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Home > Research Articles > Stress: Gauging the Boss Factor

New York Times

Monday, April 28, 2003

By JOHN O'NEIL

Interpersonal conflict on the job can make blood pressure soar say, for a New York City traffic enforcement agent writing a ticket or dealing with an angry motorist.

But a new study of traffic agents in such situations found that those who felt that they had strong support from their supervisors had much smaller spikes in blood pressure than those who did not.

The study, published in the April issue of the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, was part of a series of experiments conducted with 70 New York traffic agents by Dr. Elizabeth Brondolo of St. John's University in Queens.

Dr. Brondolo said that most studies of the role of emotions in blood pressure were conducted with scripted arguments in laboratories. But in studying the agents a suggestion from her husband "we are able to use ambulatory blood pressure monitors to observe the effects of real-life conflicts under relatively consistent circumstances," she said.

Those conflicts raised everybody's blood pressure, Dr. Brondolo said. But the readings went up significantly less for workers who reported a high level of support from their immediate supervisors than for those who did not.

Dr. Brondolo said there were differences as well in blood pressure readings averaged throughout the workday, but with a sex-specific twist: among women, having a supportive supervisor made the biggest difference, while the men who reported high levels of support from co-workers had the lowest readings.

Because traffic agents spend most of the day working alone, the findings reflected the benefits of an overall supportive atmosphere, Dr. Brondolo said. "The way we treat co-workers and employees matters both for the quality of our workplace and for the health of our fellow workers," she said.