Health & The Workplace

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For better or for worse, psychologists have determined that we identify with the people and organization that we call “work.” Whether you're a 9 to 5 cube dweller, the lone engineer in master control on the overnight at the TV network, or a nurse working crazy shifts all over the clock, you're with your Tribe for one-third of your life. New research, from the University of Queensland, Australia, indicates that how strongly we identify with our Tribe is associated with better health and lower burnout.

The team reviewed 58 studies covering people in a variety of occupations, from service and health to sales and military work, in 15 countries. Their research was published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Review.

“This study is the first large-scale analysis showing that organizational identification is related to better health,” says lead researcher Dr. Niklas Steffens. “These results show that both performance and health are enhanced to the extent that workplaces provide people with a sense of ‘we’ and ‘us.’”

Indeed, previous examinations of the relationships between people and their workplaces have typically focused upon issues of motivation, satisfaction, and performance in organizations, and not so much on health.

“Social identification contributes to both psychological and physiological health, but the health benefits are stronger for psychological health,” says Steffens.

The study showed that it did not matter what job you hold; it's all about the the meaning and purpose that you garner from membership in your organization's social groups that provide the psychological and physical benefits.

“We are less burnt out and have greater well-being when our team and our organization provide us with a sense of belonging and community — when it gives us a sense of ‘we-ness,’” Steffens summarized.

One bit of data that surprised the researchers was the degree to which a team member's gender affected the group's overall workplace satisfaction. Not to put too fine a point upon it, but the more women there were in a sample, the weaker the identification–health relationship was found to be.

“This was a finding that we had not predicted and, in the absence of any prior theorizing, we can only guess what gives rise to this effect,” says Steffens. “However, one of the reasons may relate to the fact that we know from other research that there are still many workplaces that have somewhat ‘masculine’ cultures. This could mean that even when female employees identify with their team or organization, they still feel somewhat more marginal within their team or organization.”