Posted by: healingtheworkplace | April 17, 2010

Social Support at Work: More Than Just a Love-In!

“The workplace is a community. All of its members should be empowered to care better for themselves and for each other.”

 Today’s post is about the importance of emotional and social support in the workplace.

This is a follow-up to last week’s post on mental health. In fact, the information for today’s post comes from the Canadian Mental Health Association’s 1985 Mental Health in the Workplace Project.

I’m certain that many of you would rather not “hang out” with people that you work with. If that’s your choice then that’s ok.  Maybe you work at home on your own. Maybe you are “out on the road” all day.

But, if you work in an organization with other people then your working relationships can have a positive or negative affect on your overall health and wellbeing. These relationships can also have an impact on your productivity.

I’ve had both experiences. I’ve worked on teams with amazing people and we’ve done great things. I also worked in a toxic workplace (a healthcare organization) in which people developed close relationships with colleagues in order to survive.

Getting back to the Canadian Mental Health Association. In 1990 the Association published a training program called Social Support in the Workplace. It was based on research and written by Peter Clutterbuck and Christine Wihank.

The research supporting this education program consisted of interviews with 1200 people across Canada. Many of those interviewed described their workplaces as communities.  In fact many of those interviewed said they, “highly valued their relationships with others in the workplace as a primary source of job satisfaction.”

But there is more to this story than satisfied employees.

We now know that there is a direct link between social support in the workplace and the health of both the employee and the organization.

“Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends (and coworkers) can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis.”

 You see, hanging out with friends causes our brains to release a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone has a positive effect on our health.

Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. There’s no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are helping us live longer.”

Stress is a fact of life and it is not going to go away. Progressive organizations recognize the impact of stress on their employees and look for ways to mitigate this stress.

What does social support at work look like? Here are a few words that you might use to describe behaviors you’d want to see in your coworkers (most of the time):

  • Considerate
  • Thoughtful
  • Friendly
  • Kind
  • Caring
  • Neighborly
  • Cooperative
  • Generous
  • Nice
  • Sensitive
  • helpful

 I added “most of the time” to the above because, let’s face it, we are not saints. We all have bad days at work and days when we don’t want to be social.

But, for the most part, it is healthy to be part of the “tribe”.

More on this topic in a future post.

Enjoy your week!

Cheers, Lesley


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