Leadership’s Influence on Employee Well-Being: A Path to a Healthier Workplace

Mai 2, 2024 | Employee Engagement, HR Trends

Leadership behaviour has a profound effect on employee well-being, meaning it acts as a driving force in shaping organizational outcomes. Increasingly, HR departments are recognizing the importance of intentionally cultivating authentic leadership that generates lasting growth in their organizations. They’re also witnessing the clear links between authentic leadership and employee well-being. However, as just 1 in 4 employees believes their company cares about their well-being, there’s clearly a lot of work left to do.

Let’s explore what constitutes authentic and inspiring leadership. Then, we’ll delve into how it affects employees, improving job fulfillment, workplace mental health, and overall well-being—and how to cultivate these qualities in your leadership.

Table of Contents

1. Understanding Leadership Behaviour

2. The Link Between Leadership and Employee Well-Being

3. The Role of Psychological Well-Being in Job Commitment

4. Challenges and Strategies

Understanding Leadership Behaviour

“Authentic leadership” is more than just a buzzword. It describes a leader who catalyzes far-reaching personal growth and guides teams to achieve their highest goals. But what leadership behaviours characterize an authentic leader?

Authentic leaders demonstrate a high level of integrity. This means they take accountability for their actions and follow through on their commitments. Living by their principles and values, they make decisions guided by a strong inner compass. They also strive to forge meaningful relationships with everyone they work with and nurture their growth on a daily basis.

Further, authentic leaders radiate a belief in a clear mission and vision. A genuine commitment to their personal and organizational goals shines through in their daily work. Employees gravitate toward this sense of collective purpose, fuelling their efforts to achieve. 

Through these qualities, managers can become transformational leaders who truly motivate and inspire their teams. Next, we’ll explore how this affects overall wellness.

Leadership meeting with their employees to gauge their well-being
Credit: Edmond Dantès / Pexels

Increasingly, researchers are recognizing leaders’ influence on employees’ well-being. Destructive leadership styles can harm employees’ confidence, undermine their performance, and raise their stress levels significantly. Ultimately, this can result in burnout, adverse effects on employee mental health, and resignations.

Here are a few common leadership styles that disempower employees and result in these negative outcomes:

  • A laissez-faire style, which provides little support or guidance.
  • A simplistic approach focused on punishment and rewards rather than intrinsic motivation.
  • An authoritarian approach characterized by micromanagement or even hostility.

Each of these approaches fails to meet employees on equal terms and recognize their full potential. Both disinterested and domineering bosses fail to inspire and nurture people, while also creating a stressful work environment.

In light of these issues, every organization must ensure its leaders are truly empowering their people. Let’s now explore how authentic, transformational leaders affect employees, both on and off the job.

Promoting Psychological Well-Being Through Empowerment

Leadership behaviour strongly impacts employees’ sense of psychological well-being—for better or worse. “Leaders have the potential to be either a buffer against work stressors or a major source of stress for their subordinates,” said P. D. Harms and coauthors in a study published in The Leadership Quarterly. 

In a Gallup survey, 44% of employees said they felt stressed for much of the previous workday. Research shows that authentic, transformational leaders reduce employees’ anxiety by providing crucial guidance, building their self-confidence, and improving clarity about their role, report Rita Berger and coauthors in Frontiers in Psychology. Such leaders empower employees to pursue personal growth that enhances their fulfillment at work. Through this psychological empowerment, employees’ working lives improve dramatically.

With authentic leadership, employees also feel more free to show up as their authentic selves at work, as researchers report in Harvard Business Review. This significantly boosts their well-being by lowering stress, enhancing the sense of community, and increasing job satisfaction. Eighty percent of employees say this shared authenticity improves their workplace culture. 

Meanwhile, a more passive approach to leadership causes employees to feel more anxious, as Berger et al. assert. Such employees often don’t know what is expected of them, and they feel less capable of meeting their goals in the absence of strong direction.

For all of these reasons, psychological empowerment strengthens employee mental health.
In turn, workplace mental health supports wellness in every aspect of life, as we’ll discuss next.

Empowering Leadership and Work-Home Enrichment

The different dimensions of life don’t exist in separate compartments with no overlap. Instead, an employee’s level of well-being in one dimension affects all the others. Hence, improving psychological well-being at work strengthens employees’ quality of life immensely—not only at work but in all aspects of life. 

A recent study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology shows that empowering leadership at work enriches employees’ home lives. Transformational leaders meet employees’ psychological needs, influencing how they feel in their home lives. They leave their jobs feeling confident and enthused about their work and future prospects, which helps them show up as their best selves in their relationships and enjoy more rewarding downtime. And of course, improved workplace mental health translates into better mental health outside of work as well.

The Role of Psychological Well-Being in Job Commitment

Psychological empowerment doesn’t just improve employee mental health—it also strengthens job commitment. When work promotes one’s sense of well-being, employee job commitment typically increases, research has shown. 

How does this work? Having a sense of psychological safety and wellness enhances employees’ perception of the quality of their work life. Hence, they’re more likely to wish to remain with their company for as long as possible.

Furthermore, leaders can minimize the risk of burnout and exhaustion by promoting psychological well-being, as Ilke Inceoglu and co-researchers say in The Leadership Quarterly. In doing so, they’ll increase engagement and job satisfaction as well. Such leaders also promote well-being by providing appropriate rewards and autonomy, skill development, and social support, they add.

