5 Oct 2016

Friendly colleagues at job your gateway to better health

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Your colleagues at work - and not your spouse or kids -- decide how healthy you will be as you age, as you are likely to spend an average of one third of your day on the job.

According to the researchers, health at work is determined to a large extent by our social relationships in workplace -- and, more particularly, the social groups we form there.

In a new meta-analysis covering 58 studies and more than 19,000 people across the globe, psychologists found out that how strongly we identify with the people or organisation where we work is associated with better health and lower burnout.
"This study is the first large-scale analysis showing that organisational identification is related to better health," said lead researcher Dr Niklas Steffens from University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

"The results show that both performance and health are enhanced to the extent that workplaces provide people with a sense of 'we' and 'us'," Steffens added.

The team reviewed 58 studies covering people in a variety of occupations, from service and health to sales and military work, in 15 countries.

"Social identification contributes to both psychological and physiological health, but the health benefits are stronger for psychological health," said Steffens.

The positive psychological benefit may stem from the support provided by the work group but also the meaning and purpose that people derive from membership in social groups.

"We are less burnt out and have greater well-being when our team and our organisation provide us with a sense of belonging and community -- when it gives us a sense of 'we-ness'," Steffens pointed out.

The authors also found that the health benefits of identifying with the workplace are strongest when there are similar levels of identification within a group -- that is, when identification is shared.

So if you identify strongly with your organisation, then you get more health benefits if everyone else identifies strongly with the organisation too.

The team was surprised to find that more the women present in a sample, the weaker the identification-health relationship grew.

"This was a finding that we had not predicted and, in the absence of any prior theorising, we can only guess what gives rise to this effect," said Steffens in a paper appeared in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.

One of the reasons may relate to the fact that there are still many workplaces that have somewhat "masculine" cultures.

This mean that even when female employees identify with their team or organisation, they still feel somewhat more marginal within their team or organisation.

The team also recommends exploring the role of leadership: how leaders manage teams and groups has a strong influence on the social identification-health connection.

"Leaders play a key role in shaping a sense of group identity in the workplace," Steffens added.

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