Leadership and employee well-being

Event start date
Event start time

Linna building, auditorium K 103, address: Kalevantie 5.

Kaisa Perko

Doctoral defence of M.Sc. Kaisa Perko

Leadership and employee well-being : A psychological perspective based on resource theories

The field of science of the dissertation is Psychology.

The opponent is professor Katariina Salmela-Aro (University of Jyväskylä). Professor Ulla Kinnunen acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is Finnish.

Leadership and employee well-being: A psychological perspective

Supervisory leaders can importantly support and enhance well-being among employees. In this regard, the role of justice behaviours of supervisors, such as respectful and equal treatment, is of highest relevance. However, psychological well-being, referring particularly to energy resources available at work, is a crucial resource for employees themselves. Psychological, energetic resources are needed in investing effort in work demands and they contribute to favourable perceptions of supervisor behaviours.

This doctoral thesis in work and organizational psychology, consisting of four original studies, focused on the role of supervisory leadership in employee well-being. The study was based on employees’ perceptions of their immediate superior. Several leadership styles and behaviours were examined and compared in this work. Concerning favourable leadership, transformational, authentic, and fair leadership, as well as conflict management, were examined. On the unfavourable side, unfair leadership and abusive supervision were examined. Well-being referred primarily to the level of energy available, that is, vigour and exhaustion. Also work engagement (vigour and dedication) and depressive symptoms of employees were examined.

Leadership and employee well-being were investigated longitudinally utilizing a person-centred research paradigm. In the person-centred approach, the focus was on the differences in leadership between individuals who demonstrated different profiles of across-time development in occupational well-being (vigour and exhaustion) or in work-related rumination (referring to recurrent and persistent thoughts about work-related problems during off-job time).

This study showed that 21%–32% of the variation in leadership ratings was explained by employees rating the same leader. However, the risk for impairment of psychological well-being (work-engagement and exhaustion) among employees was found to be individual and not shared within work units.

The results revealed that participants reporting better well-being also consistently reported more favourable leadership behaviours. The large majority of the participants experienced high vigour and relatively low exhaustion across a time span of 14 months. These participants reported transformational and authentic leadership behaviours and did not experience abusive supervision. In more atypical subgroups, well-being remained constantly low or changed notably. In these small subgroups displaying change, perceptions of leadership changed in congruence with improving or deteriorating well-being. This finding suggests that employees’ perceptions of leadership are susceptible to deteriorate or improve in accordance with affective valence in employee well-being.

In a time frame of nearly two years, about a half of the study participants reported work-related rumination on a moderate level at least. Whereas salient changes in work-related rumination occurred to a minority of the participants, for some of them ruminative thoughts declined clearly along with decreasing job demands and decreasing exhaustion. The participants in the higher classes of work-related rumination reported especially lower supervisor fairness and higher abusive supervision, both indicating disrespectful treatment. Ruminative thoughts on work-related problems hinder recovery from work particularly among employees in cognitively and emotionally demanding jobs and when the demands of the work exceed the energetic resources of the individual.

A healthy relationship to work is described by high occupational self-efficacy, experienced meaningfulness of the work, and an ability to get psychological distance to work-related problems on off-job time. Respectful and encouraging leadership enhances these psychological factors. In the development of exhaustion, quantitative and qualitative demands of the work play a considerable role besides supervisor unfairness.

The questionnaire data used in the thesis were gathered among Finnish municipal employees 2011–2013, mostly women (85%), from various occupations. The amount of study participants varied between the three measurement times from 294 to 557. The longitudinal data across 14 and 22 months included around 260 participants.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2288, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2017. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1791, Tampere University Press 2017.

Additional information