Past research indicates that a supportive leadership style leads to lower levels of employee absence. However, few studies have looked at other aspects of leadership that could have positive effects on absence such as transformational leadership, despite the fact that it has been the most influential theories of leader behaviour in recent years. A transformational leader is not only supportive of employees’ needs but is also able to set a personal example, to stimulate, develop and inspire employees. This style of leadership has consistently been found to relate to a wide range of positive work outcomes including job satisfaction, commitment and work performance. Only a handful of studies have shown that transformational leadership has beneficial effects in terms of reducing employee absence, but these studies present a number of limitations.
They were predominantly conducted in the private sector, some considered senior management only and none controlled for the health effects associated with absenteeism.
Given these shortcomings, the present study sought to fill this gap in research. By surveying employees of both managerial and non-managerial grades, it explored to what extent transformational leadership can affect employee absence in a sample of UK public sector organisations.
Absence from work due to ill-health is currently costing the British economy £17 billion per year (EEF, 2005). Given that 30 million of working days lost in Great Britain are due to workrelated ill-health and 6 million due to workplace injury (HSE, 2007), it is important to shed light on the processes by which rates of employee absence can be reduced.
Absence is a complex phenomenon likely to have multiple causes as determined by previous research (Johns, 1997, 2001). Work characteristics other than the quality of leadership were therefore taken into account in this study.
The objectives of the study were:
n To identify to what extent transformational leadership is associated with employees’ absenteeism in a sample of UK public sector organisations.
n To explore how transformational leadership works alongside other factors known for their positive or negative influence on absence (eg work climate, work-family conflict, and health).
This report and the work it describes were funded by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its contents, including any opinions and/or conclusions expressed, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect HSE policy.
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