Make Friends with Colleagues to Improve your Health

Most of us are aware of the health benefits of a good diet and regular exercise. The results of a new study show that our social relationships at work also affect our wellness. In a new meta-analysis covering 58 studies and more than 19,000 people in 15 different countries co-authored by CEIBS Assistant Professor of Management Sebastian C. Schuh, the researchers found that how strongly we identify with the people or organization where we work is associated with better health and lower stress.

While many people assume that finding the right job that fits your personality and skills is the key to a healthy work life, this meta-analysis shows that health at work is determined largely by our social relationships in the workplace, and in particular the social groups we form there. This is the first large-scale analysis that shows how organizational identification is related to better health.

The results showed that neither the type of job nor the country or culture where studies were conducted was a significant factor. However the researchers did identify other aspects that influenced the relationship between better health and our workplace relationships. For example, the results showed that the health benefits are strongest when there are similar levels of identification within a group – which is to say that if you identify strongly with your organization, you will get more health benefits if your colleagues share your enthusiasm.

One surprising finding in the study is that the more women there were in a sample, the weaker the relationship between identification and health. The researchers guess this may be related to the fact that many workplaces still have a somewhat ‘masculine’ culture. Therefore though women may identify with their team or organization, they may feel more like outliers within the group.

The results of the study appear in a paper titled “A Meta-Analytic Review of Social Identification and Health in Organizational Contexts” which has been published by the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review. Professor Schuh’s co-authors are Niklas K. Steffens, S. Alexander Haslam, and Jolanda Jetten of the University of Queensland in Australia and Rolf van Dick of Goethe University in Germany and the Work Research Institute (AFI), in Norway. Read the paper here.

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