Ethical and unethical leadership and followers’ well-being
Sparks, Taylor Elizabeth
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This study examines the intersection of behavioral ethics in organizational leadership and follower psychological well-being using a sample of 458 full-time employed adults occupying positions across a variety of organizations in a variety of industries. Collecting data in two waves, we investigate the distinctiveness of key leadership constructs that have been put forth in the literature as being associated with behavioral ethics. We also examine whether and how these behaviors are related to both burnout and work engagement using structural equation modeling to specify moderated mediation. Findings suggest that ethical leadership, active and passive aggressive supervision, and unethical leadership are indeed distinct leadership behavior constructs, but that only ethical leadership behavior predicts follower burnout and follower work engagement. In addition, the psychological mechanisms by which ethical leadership has these effects vary depending on the outcome. That is, ethical leadership’s influence on follower work engagement operates via the social exchange mediator of LMX, while its impact on follower burnout is transmitted by both LMX and relational identification with the immediate supervisor. Perceived organizational support and organizational identification also had main effects on both outcomes; however, they did not interact with the mediating mechanisms to impact employee well-being. This suggests that these organizational mechanisms do not serve as substitutes for ethical leadership behavior. Theoretical and practical implications, directions for future research, and study limitations are discussed.