkers are crucial to minimize job burnout (emotional exhaustion, cynicism/depersonalization and negative self-evaluation, and personal accomplishment).  So, having strong relationships at work certainly seems associated with preventing psychological distress and enhancing our level of energy over time.

Work Relationships and Longevity

People who have a good peer support system at work may live longer than people who don't have such a support system, according to new research9.

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. (People who were referred because of suspected physical or mental health problems were excluded from the sample). 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 percent were married with children; and 45 percent 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.

So, it seems pretty convincing that support and friendships are independent risk factors for mental and physical health…..The bigger question, as the Beatles asked, is "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty four?"….Be well…..

  1. Suarez, E. (2004). C Reactive Protein Is Associated With Psychological Risk Factors of Cardiovascular Disease in Apparently Healthy Adults. Psychosomatic Medicine 66:684-690 []
  2. Schwartz, G.E., Schwartz, J.I., Nowack, K.M., & Eichling, P.S. (1992). Changes in perceived stress and social support over time are related to changes in immune function. University of Arizona and Canyon Ranch. Unpublished manuscript []
  3. Nowack, K. and Pentkowski, A. (1994). Lifestyle habits, substance use, and predictors of job burnout in professional working women. Work and Stress, 8, 19-35 []
  4. Stroetzer, U. et al. (2006). Problematic interpersonal relationships at work and depression: A Swedish prospective cohort study. Journal of Occupational Health, 51, 144-151 []
  5. Simon, L., Judge, T., & Halvorsen-Ganepola, M. (2010). In good company? A multi-level investigation of the effects of coworker relationships on well-being. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76, 534-546 []
  6. Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316 []
  7. Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. Behavioral Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight" Psychological Review, 107(3):41-429 []
  8. Fernet, C. et al. (2010). When does quality of relationships with coworkers predict burnout over time? The moderating role of work motivation. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31, 1163–1180 []
  9. Shirom, A. et al., (2011). Work-Based Predictors of Mortality: A 20-Year Follow-Up of Healthy Employees. Health Psychology, 30, No. 3 []
Thanks to Ken Nowack / Results Envisia Learning / Envisia Learning
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