Are Your Co-Workers Good For Your Health?

Last week I wrote about Pret A Manger which rewards employees on behaviors such as niceness and teamwork, not just traditional measures of performance. Pret believes incenting these behaviors improves the health of the organization which leads to more sustainable performance. A 2011 research study from Tel Aviv University backs them up and suggests having nice co-workers even improves employee health.

The researchers closely monitored 800 adults over twenty years, repeatedly interviewing them on a wide range of topics from the conditions in their workplace, the behavior of their bosses, and the niceness of their colleagues. Perhaps not surprisingly, the perceived niceness of co-workers was highly correlated with the risk of death. After all, friendly people help reduce stress and stress is deadly.

However, the strength of this correlation is astonishing. Employees without ‘peer social support’ in the workplace were 2.4X more likely to die during the study. What’s more, the niceness of the boss had almost no impact on mortality. Stanford Professor Bob Sutton had it right when he coined the ‘No Asshole Rule‘.

Given my analytic bent, I was intrigued that one of the strongest factors in the statistical model between peer social support and mortality was the perception of control. We don’t just want friends in the workplace; we want our co-workers to listen to our opinions and believe we matter. Or, as a Wired Science article so eloquently said:

…the only thing worse than an office full of assholes is an office full of assholes telling us what to do.

The morale of the story? Hire friendly people and give them jobs in which they can have impact. Otherwise their health – and your company’s – will suffer.

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6 Responses to Are Your Co-Workers Good For Your Health?

  1. wartica March 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    I totally agree: coworkers that we can relate to, make the day go by so much smoother. If not, it becomes a very toxic environment – unfortunately. Great post and I look forward to sharing more with you:)

  2. Pavol March 12, 2012 at 1:24 am #

    Maybe the people who reported having nice co-workers are more positive about everything in their life – regardless of how their co-workers are in reality. That’s probably what keeps them happy.
    In the end it might be about our attitude rather than whom you end up with!
    Thanks for a nice article.

  3. Susan Scherer March 12, 2012 at 4:29 am #

    In today’s increasingly distributed workplaces, and especially for those who work at home, I wonder how the lack of face-to-face contact impacts health. Is peer social support lessened by the fact that the work relationship is virtual? Intuitively, it seems like the interpersonal bond between colleagues might be lessened by just being voices on the phone.

  4. RAdams March 12, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    Great post. Candidates are typically friendly in interviews. Often, the unfriendly part becomes obvious when the person gets comfortable/is in the job or they are friendly with a certain level in the organization, such as those above them and don’t play well with peers. Being polite and friendly takes up less energy than being difficult and negative. A good attitude goes a long way.

  5. Stephen Sequeira March 14, 2012 at 7:11 am #

    I totally agree, stress is the silent killer. In today’s world one needs to be positive and have some fun while working.

  6. Arun Krishnaswamy April 5, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    High relevant post for the times. Culture plays a key role here. The right culture helps one achieve optimal balance between doing what is right for the firm in one’s individual role (that one is paid for doing) with realizing that doing it right requires the team and shared credit – ‘if the team wins, the individual wins’. Friendly people in the right jobs achieve this balance naturally and even help build such a culture.

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