Are Your Coworkers Costing You Your Health?

Your cubicle mates could be stealing years from your life

Coworkers -- they’re often the best and the worst thing about your job. They yap loudly behind your cubicle wall, pester you with inane questions when you’re on deadline, and are largely responsible for the office politics, gossip and drama that you deal with on a daily basis. On the other hand, they keep you sane when you’re up to your eyeballs in work, are good for a laugh when you most need one and are there for you to vent about your boss acting like an idiot (again).

How you feel about your coworkers isn’t just a sign of how much you like your job -- it may also determine how long you’ll live. New research shows that getting along with your coworkers may prolong your life. According to a study in the journal Health Psychology, working alongside people you consider friendly and helpful is associated with a lower risk of an earlier death than working with people you don’t feel supported by. The researchers believe that peer support in the workplace may help protect against the negative health effects of job stress.

Past research has shown that having a strong network of friends can help keep us healthy and young. Having 400 friends on Facebook, however, doesn’t cut it. Superficial connections can’t stave off loneliness -- nor health problems -- the way close friendships can. On-the-job relationships are one way people can stay connected.

I’ve had jobs where I loved my coworkers (shout-out to my iVillage peeps) and I’ve had jobs where I hated them. I once worked as a TV news writer for a local station in California that had me swallowing Maalox like it was yogurt. I watched a grown man break down in tears minutes before going on air because “breaking news” (a dog injured in a fire) meant we had to reconfigure the entire show.

My coworkers and I were under enormous stress, but it wasn’t a band-together-in-solidarity environment. It was a who-can-we-lash-out-at-in-anger atmosphere. News anchors screamed at directors, who chewed out producers, who took it out on us lowly writers. Despite the drama, I loved the work, but not being a person with thick skin (or someone who relished antacid nightcaps), I lasted only a few months.

Now that I work from home, I have no coworkers, unless you count my office-sharing husband and German shepherd. I miss the camaraderie and shared enthusiasm -- it’s hard to get my husband (or my dog) jazzed about health news linking animal protein to cancer -- but I’m happy to find my social connections outside of the workplace. If I ever do go back to the corporate life, I won’t feel guilty about choosing a job based on the quality of my coworkers. After all, it not only determines how long I'll stick around at the job, but how long I'll stick around on the earth.  

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