Cheat Death and Live Forever. Well, Kind Of

August 26, 2011

Get that doughnut, son!

How Company Culture Affects Your Health

Keep Your Friends Close, And Your Friendly Coworkers Closer

According to The Wall Street Journal, Wired and Time, our coworkers are killing us. That’s the gist, at least, of stories they ran earlier this month. Their casualty claims come from a recently released workplace study that examined the correlation between a person’s workplace and risk of death. The 20-year project, led by researchers at Tel Aviv University, found that those that died were significantly more likely than those who survived to report having a hostile work environment.


Coworkers Killed the Corporate Business Star

Tel Aviv University researchers tracked 820 adults for 20 years, closely monitoring their health and interviewing them regularly about workplace conditions. Participants ranged in age from 25-65 years at the start of the study and worked in fields from finance to manufacturing to health care. They regularly reported on their office climates, from the behavior of their boss to the niceness of their colleagues. Consistent health check-ups controlled for those pesky little conditions—like high blood pressure, smoking and depression—that might get in the way of sound statistics.

The verdict?

There were 53 fewer pulses when the study concluded in 2008 than when it started. And, more often than not, those flat-lines reported working in unfriendly offices. According to the study, the risk of death seemed to be correlated with the perceived niceness of coworkers, as less friendly colleagues were associated with a higher risk of dying.

Not terribly surprising. Most everyone with friends knows that friendly people help reduce stress. Stress=deadly; friendly people=less stress; less stress=lower probability of meeting Mr. Reaper. The magnitude of this “friendly colleague effect,” however, is the surprising stat.

And your boss? Well, he doesn’t matter. Findings show the niceness of someone’s boss had little impact on mortality.

Coworker vs. Boss vs. Jelly Donut

Before you start taking out hits on your coworkers, a rebuttal article from TLNT’s John Hollon suggests bad bosses and breakfast choices are more to blame for increased death risk: Yes, workplaces can be tough on your health, but unless you have management that’s passive…it’s more probable it’s the doughnuts [coworkers] bring in for everyone on Friday that’s likely to do it.

In the stream of article comments on Time’s website, Hollon notes that people keep coming back to terribly poor and incompetent management as the source for their workplace stress. He argues that managers that allow coworkers to act badly toward each other are the root of the problem; the absence of good management practices and supervision lets bad workplace behavior flourish.

He also points out that the No. 1 driver of strong employee engagement is the employee’s relationship with his/her supervisor. It’s logical, then, to assume that coworkers who have a good relationship with their boss are generally friendly, agreeable and happy at work. And vice versa.

So, enjoy that donut (and the heart attack, diabetes and obesity that’s likely to come with it), and put a hold on hiring that hit man. Do you just need to look up the corporate ladder to see what’s coming down?

How to Cheat Death and Live Forever: Great Culture

Sort of. Coworkers, management and even Krispy Kreme Fridays all funnel into a company’s culture. And it’s a company’s culture, therefore, that has the biggest impact on how happy and healthy its employees are.

To Tel Aviv’s credit, coworker relations have a big effect on culture; and to TLNT’s credit, employer-manager relations are also a significant factor for company climate. A company can’t expect to have a great culture (or profits) if its employees are miserable with each other and management.

Workplace engagement in general then can be the culprit behind an oppressive office environment (and early death) or conduit to a thriving, inspiring culture. Stronger workforce engagement is also linked to better performance, service and business success.

Highly engaged employees outperform disengaged colleagues by 20-28 percent, according to a 2006 Conference Board study. In Brandon Hall Group’s “Engaging and Inspiring a Workforce” white paper, analysts report better customer service increases purchase averages, repeat business frequency, and customer recommendation volume. Furthermore, our 2011 “HR Technology in the Service Industry” study found that businesses that incorporate electronic methods into engagement programs reduce their overall turnover by 17 percent.

The Lesson of a (Shorter or Longer) Lifetime

So great company culture is the secret elixir to everlasting life and overflowing profits?

Wrong. But it’s certainly a key ingredient. Start pouring it with a heavy hand into your HR mix today.

Happy culturing,

The PeopleMatter Institute