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Is Your Workplace Killing You?

Are we not all guilty of saying “my job is killing me” at some point of our careers?  Well, according to a new study, your complaining may hold some scientific truth!

 

A 20 year study, conducted by researchers at Tel Aviv University, examined the relationship between the workplace and a person’s risk of death.  Researchers recruited 820 adults who had undergone a routine physical exam in 1988, and then interviewed them in detail about their workplace conditions, how nice colleagues were, how supportive their boss was and how much autonomy they had in their position.

 

The participants ranged in age from 25 to 65 at the beginning of the study and worked in a variety of fields, including finance, health care, manufacturing and insurance.  Researchers tracked the participants through their medical records and by the study’s conclusion in 2008, 53 people had died – and they were significantly more likely than those who survived to report having a hostile work environment.

 

Participants who reported having little or no social support from their co-workers were 2.4 times more likely to die during the course of the study than those who said they had close, supportive bonds with their workmates. Interestingly, the risk of death was tied only to people’s perceptions of their co-workers, not their bosses. People who reported negative relationships with their supervisors were no more likely to die than others.

 

Since the study was observational, it could not determine whether toxic workplace environments caused death, only that it was correlated with the risk.  However, the findings add to the evidence that having a supportive social network decreases stress and helps foster good health.  On the other hand, being exposed to chronic stress contributes to depression, ill health and death.

 

An interesting factor that mitigated the association between unfriendly co-workers and death was people’s perception of control over their jobs.  Men who said they had more autonomy at work had a lower risk of dying during the study period than the men with less freedom.

 

The opposite was true for women.  Women who reported having power at work had a 70% increased risk of death, compared with those with a perceived lack of control.  That may be because higher powered women had more life responsibilities than men as many were working mothers.  The added level of control and responsibility at work may have strained their work-life balance and compounded their overall stress.

 

New research presented this month at the American Psychology Association found that 86% of the 289 workers at three Midwestern firms surveyed reported incivility at their job, including rudeness, bad manners and insults.  Economic conditions like layoffs, longer hours and less pay may be to blame.

 

So… what do we do?  Every workplace has hierarchies and antagonistic personalities.  Knowing that your co-workers may have a powerful impact on your overall health and life span, it might be a good idea to foster at least a few good relationships on the job.