Leaderships Effects on Employee Health, Well-Being

Aug. 14, 2008
New research suggests that good leadership has positive effects on employee health and well-being, including decreased sick leave and disability, reports the August Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

Led by Dr. Kuoppala Jaana of Siinto, Kiiskilampi, Finland, the researchers searched for studies of the effects of leadership on key measures of employee health and well-being. Qualities associated with good leadership included treating employees considerately and truthfully, providing social support and providing inspirational motivation and intellectual stimulation.

Based on the 27 best-quality studies, the review provided "moderately strong" evidence linking good leadership to increased employee well-being. Workers with good leadership were 40 percent more likely to be in the highest category of job well-being, meaning they had low rates of anxiety, depression and job stress symptoms.

In addition, moderate evidence linked good leadership with reduced sick days and disability. Good leadership was associated with a 27 percent reduction in sick leave and a 46 percent reduction in disability pensions. Some studies found that good leadership was associated with increased job satisfaction, although this evidence was relatively weak. There was no evidence showing a significant effect of leadership on measures of job performance.

Several characteristics of work can affect employee health. Studies have shown that factors like job control and support influence measurable health outcomes, such as sick leave. Leadership is thought to be one of the most important factors mediating the relationship between work and health.

The Pyramid Model

The findings support the “job well-being pyramid model,” a theory suggesting that a strong foundation of leadership, healthy work environment and good working conditions reduces worker health problems. The pyramid model may provide a useful framework for monitoring occupational health within organizations, Jaana and colleagues believe. Companies could use routine follow-up data on employee well-being at work as part of efforts to develop and evaluate steps to improve working conditions and work ability.

The researchers noted the "relative lack" of high-quality studies targeting the association between leadership and employee health. However, the few good studies found an important link between the role of leadership and employee job satisfaction, job well-being, sickness absences and disability pensions.

The relationship between leadership and job performance remains unclear. “If the association between leadership and health and well-being described in this review represents a true relationship, it would be extremely important that leadership function was considered, measured and evaluated, and good leadership practices were promoted in all work environments,” Jaana and colleagues concluded.

The Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine is the official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM).

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