Sharon Toker of the Department of Organizational Behavior at TAU’s Leon
Recanati Graduate School of Business Administration says that employees
who believe that they have the personal support of their peers at work
are more likely to live a longer life.
spend most of our waking hours at work, and we don’t have much time to
meet our friends during the weekdays,” explains Toker. “Work should be a
place where people can get necessary emotional support.”
and her TAU colleagues Prof. Arie Shirom and Yasmin Alkaly, along with
Orit Jacobson and Ran Balicer from Clalit Healthcare Services, followed
the health records of 820 adults who worked an average of 8.8 hours a
day through a two-decade period. Those who had reported having low
social support at work were 2.4 times more likely to die sometime within
those 20 years, says Toker.
The study has been published in the journal Health Psychology.
study participants were drawn from adults aged 25 to 65 who came into
their local HMO office for a routine check-up. Researchers controlled
for various psychological, behavioral or physiological risk factors,
such as smoking, obesity and depression, and administered a
questionnaire to participants, who were drawn from a wide variety of
professional fields including finance, health care and manufacturing.
asked about employees’ relationships with their supervisors, and also
assessed the subjects’ evaluation of their peer relationships at work,
and whether their peers were friendly and approachable, a reflection of
emotional and professional support. Toker suspects that the perception
of emotional support was the strongest indicator of future health.
the course of the study, says Toker, 53 participants died, most of whom
had negligible social connections with their co-workers. A lack of
emotional support at work led to a 140% increased risk of dying in the
next twenty years compared to those who reported supportive co-workers,
building a supportive environment for employees may seem intuitive,
Toker says that many workplaces have lost their way. Despite open
concept offices, many people use email rather than face-to-face
communication, and social networking sites that may provide significant
social connection are often blocked.
to make an office friendlier to your health? Toker suggests coffee
corners where people can congregate to sit and talk; informal social
outings for staff members; an internal virtual social network similar to
Facebook; or a peer-assistance program where employees can
confidentially discuss stresses and personal problems that may affect
their position at work—anything that encourages employees to feel
emotionally supported, she says.
Power burdens women, frees men
study also addressed “control issues” in the workplace, Toker says.
Study participants were asked if they were able to take initiative at
work and if they had the freedom to make their own decisions on how
tasks should be accomplished. Results indicate that while men flourished
when afforded more control over their daily work tasks, women with the
same control had a shorter lifespan. Those women who reported that they
had significant control over their tasks and workflow had a 70 percent
increased risk of dying over the 20-year period.
one sense, explains Toker, power at work is a good thing. “But there is
a lot of responsibility on your shoulders,” she adds. “If you have to
make important decisions with no guidance, it can be stressful.” Women
in high power positions, she adds, may be overwhelmed with the need to
be tough at work, and still be expected to maintain stressful duties
when at home.