(p. C12) . . . Israeli scientists found that the factor most closely linked to health was the support of co-workers: Less-kind colleagues were associated with a higher risk of dying. While this correlation might not be surprising, the magnitude of the effect is unsettling. According to the data, middle-age workers with little or no “peer social support” in the workplace were 2.4 times more likely to die during the study.
But that wasn’t the only noteworthy finding. The researchers also complicated longstanding ideas about the relationship between the amount of control experienced by employees and their long-term health. Numerous studies have found that the worst kind of workplace stress occurs when people have little say over their day. These employees can’t choose their own projects or even decide which tasks to focus on first. Instead, they must always follow the orders of someone else. They feel like tiny cogs in a vast corporate machine.
Sure enough, this new study found that a lack of control at the office was deadly–but only for men. While male workers consistently fared better when they had some autonomy, female workers actually fared worse. Their risk of mortality was increased when they were put in positions with more control.
While it remains unclear what’s driving this unexpected effect, one possibility is that motherhood transforms control at the office–normally, a stress reducer–into a cause of anxiety. After all, having a modicum of control means that women must constantly navigate the tensions between work and family. Should they stay late at their job? Or go home and help take care of the kids? This choice is so stressful that it appears to increase the risk of death.
For the full summary, see:
JONAH LEHRER. “HEAD CASE; Your Co-Workers Might Be Killing You; Hours don’t affect health much–but unsupportive colleagues do.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., August 20, 2011): C12.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
The paper referred to in the quote from Lehrer’s summary is:
Shirom, Arie, Sharon Toker, Yasmin Alkaly, Orit Jacobson, and Ran Balicer. “Work-Based Predictors of Mortality: A 20-Year Follow-up of Healthy Employees.” Health Psychology 30, no. 3 (May 2011): 268-75.