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Does Your Boss Make You Sick? Exploring the Leader’s Influence on Employee Well-Being.

Leaders have long been influential in a wide variety of issues, a list that continues to increase: workers’ productivity, job satisfaction, workplace morale, employee opportunities and more. Now the connection between leadership and another issue -- the health of employees and the leader -- is being explored thanks to a research opportunity from the Center for Leadership at Florida International University. 

The Center has announced that Winny Shen, Ph.D., is the winner of their 2012 Call for Proposals, the Center’s annual sponsorship of research projects in the area of leadership and leadership development, an opportunity open to all faculty members and post doctoral researchers at any university in Florida.

As a result of her selection, the Center has awarded Dr. Shen a one-year fellowship, allowing her to conduct research based on her proposal: The Impact of Leadership Behaviors on Leader and Follower Health Outcome: A Meta-Analysis. 

“Despite the voluminous literature on leadership behaviors, the outcome variables studied have not focused on the potential impact of leadership behaviors on the broader health and well-being of workers,” states Dr. Shen, assistant professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at the University of South Florida. “Links between effective leadership and employee health have been discovered but never fully analyzed.”

Dr. Shen, assisted by Dr. Stacey Kessler of Montclair State University, will work toward three objectives. First, the meta-analysis will examine the magnitude of relationships between a variety of leadership behaviors (e.g., transformational leadership, transactional leadership, abusive supervision) and employee health outcomes (e.g., physical health, mental health, unhealthy behaviors). The second objective is to explore the mediating mechanisms underlying these relationships.

“Our third objective centers on the health of the leader himself or herself,” Dr. Shen reports. “We will examine the magnitude of relationships between leadership behaviors and the leader’s physical and mental well-being.”

Hock-Peng Sin, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Business at Florida International University, was a member of the selection committee which, after examining excellent proposals, chose Dr. Shen’s. “Dr. Shen delivered a well written and interesting proposal that seeks to investigate, via meta-analysis, the links between the full range of leadership behaviors and important well-being outcomes,” Dr. Sin states. “If successful, it has a huge potential to be published in top academic journals and significant implications for how leaders relate to their employees.”The need for this research is clear. In the United States, healthcare costs are rising at a rapid rate, with projections that by 2015 healthcare costs will constitute 20 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. “Given that the majority of Americans access health insurance through their employer, organizations have a vested interest in understanding the determinants of employee health in order to reduce healthcare costs,” Dr. Shen points out. “Furthermore, direct healthcare costs are not the only expenses borne by organizations with unhealthy workforces. Unhealthy employees may be more likely to be absent or leave the organization, demonstrate decreased job performance, and utilize medical leaves or compensation and disability programs. 

Innovative studies such as Dr. Shen’s is the purpose of the fellowship, reports Mayra Beers, Ph.D., Director of Operations for the Center and a Knight Research Fellow. “Our Center is committed to advancing the study of leadership by providing funding for promising new research,” Dr. Beers states “Dr. Shen’s proposal is in keeping with our belief that research informs practice. We look forward to seeing the results of her work.”

Dr. Shen earned her Ph.D. in Psychology with a concentration in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her bachelor’s degree in Psychology is from California State University, Los Angeles, California. Her research and writing has appeared in the Academy of Management Journal, The Oxford Handbook of Leadership and Organizations, Leadership Quarterly, Leadership Review, Journal of Management Development and other publications.