Your Inspirational Boss May Be Harming Your Health

Your peers might be jealous of your inspirational mentor, but science advises exercising a little caution

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Is your boss your biggest source of motivation at work, always encouraging you to go that extra mile to seek out challenges and engage in proactive problem-solving? Your peers might be jealous of your inspirational mentor, but science advises exercising a little caution. Research has revealed that these ‘transformational leaders’ might actually be putting your health and wellbeing at risk!

What Is A Transformational Leader?

Transformational leaders are those who provide constant encouragement and motivation to their employees to go above and beyond the call of duty. The key elements of this leadership style are empowerment and leadership, encouraging employees to take on a greater sense of accountability in an effort to further the overall cause of the organisation. Transformational leadership is usually linked to greater productivity and performance among employees.

Science Seems To Differ

The study in question, published in Work & Stress in April 2016, was led by researchers at the University of East Anglia. It focused on a group of 155 postal workers and their managers in Denmark, divided into 22 work groups and studied over a period of three years. At the start of the study, employees rated their immediate managers' behaviours on a scale from one to five and were asked about their own record of absence for the previous year. Sickness absence was assessed again in years two and three.

The Surprising Results

Although the general perception is that an inspirational leader makes for better employee well-being, the researchers found that is expected to go above and beyond their basic job duties actually creates a high-pressure work environment that affects productivity adversely. “It is possible that high-performance expectations pose a risk to both healthy and vulnerable employees and the motivational aspects of transformational leadership may backfire,” said lead author Prof. Karina Nielsen in a university in a press release.

Transformational leaders may encourage workers to ignore symptoms of illness and press on with work in an effort to display low absence rates due to sickness in their work groups might seem like a productivity boost, the researchers found that it actually led to prolonged absence due to sickness in the long run. Lack of recovery time may also be another factor as it leads to employees eventually having to go off sick for longer because they ignore their symptoms for too long initially.

Is A Change In Leadership Style Called For?

So what seems to be the best leadership style to adopt? The researchers suggest finding the right balance between motivation and over-exertion. According to them, monitoring and checking up on employees and encouraging them to look after their own health while simultaneously motivating them is a much healthier approach. The key is to encourage the employees to do well, but not at the expense of their own health.