How friendly are you with your co-workers?
Although close relationships at work are often frowned on by bosses, it turns out that employees who are friendly with each other are better able to cope with office stress.
Researchers have long known that work stress can take a heavy toll on health. Studies have shown that stress at work increases the risk for depression, heart attack and other health worries. But now a new report shows that the solution to work stress may be found in the cubicle next door. Employees who feel social support at work are far less likely to suffer serious depression problems, according to a study
published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center studied data collected from more than 24,000 Canadian workers in 2002. They found that 5 percent of the workers suffered from serious bouts of depression. Notably, men who endured high job strain were two times more likely to succumb to depression than men with minimal job stress. Women who had little decision-making authority had twice the depression risk compared to women with more power.
While those findings were consistent with earlier research on job stress, the Rochester scientists detected a surprising trend. People who said they felt generally supported by their colleagues and could lean on co-workers in a time of crisis were spared the rigors of job stress. In the study, men and women who felt little social support at work were two to three times more likely to suffer major bouts of depression.
“It’s more than just friendship,’’ said Emma Robertson Blackmore, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester and the lead author on the study. “Your family and friends give you support, but because they’re not in your work environment they don’t have the level of understanding that your work colleagues do.’’ Work friends, she noted, “get where you’re coming from.’’
The findings are especially important to employers and managers who sometimes view fraternizing by colleagues as a distraction that interferes with productivity. But Dr. Robertson Blackmore notes that because work friendships lower job stress and risk for major depression, employees who get along and support each other are likely to be more productive. Depression at work reduces employee productivity, increases disability and absences and may lead to premature retirement, the journal report notes.
The data should also encourage workers who are reticent about getting close to colleagues to try to foster work friendships. “To a large degree, co-workers share the same kind of stresses,’’ noted Dr. Robertson Blackmore. “Having someone who has that level of understanding is quite protective.’’