Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

An Investigation into the Effect of Leadership Style on Stress-Related Presenteeism in South African Knowledge Workers

Academic journal article SA Journal of Human Resource Management

An Investigation into the Effect of Leadership Style on Stress-Related Presenteeism in South African Knowledge Workers

Article excerpt


Today's dynamic and rapidly changing business environment creates severe challenges for leaders (Cao & Ramesh, 2008). Many organisations are having to operate with lean labour forces, and job demands place excessive pressure on employees (Hakanen, Schaufeli & Ahola, 2008). Moreover, volatile market demands, leading to rising job uncertainty, are becoming a substantial stressor for employees (Pohling, Buruck, Jungbauer & Leiter, 2016). It is therefore essential that organisations create and manage favourable work environments (Cummings et al., 2010); failure to do so negatively impacts long-term organisational performance (Schaufeli, Taris & Van Rhenen, 2008). An important trait in creating a favourable working environment is leadership behaviour as leaders motivate, engage and satisfy the needs of their employees (Bolden, Gosling, Marturano & Dennison, 2003).

One of the challenges for today's leaders is presenteeism. Whitehouse (2005) defines this phenomenon as reduced productivity owing to events that distract employees from full productivity. Gosselin, Lemyre and Corneil (2013) contend that presenteeism is widespread, manifesting itself indiscriminately across occupational groups. This contention is taken into account in this study, which investigates the prevalence of presenteeism across a number of industries. Presenteeism is costly for organisations because of a lack of added value to the product or services rendered, or a decrement in employee performance (Hemp, 2004; MacGregor, Cunningham & Caverley, 2008; Munro, 2007; Prochaska & Prochaska, 2011). Organisations are therefore becoming increasingly concerned about the phenomenon as organisational performance is significantly impacted (Puig-Ribera, McKenna, Gilson & Brown, 2008). A number of scholars, specifically Zopiatis and Constanti (2010), Mathieu, Neumann, Hare and Babiak (2014), Kara, Uysal, Sirgy and Lee (2013), conclude that leadership behaviour impacts followers' stress and burnout levels. The current research therefore included leadership as an important variable.

Globalisation has forced organisations to develop competitive advantage by employing competent, talented and dedicated employees. Called 'knowledge workers' by Drucker (1992) (as cited in Joo, 2010, p. 70), they '... apply theoretical and analytical knowledge that is acquired through formal education in developing new products or services'. Yet, one of the characteristics of knowledge workers is their high turnover rate, with the resulting high costs to the organisations that employ them (Scheepers & Shuping, 2011).

Nielsen, Randall, Yarker and Brenner (2008) concluded that a relationship exists between a meaningful work environment, leadership and employee well-being. Effective leadership styles are therefore required to develop high-quality work environments that are conducive to knowledge workers' well-being and which ultimately contribute to achieving organisational goals. Knowledge workers are the focus of this study because of their importance to the success of organisations. Schaufeli et al. (2008) show that employee well-being is highly correlated with low levels of stress and leads to increased employee productivity. Other studies show that stress causes several negative outcomes, including burnout, employee turnover, as well as reduced productivity and well-being (Maslach & Leiter, 2008; Tarafdar, Tu, Ragu-Nathan & Ragu-Nathan, 2007). These, in turn, lead to stress-related presenteeism, an important construct under investigation in this study.


There was therefore strong justification for conducting research in the field of presenteeism. This study set out to add to the body of knowledge about reducing presenteeism, particularly among knowledge workers, who play such an important role in achieving organisational competitive advantage. Its purpose was to empirically examine the effect of three leadership styles, namely transformational, transactional and laissez-faire leadership, on job-related-stress presenteeism in knowledge workers across a number of industries in South Africa. …

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