Ethical leadership is a good thing, right? Right?
A new Baylor study published in the Journal of Business Ethics reveals that ethical leadership compounded by job-hindrance stress and supervisor-induced stress can lead to employee deviance and turnover. The research reflects the thoughts of 609 employees who were surveyed across two studies.
"If someone is an ethical leader but induces stress, our research shows that his or her employees will feel less support," said lead author Matthew Quade, Ph.D., assistant professor of management.
"Thus, employees who do not feel supported are more likely to consider leaving their jobs or engage in workplace deviance - things like arriving late to work, daydreaming, not following instructions or failing to be as productive as they could be."
Quade said that ethical leadership is a good thing and often beneficial in terms of employee resources. An example would be a trusted supervisor who listens to her employees and has her employees' best interests in mind.
The trouble comes, he said, when supervisor-induced stress or job-hindrance stress enters the picture.
"When those stressors are added, there is a depletion of resources," Quade explained. "Many of the gains or benefits from ethical leadership are negated."
What does stress-inducing ethical leadership look like? Quade said it could be as simple as supervisors setting expectations too high or, in the interest of "following all the rules," not allowing for any deviation from a process, even if a shortcut, still within the bounds of behaving ethically, would deliver a desired result.
The researchers wrote: "Ethical leadership can be an exacting process of sustaining high ethical standards, ensuring careful practice and enforcement of all rules and meeting leaders' lofty expectations, all of which can consume time and energy and be perceived by employees as overly demanding or an obstacle to job performance."
Quade said his team in no way wants to discourage ethical leadership. Research consistently shows such leadership is very beneficial, he said. But this new research shows that there are boundaries to those benefits.
"This places quite an onus on appropriately managing the stress that comes from the leader and the job, in efforts to most fully realize the potential of ethical leadership," the researchers wrote.
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