Inspired living

Transformational leadership can harm employee's health

female leader or mentor talking to other employees

Credit: BigStock

Transformational leaders and managers inspire employees to achieve unexpected or remarkable results. Transformational leadership has previously been associated with positive employee wellbeing, better sleep quality, less depressive symptoms and reduced rates in absenteeism over a short run. While there has been much attention on the impact of transformational leaders on employee health and well-being, there is less research which focusses on the relationships between transformational leaders and employee absenteeism due to sickness.

However, more vulnerable workers such as those who come into work even when they are sick take longer to exhibit the adverse effects.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) looked at the relationship between presenteeism (when employees frequently show up for work while ill), transformational leadership and sickness absence rates in a three-year longitudinal study of postal workers and their managers in Denmark.  In total there were 155 participants from 22 workgroups. Employees rated their manager at the beginning of the study and they also gave information about their sickness absence and presenteeism for the previous year. The researchers assessed absence due to sickness again in years two and three.

The researchers found that workers working in a group with transformational leaders exhibited increased sickness absence when postal workers showed up for work even when they were ill for 14 more days than their colleagues. Transformational leadership in year one was related to sickness absence in year two, but not in year three. The study also found that employees who worked in a group with a transformational leader and who had high levels of presenteeism reported the highest levels of sickness absenteeism in the third year but not in the second.

The findings suggest that the immediate adverse effects of transformational leadership can be found among workers. However, more vulnerable workers such as those who come into work even when they are sick take longer to exhibit the adverse effects. This could also happen due to a longer recovery time, where these workers can no longer ignore the symptoms related to their illness and have to eventually take time off work. The study suggests that constant pressure from transformational leaders to perform exceptionally at work, and that leadership may promote self-sacrifice of vulnerable employees by leading them to go to work while ill, may increase sickness absence levels among employees in the long term.

Source: Work & Stress


Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!