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Fair Play at Work May Be Good for the Heart

Sense of Fairness Linked to Lower Risk of Heart Disease in Office Workers

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 24, 2005 -- Does your boss treat you fairly? There may be more at stake than your next promotion. A large, long-term study of British office workers links a sense of justice on the job to a lower risk of heart disease.

The study appears in the Oct. 24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

"This is the first study, to our knowledge, that demonstrates that justice at work may protect against [coronary heart disease]," the researchers write. To measure justice at work, they asked more than 6,000 male civil servants to answer questions such as:

  • Do you ever get criticized unfairly?
  • Do you get sufficient information from your supervisors?
  • Do you ever get praised for your work?

The researchers measured the participants' sense of justice between 1985 and 1990 and recorded the incidence of heart disease from 1990 to 1999. Employees who reported a high level of justice at work were 30% less likely to develop heart disease than those who perceived a low or intermediate level of justice.

The results were not related to baseline differences in age, weight, employment grade, or other risk factors for heart disease such as cholesterol level, blood pressure, smoking and alcohol use, or physical activity.

Fairness May Reduce Stress

The authors suggest that employees who perceive a high level of justice at work may have less chronic stress, and less stress is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. But the link between justice at work and heart health was independent of other measures of stress, including job strain.

Because the findings were based on self-reported perceptions of justice, the researchers caution that "it is unclear whether actual managerial treatment or the characteristics of the respondent determined it."

They also say further research is needed to determine whether the results apply to women and employees outside of civil service. "Our findings on [coronary heart disease], the leading cause of death in all Western societies, suggest that organizational justice is also a topic worthy of consideration in health research."

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