Passive Leadership and Employee Burnout
Executive Programme in Management Studies – Leadership and Management Amsterdam Business School
Author Romy Schoordijk
Student number 12479209
Supervisor dr. Wendelien van Eerde
EBEC approval 20200310090311
2 Statement of Originality
This document is written by Romy Schoordijk who declares to take full responsibility for the contents of this document. I declare that the text and the work presented in this document is original and that no sources other than those mentioned in the text and its references have been used in creating it.
The Faculty of Economics and Business is responsible solely for the supervision of completion of the work, not for the contents.
3 Table of contents
1. Introduction 5
2. Theoretical background 6
2.1 Passive leadership 6
2.2 Burnout 6
2.3 Relation between passive leadership and burnout 7
2.4 Self-efficacy 9
3. Methods 13
3.1 Employee burnout 13
3.2 Passive leadership 13
3.3 Occupational self-efficacy 13
3.4 Role ambiguity 14
3.5 Lack of supervisor support 14
3.6 Lack of control 14
3.7 Role overload 14
3.8 Psychological contract breach 15
3.9 Internal validity 15
3.10 Sample 15
3.11 Control variables 15
4. Results 16
4.1 Descriptive data 16
4.2 Direct effect and mediation effect 19
4.3 Self-efficacy as moderator 20
5. Discussion 21
5.1 Passive leadership and burnout 21
5.2 Theoretical and practical implications 22
5.3 Limitations and future research 23
6. Conclusions 25
7. References 26
8. Appendices 31
The purpose of this study is to demonstrate that self-efficacy reduces the risk of employee burnout when having a passive leader. Based on theory which indicates that role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control, role overload and psychological contract breach are causes of burnout over which passive leaders have much influence, they were tested as mediators of the relation between passive leadership and burnout. A survey was conducted amongst a sample of 310 Dutch people who work with a leader and are aged above 18. Results showed a direct relation between passive leadership and burnout. In addition, role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control and psychological contract breach were found as mediators of the relation between passive leadership and burnout.
Finally, self-efficacy was added as moderator of these relations since theory indicates that self-efficacy might act as a buffer. This relation was only significant in the case of role ambiguity, meaning that self- efficacy reduces role ambiguity when having a passive leader.
5 1. Introduction
Leaders play a crucial role in followers’ work-related well-being (Montano, Reeske, Franke &
Hüffmeier, 2016). So what is the impact of bad leadership? In recent years a lot of research has been done into the effects of poor leadership. These studies mainly focused on the visible dark traits of leadership, such as narcissism, Machiavellism and abusive leadership. A subject which has received less attention is passive leadership (Barling & Frone, 2016). This research focuses on the effect of passive leadership on employee burnout.
Passive leadership is defined as the behavior of a leader who only takes action when there is a task-related problem or challenge (Bass, 1990). If a problem does not yet exist or is not yet visible to the leader, (s)he does not take action (Derue, Nahrgang, Wellman, & Humphrey, 2011). According to Harold and Holtz (2015, p.19), passive leadership is characterized by avoiding decisions, neglecting workplace problems, and not reinforcing appropriate behavior.
Several researchers have shown that passive leadership leads directly or indirectly to burnout of employees (Che, Zhou, Kessler, & Spector, 2017; Barling & Frone, 2016; Vullinghs, De Hoogh, Den Hartog, Boon, 2018; Zopiatis & Constanti, 2010). Kelloway, Sivanathan, Francis and Barling (2004) mention role ambiguity and lack of social support as causes of burnout over which leaders have much influence. Passive leaders create a working environment in which lack of control and high work pressure are normal. These aspects have a major effect on the stress and well-being of employees.
Barling and Frone (2016) mention a gap in the current literature on the relation between passive leadership and burnout. A meta-analysis conducted in 2015 indicates that self-efficacy is a protective factor against the factors of burnout (Shoji, Cieslak, Smoktunowicz, Rogala, Benight & Luszczynkska, 2015). Self-efficacy refers to individuals’ belief in their own capability to exercise control over challenging demands (Bandura, 1997). Self-efficacy is likely to reduce the negative response to passive leadership.
The meta-analysis strongly suggests that self-efficacy reduces the risk of employee burnout.
