Are You Happy with Your Social Network?

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


I just read a research paper that suggested that marriage might not improve men’s health as once thought ((Liu, H. & Umberson, D. (2008). The Times They Are a Changing: Marital Status and Health Differentials from 1972 to 2003. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 49, 239-254)). In a review of data gathered between 1972 and 2003 (more than one million men and women), men who never married reported overall health about the same as those of married men over time. Apparently, single men today have access to social networks of family, friends and co-workers which facilitate social support outside of marriage.

How much social support do men and women report?

How dissatisfied are they with their sources of social support?

We took a look at some results from our stress and health risk assessment called StressScan by analyzing availability, utility and satisfaction of social support by gender. We tested gender differences by using a statistical test called Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) and found some interesting differences in gender with a sample of almost 800 professional working men and women.

1. In general, women reported greater availability and use of their social support network (supervisor/boss, colleagues/co-workers, partner, family and friends) then their male counterparts (all p’s < .01).

2. Women reported using their boss or supervisor significantly more frequently then men which was surprising as research doesn’t support that mentoring has been found to be more strongly related to men’s career success than women’s and more successful women have indicated that mentoring was less important to their career advancement than did less successful women.

3. Women reported significantly more availability, use and satisfaction with their friends compared to males. They also reported greater availability and use of their partners, families and friends (all p’s < .01) which is consistent to what Shelly Taylor, Ph.D. has suggested as part of the female “tend and befriend” response to coping with work and life stress ((Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. Behaviorial Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight” Psychol Rev, 107(3):41-429)).

In our statistidal analysis of social support for professional men and women we were able to determine the relative amount of dissatisfaction with specific sources of social support. Men and women (N= 785) rated they were either “Not at All” or only “Slightly” satisfied with the following sources to meet their emotional and instrumental support needs:

  • Boss/Supervisor 31.0%
  • Colleagues/Co-Workers 16.8%
  • Family 13.0%
  • Partners/Significant Others 9.9%
  • Friends 8.3%

With respect to work, the Gallup Organization’s survey of over five million employees suggests that employee satisfaction increases by just about 50% then they have close relationships at work. If they have strong relationships with their boss employees reported to be more than 2.5 times more likely to be engaged with their jobs.

Having a strong social support network and being satisfied appears to be associated with the level of stress and well-being. Men and women in our sample who reported greater overall social support also reported significantly:

  • Lower Stress (correlation r= .35, p < .01)
  • Greater Resilience/Hardiness (correlation r= .47, p < .01)
  • Greater Happiness (correlation r= .58, p < .01)

We know strong social support for both sexes is significantly associated with longevity, physical health and psychological well being. But, remember that getting married still seems to be the leading cause of divorce and becoming widowed which has pretty serious health risk consequences.

[tags]Lifehub, emotions, leadership, emotional contagion, social support, health behaviors, obesity, smoking, happiness, social network, friendships at work, Gallup Organization Rath, resilience, cognitive hardiness, happiness, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]


Grumpy Sleep Deprived Talent

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


Research by Sylvia Ann-Hewlett and Carolyn Luce shows that 62% of high-earning individuals work more than 50 hours per week, 35% work more than 60 hours a week and 10% work more than 80 hours (Hewlett, A. & Luce, C. (2006). Extreme jobs. The dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek. Harvard Business Review, December 2006, pp. 1-12). Their findings suggest that more than 70% of professionals reported not getting enough sleep.

Leaders and others know that the sleep-deprived are typically moody, miserable, and just not much fun to be around. New research from UC Berkeley using MRI technology helps explain why for the first time.

The study is the first to show exactly what areas of the brain are affected by sleep deprivation (Yoo, S., Gujar,N., Hu,P., Jolesz, F., & and Walker, M. (2007). The human emotional brain without sleep — a prefrontal amygdala disconnect. (Current Biology. Vol 17, R877-R878, 23 October 2007).

In the UC Berkeley study of 26 young adults, half of the subjects were kept awake for 35 hours straight and the other half were allowed a normal night’s sleep in that same time period. Then all of the subjects were hooked up to an MRI and shown a number of images while the researchers monitored what happened in their brains as each image was shown.

The sleep-deprived subjects showed significant activity in the amygdala (the section of the brain that puts the body on alert to protect itself and control emotions), and simultaneously, showed slowed activity in the prefrontal cortex (which controls logical reasoning). On the other hand, subjects who got a full night of sleep showed normal brain activity.

Americans are among the most sleep-deprived people in the world with 40% of Americans getting less than seven hours of sleep a night, according to a 2005 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation. Additionally, 75% of Americans reported having some sort of sleep disorder one or two nights a week (

What this means for most people is that a sleepless night or very poor quality of sleep can cause employees to overreact to emotional challenges that they would otherwise be able to tolerate without any trouble.

