Why friends keep us working

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There’s an uplifting story in the health section of the New York Times today. Tara Parker-Pope reports:

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.

The study found work-related depression is rampant, some cases serious:

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.

Here’s the good news.

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.

You might have noticed by now that I’m a social type. The problem is I have an asocial job. Writers are loners who prefer to hunker alone in our cave-like offices, emerging only for the mandatory meeting and only then at special bequest. We keep the lights out to better discourage impromptu visits. We pile the entryway high with unopened packages. We keep our heads down in the corridors. When appropriate, we wear masks. (Just kidding about that last part.)

By personality, I should probably have been a schoolteacher or a party planner. But here I am in a profession that best suits the unfriendly. I try my hardest to fit the stereotype, but it’s hard. Sometimes I find myself lurking in the toilet just to have a chat.

And then I got my blog. I started it, as some of you longtime readers know, when I was grossly sick and confined to my house for months. By the time I hobbled in to my New York office, I felt I had a stronger connection with some of you than with my workplace acquaintances. Case in point: when I got back to my office today after two weeks tending to my mother in Japan, what do I find but a pile of lovely comments from you all following my last post telling me to have a great break and wishing my family well. I don’t even think my real colleagues noticed I was gone.

Not that I’m whining here. Seriously. Nobody’s done a study about the psychological effects of work-related relationships formed online, as best I know. But I bet the benefits are similar to those in the nondigital world. Thanks for the boost, friends. I need it.

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