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Don’t want to go back to work? It might be your boss

Women holding a coffee mug

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash.

Some people stay with their current employer because they have to, they need the money. Others stay because they feel they ought to, the company needs them and it’s the right thing to do. But some people stay because they want to: they stay for themselves; they’re engaged with the work and satisfied with their job.

It comes as no surprise then that people who want to come to work perform much better at their jobs than people who do it because they need to or feel obligated to. So how can we help employees to form positive connections with their organization?

Our latest research shows that it might be all about their boss’s leadership style and the kind of professional relationships that it cultivates. As the nature of work becomes more transient, understanding how employees’ connection to an organization affects their experiences of leadership, engagement, and satisfaction is more important now than ever before.

Enter the authentic leadership style

Authentic leadership is an influential theory of contemporary business leadership, gripping scholars and practitioners alike, and rapidly growing in popularity.

Authentic leaders behave in according to their deeply held values, they are keenly aware of what truly matters to them, and act on their moral convictions. They know their own strengths and limitations, and work to form transparent relationships in the workplace.

Authentic leaders don’t try to hide who they are or what they think and feel, and that open honest attitude invites people to form genuine connections. We’re drawn to authentic leaders because they make us feel safe; we get to know who they really are and that builds trust.

Like the leader, like the company

For better or worse, leaders represent the entire organization to their employees. How we feel about our boss transfers into how we see the company as a whole. For example, when employees feel that they cannot trust their leaders, they try to distance themselves from the organization to reduce their feelings of vulnerability.

An authentic leadership approach therefore not only helps to build positive workplace relationships, but it also affects employees’ perceptions of the organization itself.

Our research reveals that employees’ personal commitment to their organization is the missing link between the positive workplace relationships cultivated by authentic leaders, and the desirable organizational outcomes experienced by their employees.

So, what does it all mean?

The explanation of these results is refreshingly simple: through the authentic leadership relationship, followers come to trust and identify with their leader, which makes them want to come to work.

Employees who want to be at work, experience a host of positive organizational outcomes, such as increased citizenship behaviour, discretionary effort, knowledge sharing, and reduced turnover, absenteeism, and bullying.

Leaders should therefore focus on developing their employees’ personal connection to the organization. Engaged, satisfied employees, who want to come to work because they trust and identify with their leader, will build enduring organizations and create lasting shareholder value.

Our research shows that pursuing transparent relationships built on mutual trust and shared values is the key to developing employees’ personal commitment to an organization.

Organizations can improve their performance by recruiting and selecting managers who demonstrate authentic leadership behaviour, and by offering training and development opportunities to help existing managers to cultivate an authentic approach.

We must each of us be strong enough, and vulnerable enough, to be ourselves, in whatever form that takes.

Read the full article ‘Reframing commitment in authentic leadership: Untangling relationship–outcome processes’ published Open Access in the Journal of Management & Organization.

This opinion piece was written by Dr Andrei Lux from ECU’s School of Business and Law. This article was first published on the Cambridge Core blog.


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