The Fabric of Social Support

“He has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends.”

Oscar Wilde

How much social support do men and women report?

How dissatisfied are they with their sources of social support?

Differences in Social Support Between Men and Women

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. This is surprising as research doesn’t support that mentoring has been found to be more strongly related to men’s career success than women’s. In general, successful women tend to indicate that mentoring is less important to their career advancement than do 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 statistical 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 about 50% when 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 their level of self-reported 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 so, if you aren’t willing to go to marriage counseling with your boss or colleague then go hug a friend…..Be well….

So, if your aren’t willing to go to marriage counseling with your boss or colleague then go hug a friend…..Be well….

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of LifeHub, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, and is a guest lecturer at the Anderson School of Management. Ken also serves on the editorial board of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available at