Do You Like Your Co-Workers? They May Help You Live Longer.

Last Updated May 17, 2011 2:10 PM EDT

Do you like your co-workers? They may actually help you live longer, according to a study published in the May issue of Health Psychology.

The study, conducted by a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University and Israel's Clalit Health Services followed 820 healthy employees who had public health examinations in 1988. In 2008, the researchers were able to get follow-up information on each participant. They were trying to see if social support at work or a feeling of control over one's work (or lack thereof) had any effect on how long workers lived. Here's what they found:

  • Happy co-workers equals good health. Workers who said they had high levels of social support from their colleagues were less likely to die over the 20 year span covered by the study. As the authors write:
[P]eer social support, which could represent how well a participant is socially integrated in his or her employment context, is a potent predictor of the risk of all causes of mortality.

Peer social support was considered 'high' if employees said their co-workers were friendly and helped them solve problems.

  • Your boss matters less than you might think. People who reported high levels of support from their bosses didn't seem to live any longer than those who said they had a lousy relationship with their boss.
  • Age 38 to 43 are key. Work relationships had the greatest effect on the health of those who were between the ages of 38 and 43 when the study started. There was no relationship between social interaction at work and good health for those who were younger than 38 or older than 43.
  • Feeling in control of one's work helped men's health. The researchers said control of one's work was high if an employee said they were able to use their initiative, had opportunities to figure out how to best use their skills, and had leeway to decide how best to get their jobs done.
  • A greater sense of control over their work was associated with higher death rates among women. The researchers aren't sure why this should be the case, but the lead researcher, Arie Shirom, noted that most of the participants had blue-collar jobs, and that in such jobs, it's relatively rare for a woman to be in a position of control. Instead, most of those jobs are held by men. In that environment, it may be more stressful for a women to hold a position of authority than it would be for a man.
Using the information from the health records, the researchers were able to rule out common factors associated with poor health such as cholesterol, glucose levels, blood pressure, body mass index, alcohol consumption, depression and anxiety.

On average, the study participants said they worked 8.8 hours a day. One-third of the participants were women, and 80 percent were married with children.

How important are your co-workers to your sense of well-being? Is that impact positive or negative, and do you think it differs for men and women?

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Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and consultant. Follow her on twitter at www.twitter.com/weisul.
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    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.