Prior research has established that social support at work is beneficial for employee well-being. However, most of this research has focused on psychological well-being. Conversely, there has been inconclusive research on whether social support at work influences physical well-being or physiological functioning. Therefore, it is important to further investigate this relationship.
WORKPLACE SOCIAL SUPPORT AND PHYSICAL HEALTH
In this study (Gonzalez-Mulé & Yuan, 2022), researchers collected data from employees in three phases over six years. At phase 1, participants completed measures of supervisor and coworker support. At phase 2, participants provided samples of cortisol (via salivettes and cotton swabs) three times per day across three consecutive workdays. Cortisol is a hormone that the body produces in response to stress. The researchers further measured BMI (body mass index) at phase 2 and 3. This is an indicator of overall physical health, and higher BMI is associated with many undesirable health outcomes and higher risk of death.
Results of the study showed that supervisor support (but not coworker support) was associated with healthier cortisol patterns. This in turn was associated with a smaller increase in BMI over time.
PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
These results highlight the importance of supervisor support for employee physical health and well-being. The authors suggest that supervisors be as supportive of their employees as possible. For example, supervisors should facilitate the smooth flow of all necessary information and help out with their employees’ work. Additionally, the authors suggest that organizations may benefit from interventions that train supervisors on how to better support employees.
Gonzalez-Mulé, E., & Yuan, Z. (2022). Social support at work carries weight: Relations between social support, employees’ diurnal cortisol patterns, and body mass index. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.