The research, conducted by Tel Aviv University researchers and published by the American Psychological Association, suggests that having a strong peer support system at work may increase your lifespan. Similar support from supervisors, however, does not have the same result.
Researchers studied 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 screening center in Israel for routine examinations. (Those who were referred because of suspected physical or mental health problems were excluded.) 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.
The effect of peer social support on the risk of mortality was most pronounced among those between the ages of 38 and 43. The researchers rated peer social support as being high if participants reported that their co-workers were helpful in solving problems and that they were friendly.
A Matter of Control
In addition to peer support, the researchers also examined how a worker’s perceived amount of control at work could impact mortality. They found that men who felt they had control and decision authority also experienced the “protective effect” against mortality, while control and decision authority actually increased the risk of mortality among women in the sample.
Control and decision authority were rated high if participants said they were able to use their initiative, had opportunities to decide how best to use their skills and were free to make decisions on how to accomplish the tasks assigned to them and what to do in their jobs.
When considering why workplace control might be positive for men but not women, the lead researcher, Arie Shirom, Ph.D., explained that for employees in blue-collar type of jobs (most study respondents belonged to this category), high levels of control were found in jobs typically held by men, rather than jobs typically held by women.
The study was published in the May issue of the APA journal Health Psychology.