Feeling isolated in your cubicle? For your health’s sake, you may want to hit the break room right away. According to recent research, building support networks and friendships in the workplace may help you live longer.
In the study conducted by researchers in Tel Aviv, participants who reported they had little or no emotional support in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die over the 20-year study than those who reported stronger bonds with co-workers.
Back in 1988, the researchers recruited 820 adults from a variety of work fields who underwent full health check-ups; people with mental or physical health issues were excluded at the beginning of the study. The remaining participants answered detailed questions about their jobs and interactions with peer-workers and supervisors. By 2008, when the study ended, 58 of the participants had died. Many of those people who died reported less support in the office. Surprisingly, the participants’ relationships with peers was a strong indicator of death, while relationships with supervisors and bosses had no impact on mortality.
Another surprising factor– the perceived level of control in the workplace — affected mortality, but it differed significantly for men and women. Men who reported they had more control over their work tasks had a lower risk of dying during the study. Women, on the other hand, who reported more control had a higher risk of dying during the 20-year period — in fact, a 70 percent increase in risk. One of the author’s study Sharon Toker, professor in the organizational behavior department in Tel Aviv University, suggested that this could have something to do with changing gender roles in the work environment. Women who have more control in the work place generally hold higher-up positions and may face more “masculine social environments.” They also may be more likely to face the pressure of playing dual roles, such as mother and executive worker, Toker explained to a New York Times reporter.
The research is admittedly a correlation, not causation, as it would be difficult to isolate certain factors in the study as the cause of death. However, the correlation alone suggests it may be valuable to invest in social ties at work, and perhaps in addition, monitor stress levels.
According to the New York Times, Dr. Toker suggested that companies should strive to foster more “socially supportive workplaces by encouraging face-to-face exchanges.”