A recent study that looked at the relationship between presenteeism, transformational leadership, and the rate of absence related to sickness, has found that “transformational” leaders who “inspire their employees and team members to perform better at work increase the risk of health complications and absence due to illness.”
Well, my guys are safe. In fact, they should live forever.
According to my source article, the leader of the study said, “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… Such leaders express values to perform above and beyond the call of duty possibly at the expense of employees' health because they have a self-interest in demonstrating low sickness absence rates in their work groups.”
It continues with:
In other words, inspirational leaders have a handful of effects, all of which indirectly and negatively influence the health of their employees:
Inspirational leaders push for longer hours. Transformational leaders need their team members to work hard to make change happen. Accordingly, they often demand longer hours and more commitment to work. All that extra work, without sufficient breaks or vacations, can add up to more stress—and more susceptibility to illness.
Employees are less likely to take sick days (at first). Employees who want to make a good impression (and who may be genuinely excited about work) may be reluctant to take a sick day when they first show signs of illness. They don't take the time they need to get better, end up infecting the entire office, and the entire group loses more productivity as a result.
Inspirational leaders influence perfectionism. These leaders may also stoke perfectionist tendencies in their employees. And while perfectionism might help you be more detail-oriented, it has a negative effect on your mental and physical wellbeing in the long run.
I can't really agree that simply having “high performance expectations” is a sign of inspirational leadership. As I look at those bullet points, I can't help but think that researchers confused “inspirational” with “bullying”. Demanding longer hours and more commitment to work, as well as “stoking perfectionism,” (also known as being a picky, difficult to please pain in the ass), don't really sound motivating to me. It would seem to me that truly inspirational leaders would inspire people towards harder work and perfection, not just demand it.
Anyway, I wish researchers would make up their minds. Previous studies have shown that crappy bosses can cause health problems for their employees. Now they tell us that inspirational bosses can do the same. It is like a Goldilocks tale for the workplace; this boss is too hard, this one is too soft, but this one; this one is juuuuuuuust right.
And, of course, those lines blur when the description of an inspirational leader sounds like the Marquis de Sade on one of his unhappy days.
It is a good thing that I do not exude any of the qualities that would be considered that of an inspirational leader. I would hate to think that I was contributing to any illness or poor health in the office. I do try to show up sober, so there is that.
One trait I do have that researchers focused on is “balance.” According to the research, it is “all about balance.” I am very proud that I exude that very skill. In fact, I haven't fallen down at work in a long time. This is probably attributed to my long running commitment to remaining sober while at the office.
Then again, it appears they applied that need for balance for employees responding to an inspirational (read crappy) boss, not the crappy boss themselves.
So the lesson for all you managers out there is to be less inspirational. Less motivating. And less demanding. You won't accomplish as much, and in fact you'll probably lose your job, but your employees will, according to research, be happier and healthier for the lack of effort.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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