Challenges and Strategies

HR managers discussing the challenges and strategies for employee well-being
Credit: RDNE Stock project/ Pexels

Let’s explore the key challenges and opportunities in cultivating leadership behaviours that promote employee well-being. Guide leaders in implementing these strategies to achieve greater effectiveness in their role.

Cultivating Self-Awareness

As Harvard Business School says, becoming authentic requires self-awareness, a core component of emotional intelligence. Leaders should engage in regular self-reflection on questions like these, they emphasize:

  • What am I feeling and experiencing?
  • What are my core strengths, and where do I need to grow?
  • How am I showing up in my daily work?

Gaining insight through leadership assessments can bolster self-awareness. Holding 360 reviews can show leaders their main strengths and needs for improvement, for instance. Employee opinion surveys can also help reveal organizational blind spots to address.

Building Trust

Just 23% of U.S. employees say they trust their company’s leadership. “However, when leaders communicate clearly, lead and support change, and inspire confidence in the future, 95% of employees say they fully trust their leaders,” writes Gallup. So, be transparent about your company’s short- and long-term plans. Talk about potential career opportunities within your organization, too—and how you’ll support employees in getting there.

Learning to Handle Stress in Healthy Ways

As Harms and coauthors assert, virtually all leaders face stress on a daily basis. Often this stress causes poor decision-making and undermines relationships with team members. So, coach leaders on handling stress effectively.

In challenging situations, leaders should focus on providing emotional support and helpful resources to employees, they emphasize. Nurturing relationships on a daily basis will also help leaders and teams to handle stressful situations together effectively. “Closer bonds should lead to reduced anxiety because individuals will have a ‘secure base’ when trouble emerges,” they explain. This works in both ways: Leaders will know they can rely on their people, and employees will know they can depend on their leader.

Leaders should also adopt practices for reducing their own daily stress:

  • Taking short “recovery breaks.”
  • Interrupting rumination on what could go wrong (or has gone wrong), refocusing on the present. For instance, tuning into the five senses can help you get back to the present, the Center for Creative Leadership says.
  • Setting clear expectations for themselves and others.
  • Establishing clear boundaries around work and home life.

These daily practices will help bring stress to manageable levels for both leaders and their teams.

Empowering and Enriching Employees

According to Berger and co-researchers, transformational leadership “contributes to the personal growth of followers by providing them with idealized influence, individualized consideration, intellectual stimulation, and inspirational motivation.” Research shows that such leaders increase their direct reports’ self-efficacy—their belief in their ability to handle challenging tasks and achieve their goals—they note.

Here are some daily practices of authentic, transformational leaders, which empower employees and support their growth:

  • Helping them set goals with clear action plans
  • Sharing specific, detailed feedback
  • Providing clear directions and guidance
  • Assessing progress
  • Regularly evaluating workloads
  • Delegating meaningful tasks
  • Providing training opportunities that support goals
  • Offering stretch opportunities
  • Talking through challenges
  • Providing opportunities to teach others
  • Sharing praise for good work
  • Supporting career advancement

Let’s dive deeper into several of these practices now.

Overcoming Role Ambiguity

Clarifying roles and expectations is crucial. As Berger et al. note, role ambiguity causes significant anxiety for employees. Regularly discussing roles and updating expectations will help avoid or overcome this issue. 

At the same time, employees should have a reasonable amount of autonomy in how they perform their work. Creating a learning culture within every team, in which everyone has a chance to teach and learn from others, will also create a healthier workplace, add Berger et al.

Enhancing Self-Efficacy

Leaders should strive to give employees tasks that are meaningful to them and that increase their sense of self-efficacy. They can promote psychological empowerment by assigning appropriate stretch tasks and having coaching conversations as employees progress through them. Along the way, they should share well-deserved praise for small and large achievements, pointing out the effective use of new skills. Through this empowerment, authentic leaders can increase employees’ quality of life, researchers emphasize in the journal Evaluation and Program Planning.

Encouraging Innovative Thinking

Encourage people to challenge the status quo, coming up with novel ideas to old problems. Thank them for confronting ideas they view as erroneous. When each person feels free to voice their ideas, they will shape positive organizational change. 

Create a culture of idea-sharing by asking for this input routinely. In a meeting, you could say, for instance, “Megan, you look like you aren’t convinced. Would you share your thoughts?” Or, you could introduce a proposed project by saying, “I want you all to look for the potential flaws in this idea and ways to make it better. I’ll be eagerly awaiting your input.”

Mentor—and Sponsor—Employees

A mentor shares lessons learned in their own career journey, acts as a sounding board for ideas, and shares career advice. A sponsor goes a step further by advocating for an employee in a professional context. Strive to take on both of these roles for your employees, so they’ll see a promising future for themselves at your company. The goal should not be to keep them on your team forever but to further their professional growth.

Look at weekly one-on-ones as chances to mentor employees. Be your authentic self, sharing what you’ve learned from failure as well as success. And sponsor them by recommending them, when they’re ready, for more advanced opportunities.

Taking action in these areas will promote workplace mental health and help employees find increased fulfillment in their work. Deliver regular training for leaders in these areas to support their continued growth. Many leaders will benefit from coaching to reinforce these skills as well.

By enhancing leaders’ approaches and behaviours, you’ll promote good employee mental health and wellness. And as you enhance psychological well-being, you’ll expand the possibilities for what your leaders and their teams can achieve. Remember that strengthening psychological well-being is an ongoing journey, but you can get started immediately using the strategies shared here!

Encourage your organization’s leaders and managers to continuously assess and improve their leadership styles to enhance employee well-being. Demo our product to learn how it can help.

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