Since work is such a large part of life, it should come as no surprise that your work environment may influence your health. Researchers have been studying justice at work, or the perception that your supervisor considers your viewpoints, shares decision-making information with you, and treats you in a fair and truthful manner. Studies have found associations between fair-minded supervisors and lower blood pressure, and between a just work environment and a more regular heart rate.

A new study in the October 24, 2005 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine examined the relationship between justice at work and coronary heart disease (CHD). Researchers found that people who perceived high levels of justice at work were significantly less likely to develop CHD.

About the Study

This study included 6,442 British civil servants, who were ages 35-55 and without CHD when the study began. Researchers collected information on conventional CHD risk factors (e.g., body mass index, cholesterol level, blood pressure level, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol consumption). They assessed perceptions of justice at work through a questionnaire in which participants rated on a scale of 1-4 whether they were criticized unfairly, got consistent and/or sufficient information from management, had a supervisor willing to listen to their problems, and were praised at work. These questionnaires were administered twice during a three-year period, and scores were used to classify participants as perceiving a low, intermediate, or high level of justice at work. Researchers followed the participants for approximately nine years and determined who developed CHD and/or died from it.

During the study, 250 participants developed CHD. Participants who reported a high level of justice were about 30% less likely to develop CHD than those who reported low or intermediate levels of justice. This remained true even after the researchers adjusted the results for conventional risk factors.

These findings are limited because justice at work was self-reported by the participants, and it is possible that perceptions of justice were partially due to characteristics of the participants (which may have affected CHD risk), rather than the work environment alone.

How Does This Affect You?

These findings indicate that your work environment can substantially impact your health. In this study, perceived justice at work was a significant predictor of CHD, regardless of other known risk factors.

Before taking a new job, find out as much as you can about the work environment. Who will be your supervisor? What is his or her management philosophy? How and when will your work be evaluated? If you already work in an environment you feel is unjust, take steps to make it more enjoyable. Share your viewpoints with your supervisor, campaign to be involved in the decision-making process, and ask for constructive criticism on the work you are doing.

If you are supervisor, consider this. Many studies have shown that fairness in the workplace boosts morale and improves productivity. Now we see that routinely showing respect for co-workers, can keep your business and your employees healthy.