Why Work Relationships Affect Our Mental And Physical Health

Author

Alice G. Walton

October 14, 2016

If you feel closely connected to your work cronies, you’re likely the healthier for it—and this applies to both physical and mental health. A meta-analysis in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review reports that people who feel more camaraderie with their colleagues, and more connection to the company itself, have better health and happiness and are less likely to burn out. Given all the past work on how important our social relationships are for all aspects of health, the results aren’t too surprising, but it’s nice to have this kind of confirmation from such a large study.

The new analysis looked at 58 past studies that included 19,000 people in 15 countries. The participants worked in all different fields–health, sales, the military. The participants had answered questions about their work life, and their feelings about their colleagues and companies, and various aspects of their mental and physical health.

People who identified more strongly with their colleagues at work and with their organizations had greater psychological well-being, and also better physical health.

“We are less burnt out and have greater well-being when our team and our organization provide us with a sense of belonging and community—when it gives us a sense of ‘we-ness,’” said study author Niklas Steffens in a news release.

And this “we-ness” is important. This comes from social identity theory, which, as the authors write, “starts from the assertion that people are able to think, feel and act not just as individuals (i.e., in terms of a personal identity as ‘I’) but also as group members (in terms of a social identity as ‘we’).” The theory also suggests that when we see ourselves as part of a group, we’re more likely to see the world from the perspective/s of our fellow group members, and more open to be influenced by them, and to trust and to work together with them.

Feeling this we-ness, or being part of an ingroup, is linked to health and well-being in a bunch of ways. The authors suggest that it increases a person’s sense of belonging, meaning and purpose, and one’s feeling of control and agency, among other things. These factors intuitively go hand-in-hand with health, but they’ve all been linked to health in previous studies.

“This study is interesting because our sense of being productive and competent at work motivates us,” says Susan Roff-Wexler, a psychologist and founder of CompassPoint Consulting. “When this is positive, and the identification with the organization is positive, it’s not much of a leap to suggest that it is good for our health and well-being.”

Certainly, the impact of negative interactions at work, workplace bullying and bad bosses have been illustrated in studies as well. Since we spend a good chunk of our lives at work, or thinking about work, it’s not surprising that our relationships there would be strongly linked to our health.

What about people who don’t have such great relationships at work, or who primarily work alone—are we doomed to lesser health and poorer well-being?

“For freelancers or people without social connections at work, it is in their best interest in terms of mental well-being to connect in other ways,” says Roff-Wexler, “such as Meetup groups with people who share similar personal or work interests, or at least online communities where there can be a sense of contributing and belonging. Social isolation is not good for our health!”

Long-term studies have certainly found that social connectivity in general—beyond work—is linked to health, and it’s more connected to it than any other factor. And on the flipside, loneliness can apparently lead to an earlier demise. So foster your work connections, and try to make peace with those with whom you don’t get along. And if you don’t connect with your coworkers or your company, try to find connectivity elsewhere—every bit we get can probably help.

 

This article was written by Alice G. Walton from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

Comment this article

Great ! Thanks for your subscription !

You will soon receive the first Content Loop Newsletter