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13 May 2011

Longer life linked to support from colleagues

Having supportive colleagues not only makes the workday easier, it's also tied to a longer life, according to a new study.

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Having supportive colleagues not only makes the workday easier, it's also tied to a longer life, according to a new study.

Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel found that a good relationship with co-workers had an impact on mortality risk and was most pronounced between the ages of 38 and 43.

"Peer 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," the researchers reported in Health Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

The study

Dr Arie Shirom and his team had data on more than 800 workers who had been followed for 20 years, from 1988 to 2008, including their responses to questionnaires that measured job demands, control at work and peer and supervisor support.

Although complaining about the boss is a favourite work topic, the study showed that having a supportive supervisor had no impact on mortality.

"Only one main effect was found: the risk of mortality was significantly lower for those reporting high levels of peer social support," the authors wrote.

The researchers also found a pronounced difference between the sexes in the impact of having control and decision-making authority at work. Such authority increased the risk of mortality for women in the study, but had a protective effect for men.

Why support at work matters

Decision authority was based on workers being able to use their initiative, having input on how to use their skills and the freedom to make decisions to accomplish tasks.

Dr Shirom said most of the people in the study held blue collar jobs, in which men typically had high levels of control and women did not.

One-third of people in the study were women. The average workday was 8.8 hours. Eighty % of subjects were married with children, and nearly half had at least 12 years of education.

The researchers controlled for other risk factors that could impact mortality such as a cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking, drinking and anxiety. (Reuters Health/ May 2011)

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