This study of leaders and followers working in day-care centers aims to use a multilevel perspective on supportive leadership to examine its role in linking workload at the leader level and emotional exhaustion at the follower level. Integrating theoretical work on social support with conservation of resources (COR) theory, leaders' workload is proposed to be positively related to followers' feelings of emotional exhaustion through constraining the enactment of supportive leadership.
Multisource survey data from 442 followers and their leaders from 68 teams were collected to test the hypotheses.
Multilevel analyses showed that leader workload was negatively related to followers' perception of supportive leadership, which, in turn, was positively related to followers' levels of emotional exhaustion. Leader workload was indirectly and positively related to follower emotional exhaustion via supportive leadership.
This study provides initial support for the idea that work contextual factors at the leader level create boundaries for the extent to which leaders may provide support to their followers and draws attention to the accountability of leaders' work contextual factors for followers' well-being.
The findings suggest that organizations must not focus narrowly on training leaders on how to benefit followers but should also aim to optimize leaders' levels of workload to enable them to act in a supportive manner.
By considering both the receivers (i.e. followers) and providers (i.e. leaders) of support simultaneously, we take a crossover approach to COR theory and acknowledge that work contextual factors at higher organizational levels may spread to employee well-being at lower levels of the organization.
This research was supported by funding from the Institution for Statutory Accident Insurance and Prevention in the Health and Welfare Services, Hamburg, Germany. The authors declare no conflicts of interest.
Stein, M., Vincent-Höper, S. and Gregersen, S. (2020), "Why busy leaders may have exhausted followers: a multilevel perspective on supportive leadership", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 41 No. 6, pp. 829-845. https://doi.org/10.1108/LODJ-11-2019-0477
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