Burnout forms a major ethical issue for management and organizations (Barnett, Baker, Elman, &
Schoener (2007). If self-efficacy can reduce the chance of employee burnout when dealing with a passive leader, we can contribute to the literature by further deepening the knowledge in preventing employee burnout. This research aims to make a theoretical contribution by showing that self-efficacy reduces the level of employee burnout when having a passive leader by answering the following research question: To what extent does self-efficacy moderate the (indirect) relationship between passive leadership and employee burnout?
6 2. Theoretical Background
In this section, I look at the following concepts: Passive leadership, burnout, the relation between passive leadership and burnout, and self-efficacy.
2.1 Passive leadership
Passive leadership is characterized by the absence of leadership behavior and taking responsibility (Vullinghs et al, 2018). Passive leaders avoid making decisions, neglect workplace problems, do not reinforce appropriate behavior and exhibit inconsistent behavior, which makes it difficult to judge the character and opinion of the leader (Harold and Holtz, 2015; Schilling, 2009). Passive leaders try to have as little interaction as possible with followers, and they do not provide direction, feedback, or support (Vullinghs et al, 2018). Action will only be taken when leaders are aware of a problem, or when the problem has become so important that action is necessary (Kelloway et al., 2004; Howell & Avolio, 1993).
Barling and Frone (2016) describe two reasons for the lack of research on passive leadership in the literature. The first reason is that within the concept of transformational leadership, passive leadership stands at the end of a continuum between active and passive leadership, and is therefore effective or ineffective. This goes hand in hand with the idea that as long as leaders do nothing, they cannot do harm. The second reason that passive leadership is excluded when it comes to destructive leadership, and is therefore less interesting to research, is that passive leaders have no intention of harming employees or the organization. Nevertheless, the literature devoted to passive leadership seems to indicate that this style of leadership can certainly do some harm (Kelloway et al., 2004; Schyns
& Schilling, 2013 in Barling & Frone, 2016).
The phenomenon burnout was first described by Maslach in 1976 (Zopiatis & Constanti, 2009). It was described as work-induced syndrome of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization/cynicism, and a sense of diminished personal achievement (Bianchi, Laurent, & Schonfeld, 2019). Schaufeli and Enzmann (1998) characterize it as follows: “Burnout is a long-term, negative, work-related state of mind in normal individuals, characterized primarily by exhaustion and accompanied by tension symptoms, reduced personal effectiveness, decreased motivation, and the development of dysfunctional work attitudes and behaviors. This psychological state develops gradually and may remain hidden from the person for a long time. Burnout is the result of a clash between a person's intentions and reality at work. Feelings of burnout often reinforce themselves as a result of inadequate coping strategies related to the syndrome” (Schaufeli & Enzmann, 1998; p.36).
7 Burnout concerns the degree to which a person suffers from the above mentioned components.
The first component of burnout, emotional exhaustion, describes the feeling of stress and the draining of energy, and is generally regarded as the core symptom of burnout and is the component of burnout which predicts the strongest stress-related health outcomes (Maslach & Leiter, 2010) (Mirkovic &
Bianchi, 2019). Maslach et al. (2001) describe emotional exhaustion by means of a metaphor for draining energy. The smothering of a fire, which implies that a fire was once burning, but it cannot continue to burn brightly unless sufficient resources are being renewed. This metaphor describes the exhaustion of the capacity to maintain an intense involvement, and the loss of capacity to provide the intense contributions that make an impact. The second component, depersonalization, involves psychological withdrawal from work and is seen as a (dysfunctional) way of dealing with emotional exhaustion. Depersonalization has also been referred to as cynicism, describing an individual’s negative response to aspects of the job (Maslach et al., 2001). The third and final component, reduced personal performance, is concerned with a negative self-assessment of one's own performance at work and its value (Mirkovic & Bianchi, 2019).
Burnout can lead to serious health problems, such as increased sickness and absence. It can also lead to reduced job satisfaction, organizational commitment and job performance (Leiter, Bakker &
Maslach, 2014). In 2018, 17% of the workforce experienced burnout complaints in the Netherlands (Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu, 2019).
2.3 Relation between passive leadership and burnout
Barling and Frone (2016) state that passive leadership damages the well-being of employees, arguing that effective performance and well-being are partly dependent on employees’ understanding of what is expected of them at work. When a leader clearly shares the necessary information and expectations with an employee, according to Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Pike and Rosenthal (1964) leaders meet the basic functions of a leader. A study by Kahn et al. (1964), showed that 38% of 1,500 Americans were stressed because they did not receive the information they needed in order to perform. The research argued that a large amount of leaders lack the ability to share knowledge or expectations, which might lead to role ambiguity.