So, if you have sleep-deprived talent and leaders who lack emotional intelligence — look out — their amygdala is already compromised….Be well…


[tags]insomnia, sleep, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, fatigue countermeasures, REM, NREM, circadian rhythms, stress, health, job burnout, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]


The New Concept of Retirement

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


You may not know about Ajax, the current guide dog puppy my wife and I are raising and our commitment to this volunteer puppy raiser program.   We have been in involved in for about 15 years and it has been a great experience in every way. Not long ago we got a call from the organization, Guide Dogs of America, telling us that our first guide dog puppy was now “retired” and moving on to another family. Ernie (that’s what we called him until the woman he worked with decided to exert her independence and renamed him “Journey”) was about 7.5 years old making him in his late ages in human years (I had no idea the accuracy of “dog calculators” was hotly debated!).

What does a retired guide dog do in retirement? Who doesn’t want to retire earlier?

In fact, according to an annual census survey of key economic and social characteristics (American Community Survey 2006) Americans are actually delaying retirement. The results of this survey suggested that 23.2% of all Americans between 65 and 74 years of age were still working in 2006 (up from 19.6% in 2000).

Is work so much more fun that employees just can’t leave voluntarily? Our own research suggests that 40% t0 65% of all employees report they often feel pressure and stress on the job (Nowack, K. (2006). Optimising Employee Resilience: Coaching to Help Individuals Modify Lifestyle. Stress News, International Journal of Stress Management, Volume 18, 9-12). Experts on retirement and financial planning point out that all of us need to earn more to pay for longer retirements, increases in health care costs and increasing longevity. In 1993 overall life expectancy was 75.5 years according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention–in 2003 it had increased to 77.4 years.

In a recent retirement study by Merrill Lynch (New Retirement Survey), the new career paradigm of job security being replaced by employability security seems to have really shifted feelings about retirement. Some of their findings suggest:

  1. Men describe “retirement” as a period where leisure activities increase and more time can be spent with their partner. Women of the same age cohort view retirement as a time for their own career development (particulary those who have “off ramped”), volunteering and personal growth.
  2. 37% of those in the survey indicated that finances were a key driver of delaying retirement, 67% reported that work is actually challenging and motivating providing a sense of identify and meaning.
  3. When asked about their preferred work arrangement when they retire 42% ideally would like to “cycle” between work and play, 15% prefer part-time employment, 13% want to initiate that dormant “entrepreneurial gene” and 6% didn’t really see retirement as an option.

In light of these figures, the hierarchy of the world of work seems to apply–jobs, careers and passions. So, identify those “signature strengths” of yours and find creative and new ways to “work to live.”

As Malcom Forbes once said, “Retirement kills more people than hard work did.”  Be well……
[tags]surveys, Envisia, Envisia Learning, retention, talent management, retirement, career management, longevity, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, nowack[/tags]


Exercise to Stay Smart

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D.


Do you ever wonder if leaders in your organization are losing their mind based on the stupid decisions or actions they tend to make? Maybe the phrase “losing it” really has some scientific backing.

Indeed, all of us actually start to lose brain tissue as early as our third decade.

Maybe just working out will make you smarter.

Our own research with our personal stress and health risk assessment StressScan suggests that 51.9% of our large US data base of professional working adults report spending at least 20-30 minutes daily (23.1% report never). And, 29.6% reported never or rarely spending their leisure time participating in physical activities.

A 2003 study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests that people who exercise lose brain tissue more slowly. Arthur Kramer, Ph.D. studying adults between the ages of 58 to 78 found that 6 months of regular aerobic activity altered the middle frontal and superior parietal regions of the brain (responsible for concentration).

Kramer used MRI tests to show that those who exercised had denser brains than those who were inactive. It seems that leaders who are physically active lose brain tissue more slowly (Colcombe, S., Erickson, K., Raz, N., Webb, A., Cohen, N., McAuley, E. & Kramer, A. (2003). Aerobic fitness reduces brain tissue loss in aging humans. Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences. 58, 176-180).

A very recent recent study revealed that individuals who exercised for 6 months showed a significant increase in brain tissue responsible for higher level functioning like planning, goal setting and multitasking ((Columbe, S., Erickson, K., Scalf, P., Kim, J., Prakash, R., McAuley, E., Ekavsky, S., Marquez, L, & Kramer, A. (2006). Aerobic exercise training increases brain volume in aging humans. Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences. 61, 1166-1170)).

In this study, one group just walked three days a week for 45 minutes and the other control group did non-aerobic stretching exercises. After six months, MRI tests confirmed that the exercise group had a significant increase in the prefrontal and temporal cortices – areas that show considerable age-related deterioration – incurred the greatest gains from aerobic exercise.

Based on these studies showing increased plasticity of the brain of leaders, aerobic activities are preferred over pushing your weight around, side stepping that issue, leaning on your top performer or jumping to conclusions.

You gotta love Nike’s slogan….Be well….

[tags]fitness, physical activity, StressScan, exercise, brain plasticity, brain tissue, cognition, executive decision making, ken nowack, kenneth nowack[/tags]