Are your co-workers killing you?

p>I’ve just read two studies that confirm some of my worst fears about the workplace.My first fear is that the attitudes and outrageous behavior of some of our co-workers isn’t just affecting our home lives, it is actually killing us. That turns out to be true. Read on.My second greatest fear is that meanness, rudeness, and bullying are actually rewarded, at least monetarily, in many workplaces. Unfortunately, this also turns out to be true. Read more.First, in a study released in August in Health Psychology, researchers at Tel Aviv University followed 820 adults through a 20-year work cycle. They gave the participants a thorough health exam at the beginning of the study and then looked at the health and longevity of those workers 20 years later. They also asked them about the culture and climate in their workplaces.The results were clear. Those who described their workplace as hostile, those who felt they were in an unsupportive environment and lacked autonomy in their jobs had a significantly higher rate of illness and/or death. In fact, those who faced a harsh workplace environment were 2.4 percent more likely to have died than those who did not.So those of us who face jerks daily in the work environment are actually putting our health at risk. Also, those of us who have negative relationships with our immediate supervisors are more likely to die an early death. This is not good news for workers or their families.Higher-paid creepsIf that doesn’t seem unjust enough, let’s look at the second study released in August. Writing in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers from three prestigious business schools reviewed three major sets of data representing thousands of U.S. workers. They compared three pieces of data: the self-reported “agreeableness” of the individuals, their income and their gender.The first result of this study was old news. Men in the study made significantly more than women. Although the glass ceiling is cracking, it isn’t broken.But now comes the big news. Both men and women who rated themselves as “less agreeable” or “disagreeable” in the studies made significantly more money than those who saw themselves as agreeable or easy to get along with.In other words, we reward those Dr. Robert Sutton at Stanford characterizes in his wonderful book “The No Asshole Rule” as “bullies, creeps, jerks, tyrants, tormentors, despots, backstabbers and egomaniacs.” We actually pay these people more.Male creeps make more than female creeps, but both creeps make more than agreeable people. Sutton’s book, by the way, has some wonderful and quite useful ideas about changing workplace culture to rid ourselves of these overpaid jerks.Back to the study. The math works something like this: Disagreeable male workers are, on the average, making about 18 percent more than their agreeable co-workers, or according to the study, about $9,800 more per year in this sample. Disagreeable women, on the other hand, make about 5 percent, or $1,828, more than their agreeable counterparts. Even among creeps there’s a glass ceiling.Let’s think about this for a minute. Not only are we facing one of the most stressful periods in the history of the American workplace, with deteriorating benefits, long-term unemployment, and longer hours for lower wages, but workers are dying from the abuse of co-workers who make more money for being disagreeable!No wonder we’ve gotten ourselves into such an economic mess. Well-compensated “assholes” are putting our health and our financial wellbeing at risk. Sometimes my worst nightmares come in the daytime.Dr. Malcolm Smith is family life and family policy specialist with UNH Cooperative Extension and teaches in the University of New Hampshire Family Studies Program. He can be reached at 603-862-7008 or