Give control to make your people healthier

Macaque monkeys have hormonal changes that track with social status. Image from The Economist Misery Index of 14 April 2012.

A recent article in the Economist adds to the growing body of evidence that there is a positive correlation between control and health.

The article reports the results of a study by Drs Tung and Gilad on macaque monkeys. The study found biological changes that accounted for what researchers have known for a while: people at the bottom of social hierarchies exhibit greater physical symptoms of stress, have higher incidences of heart disease, and shorter lifespans. (The landmark study was the Whitehall study of British Civil Servants starting in the 1960s.) The biological changes are marked by hormones that are triggered by genetic activations which are linked to social status. By changing the order in which the monkeys were introduced into a group (later inductees have lower status) they were able to tinker with status and detected hormonal changes that matched change in social condition.

One of the things that higher social status brings is increased control of your life and work circumstances (the objectives and methods). It follows that workplaces organized in such a way the people at all levels, even the lower levels, have greater control of their work (greater decision making ability) will be healthier overall.

If you want to create healthy workplaces, then, “give control, create leaders” rather than “take control, attract followers.”

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