By: Alvina Ng
As much as we would like to avoid it, it is highly likely that at some point in our lives, we will have to deal with that annoying or caustic coworker in the cubicle next to us. This coworker is one of the main reasons you may come to dislike your job and may one day think about quitting. Well, a number of longitudinal studies are indicating that having a stress-inducing coworker can actually be more detrimental to one’s health than merely causing general frustration.
A longitudinal study starting in 1988 very systematically followed 820 adults after a health examination, followed by routine interviews regarding their working conditions and the people they work with. Based on the aggregate results, office conditions do play a significant role on an employee’s health conditions. More morbidly put, it appears that the less friendly one’s coworkers were, the higher the risk one was at for death. The study came to one conclusion: the lack of control may be the reason for the risk of high mortality.
This brings us to the theory of one’s internal locus of control. This psychological principle states that those who believe their own fate and destiny are controllable are more likely to be healthier and happier than those who believe their fate to be out of their own hands. Imagine feeling like being constantly victimized and treated poorly is something you cannot control. Wouldn’t you slowly begin to feel depressed if you felt this treatment was out of your control?
The internal locus of control can also be linked to the theory of learned helplessness in this case. If an employee is at the bottom of the workplace hierarchy and feels as though his/her coworkers treat him/her unfairly, it is undoubtedly easy to feel dejected. What separates those who are more likely to suffer health risks with those who remain healthier is whether or not the employee believes he/she can take control of the situation. If that is not the case, the employee may slowly begin to ‘learn’ to be helpless and essentially ‘give up’ on trying to fight off melancholy, thus putting them at higher risk for health problems as a result of a lowered immune system.
Of course, to change this, the individual must begin believing that he/she has control over his/her own life and is capable of confronting that annoyingly mean coworker. Companies may also invest in workshops that promote positivity in the workplace or teach employees how to stand up for themselves against workplace bullying. However, the focus and the bulk of the work is of course placed on the employees themselves, to proactively ensure they stand up for themselves and regain control over their own lives.
Negative feelings and attitudes can create a domino effect – you feel that you have little control, so you don’t discuss your grievances; the grievances frustrate you more and more, making you perpetually unhappy. However, the opposite is also true, and improving one’s sense of control can create a domino effect too – the more control you feel you have over your life, the happier you are; the happier you are, the healthier you are and the longer you live.
“Are Your Co-Workers Killing You?” (Source)