The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Interpersonal Work Support and Health: Focus On the Stress-Buffering Hypothesis

Friday, January 17, 2014
HBG Convention Center, Bridge Hall Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
JaeSeung Kim, MSW, Doctoral Student, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: As work plays a central role in the lives of adults, work-related stress is a serious concern for employee health and well-being. Numerous studies have examined work-related stress and observed harmful associations with workers’ health. The stress-buffering hypothesis suggests that social support may reduce the negative impact of stress on health. However, limited research has examined the association between work-related stress, interpersonal work support, and health using a representative sample of the US working population. Also, few studies have investigated the stress-buffering effect across different income groups, although it has been argued that work-related stress can be unique in both form and extent for workers with limited incomes. To address these gaps, this study examines 1) the stress-buffering role of interpersonal work support on health using a national sample of workers and 2) assesses whether the association varies across different income groups.

Methods: This study uses data from 3,688 employed individuals in the 2002, 2006, and 2010 General Social Survey (GSS) Quality of Working Life (QWL) topical module. The main outcome variable, health, is measured with five scale of self-rated health. The level of stress is the average of two items that measure subjective stress and exhaustion respectively.  Interpersonal work support was composed of the sum of four questions regarding instrumental and emotional coworker and supervisor supports (α=.75). Income groups are categorized as low-income workers (i.e., under $30,000 per year) and mid/high-income workers (i.e., more than $30,000 per year). Work environments  (e.g., working hours, working schedule, fast work environment, work autonomy, work safety condition, chances for promotion, role expectation, and work decision involvement) and demographic characteristics were controlled. Multivariate regressions were conducted to examine the stress-buffering hypothesis for the full sample (question 1), and then by income subgroup (question 2).

Results:  In general, workers with higher interpersonal support reported better health and lower stress at work. Workers experienced higher levels of stress in work-settings with fast work environment, unsafe work condition, less chance for promotion, and lower level of work autonomy, role expectation, and decision involvement. Low-income workers reported lower health status. The regression results showed that work support was positively associated with increased level of health status (Coef=.11, p<.001). Particularly, work support was more strongly associated with health (Coef=.18, p<.001) when a worker’s stress level was high while the association was weaker (Coef=.09 , p<.05) when stress was  low. This confirms the stress-buffering effect of support on workers’ health. Moreover, low-income workers gain greater health benefits from support (Coef=.21, p<.001)when they experienced high level of stress compared to mid/high-income workers. In sources of support, supervisor support provides better health advantages for low-income workers while coworker support more matters to mid/high-income workers’ health.

Implications: Interpersonal work support is associated with better health status especially when workers experience high level of stress, supporting the stress-buffering hypothesis. Findings suggest that interventions designed to promote interpersonal support at work and strengthen supportive ties among coworkers and supervisors might result in desirable pubic health benefits, especially for low-income workers.