Leadership affects health and well-being at work

Research evidence suggests that good leadership positively affects employee health and well-being, including decreased sick leave and disability, reports a recent study.1

Led by Jaana Kuoppala, MD, PhD, 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% more likely to be in the highest category of job well-being (for example, with low rates of symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and job stress).

There was also moderate evidence linking good leadership with reduced sick days and disability. Good leadership was associated with a 27% reduction in sick leave and a 46% 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 such as 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 findings support the "job well-being pyramid model," which is a theory suggesting that a strong foundation of leadership, healthy work environment, and good working conditions reduces worker health problems. The pyramid model might provide a useful framework for monitoring occupational health within organizations, Kuoppala 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 note 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. Kuoppala and colleagues conclude, "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."

Reference

1. Kuoppala J, Lamminpaa A, Liira J, et al. Leadership, job well-being, and health effects — a systematic review and a meta-analysis. J Occ Environ Med 2008; 50:904-915.