Tribute to Arie Shirom z"l

by Sharon Toker, Mina Westman, Samuel Melamed (Tel-Aviv University) and Itzhak Fried (Syracuse University)

 

Photo of Arie Shirom z"lArie Shirom z"l, professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University, died in Jerusalem, Israel, on April 12th, 2012, at the age of 75.

In Hebrew, "Arie" means "Lion" and indeed, the way Arie fought cancer during the last three years, working until his last day, and defeating the prognosis' statistics, is truly reflected in his name.

In May 2011, Arie received a lifetime career achievement award from APA/NIOSH and was deeply touched by the honor bestowed upon him. Although he was aware of the worldwide recognition his research gained he kept his modesty and humbleness. Indeed, Arie is best described by his acquaintances as a warm and gentle person, with an unlimited generosity and a strong urge to help those in need. Each of his acquaintances names various occasions where Arie stood for them and helped them spread their wings and overcome personal and academic obstacles.

Arie was an extraordinary scholar — dedicated to advancing the field of occupational health psychology as a researcher, teacher, and leader in a career that spanned over five decades, and resulted in more than 200 peer reviewed journal articles and book chapters. Arie received his bachelor's and master's degrees in Social Science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1965), and a doctorate in industrial relations from the University of Wisconsin (1968). He was affiliated with the department of labor studies (1968–1992) and later with the faculty of management in Tel Aviv University (1993–2007) until his retirement as a professor emeritus.

In the first 20 years of his career, Arie focused on labor relations and organizational development. During the next 30 years, he continued to pursue questions related to work organizations but this time from the perspective of work related stress and health. His work resulted in a much deeper understanding and a broader conceptualization of the effects of chronic work related stressors on employees' emotional, physical and cognitive well-being.

Working with his collaborator over the past 25 years, Samuel Melamed, Arie developed a new conceptualization of job related burnout that is grounded in the conservation of resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll & Shirom, 2000). Following his 1989 highly cited theoretical book chapter on burnout and its facets (Shirom, 1989), Arie and Samuel devised the Shirom-Melamed Burnout Measure (SMBM) that is currently used in numerous countries and languages, thus providing cross-validation of Arie's findings.

In order to drill down into the mechanisms that underlie the burnout–health associations, Arie and Samuel joined hands in 2002, with a large interdisciplinary group of psychologists, medical doctors, and epidemiologists, initiating the largest medical and occupational longitudinal study of employees in Israel. So far, more than 20,000 employees joined this study allowing Arie and his team to demonstrate the effects of job burnout on various health outcomes, including cardiovascular diseases and related risk factors, health behaviors, metabolic and inflammation biomarkers and sleep patterns. Their 2006 paper, published in Psychological Bulletin (Melamed, Shirom, Toker, Berliner, & Shapira, 2006), provides an excellent review of job burnout and its' health correlates. Access to the SMBM job burnout measure as well as to Arie's numerous publications on job burnout can be found on the Prof. Arie Shirom website.

During the last decade Arie has been heeding the call coming from psychology, occupational health psychology and organizational behavior, to accentuate the positive aspects, including in studies on the effects of work on individuals' health. Arie focused on the positive affect of vigor, and developed a theoretical model of vigor at work as well as a measure of vigor (Shirom-Melamed Vigor Measure). Vigor at work represents how people feel about their levels of energy (including physical, cognitive, and interpersonal energy, [see Shirom, 2011]) and was shown to be related with longevity as well as with lower risk of developing diabetes, lower levels of inflammation, and with overall higher levels of self-rated health.

As people are generally advised to practice what they preach, Arie's last three years serve as a perfect example of the effects of vigor at work on longevity. Arie kept saying that his work invigorates him, and gives him a reason to fight for his life. Although diagnosed with stage four cancer, Arie kept his work schedules, published more than 15 papers since he was diagnosed and invested time and energy in acquiring new statistical skills (teaching himself M-plus and STATA). Several days before he died Arie was still busy promoting new research initiatives, serving as role model and an inspiration for each of his colleagues.

Arie coupled his research interests with a commitment to issues of medical justice and equality and to the advancement of public health systems. He was a member of the State Commission of Inquiry into the Israeli Health Care System, established by the government of Israel in June 1988, where he was the single author of the Commission's Minority Report, which had a major influence on the committee's legislation. He served as board member and as well as chair in several Israeli health, labor and military institutions.

In addition, Arie served as a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Stress Management, the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, the Journal of Organizational Behavior and the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, and as an associate editor of Work & Stress. He received numerous research grants from Israeli and American institutes as well as awards for his unique contribution to the field.

Arie was also strongly devoted to mentoring more than 130 students, both graduate and undergraduate, many of whom became leaders in the field of occupational health psychology and public health. Drawing on the leadership literature, Arie can be truly described as a transformational leader. He was always kind and tentative, answered every question patiently and thoroughly, intellectually challenged each of his students while setting high goals for them. He was confident in his student's abilities to flourish in the academic world and helped them achieve their carrier goals. Arie also saw potential in every person he met, and to our astonishment even taught his foreign homecare assistant to use SPSS and conduct literature searches in PUBMED.

When a person dies, his absence is reflected in the emptiness that surrounds those who were closest to him. The emptiness that results from Arie's death is acknowledged by many close colleagues and friends. Each of them describes the experience of working with Arie as stimulating, enriching and productive. We will all miss him and try to keep his flame burning.

References

  • Hobfoll, S. E., & Shirom, A. (2000). Conservation of resources theory: Applications to stress and management in the workplace. In R. T. Golembiewski (Ed.), Handbook of organization behavior (2nd Revised ed., pp. 57–81). New York: Dekker.
  • Melamed, S., Shirom, A., Toker, S., Berliner, S., & Shapira, I. (2006). Burnout and risk of cardiovascular disease: evidence, possible causal paths, and promising research directions. Psychological Bulletin, 132(3), 327–353.
  • Shirom, A. (1989). Burnout in work organizations. In C. L. Cooper & I. Robertson (Eds.), International review of industrial and organizational psychology (pp. 25–48). N.Y.: Wiley.
  • Shirom, A. (2011). Vigor as a positive affect at work: Conceptualizing vigor, its relations with related constructs, and its antecedents and consequences. [doi:10.1037/a0021853]. Review of General Psychology, 15(1), 50–64.