Hackman and Oldham (1975) state that the effect of passive leadership is dependent on the personality traits of the individual. For example, within a high demanding workplace, some employees will experience passive leadership as challenging due to freedom to determine their own path. People who value performance and personal growth strongly will react differently to a demanding job than people who value it less. For them, it can be uncomfortable and frightening. However, some employees will perceive passive leadership as challenging due to freedom to determine their own path.
8 Apart from the fact that people experience passive leadership differently, it may also imply that different personality traits make people deal with it differently. One person will experience more stress than others.
As mentioned earlier, role ambiguity is one of the causes of burnout (Kelloway et al., 2004). Role ambiguity is a lack of role clarity, which often results in coping behavior to prevent negative outcomes, such as not doing your job properly (Vullinghs et al, 2018). Researchers found that leaders play a major role concerning the presence of role ambiguity and lack of adequate information to do the job well (Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001). Passive leaders are unlikely to devote time to ensuring that employees have clear role descriptions so that they know what is expected of them. Furthermore, due to their passive stance, passive leaders will less likely notice potential conflict, such as role ambiguity or role overload (Kelloway et al., 2004). Another mentioned cause of burnout is little mental support.
Research has shown that passive leaders are unable to provide good social support among employees (Kelloway et al., 2004). The reason for this is that they avoid their responsibilities as a leader until they really cannot avoid it any longer. Here too, there is a very good chance that a passive leader will not realize when an employee needs social support, be it emotional, informational, instrumental or appraisal.
These afore mentioned causes of burnout also play a role in different theories within the literature. Maslach et al. (2001) suggest that the cause of a burnout lies in three categories: job characteristics, organizational characteristics and personal characteristics, the latter involving demographic variables and personality characteristics and work-related attitudes.
Examples of job characteristics linked to burnout are the previously mentioned quantitative job demands (role overload), role ambiguity (lack of adequate information) and social support (especially supervisor support). Research seems to indicate that passive leadership plays a role in this (Kelloway et al., 2004). When looking at role overload, active leaders could probably notice this in an earlier stage because they take on a more leading role and therefore are more likely to talk to employees. The same goes for role ambiguity, active leaders would probably be clearer in what is expected of their employees or are, again, in more frequent contact with employees. Passive leaders, on the other hand, will not be aware of the worries that employees have, or they do not really know and care how much workload an employee can handle (Kelloway et al., 2004).
The second category of burnout causes consists of organizational characteristics. Organizational characteristics concern the reciprocity of what an employer is obliged to deliver on the basis of perceived promises. Employees are expected to give a lot in terms of time, effort, skills and flexibility, while receiving less in terms of career opportunities, job security and so on.
9 Violation of the psychological contract can lead to burnout, as it disturbs the balance of this mutual exchange (Maslach et al., 2001). Here, too, a link can be made with passive leadership. When leaders are passive the psychological contract might be violated as they do not manage the expectations or needs of an employee.
There appears to be a strong link between passive leadership and burnout. Passive leaders are not able to show the necessary leadership qualities and therefore fail to take responsibility. Kelloway et al. (2004) found that this negative effect may originate from two main reasons. The first is that poor leadership in itself causes stress among the people who report to this person (direct relation).
Secondly, passive leaders stimulate a work environment in which lack of control and high workload (role overload) are normal (indirect relation). Additional to the reasons of Kelloway et al. (2004), the limited support that passive leaders will provide, and the expectations which are unlikely to be managed by passive leaders, resulting in psychological contract breach are also reasons to believe the strong link between passive leadership and burnout. As mentioned before, the above mentioned aspects taken together have a great effect on stress and well-being of employees.
Self-efficacy refers to individuals’ belief in their own capability to exercise control over challenging demands (Bandura, 1997). Employees with low self-efficacy are likely to have pessimistic thoughts about their future performance and personal development (Luszczynska & Schwarzer, 2005). Research on stress shows that self-efficacy can serve to prevent negative consequences of stress (Blecharz et al., 2014). Self-efficacy fosters the recovery from work stress (Hahn, Binnewies, Sonnentag, & Mojza, 2011), and experimental studies showed that a self-efficacy-enhancing intervention reduced the pressure on employees (Unsworth & Mason, 2012).
The history of self-efficacy starts with the social learning theory developed by Albert Bandura in 1977 (Zulkosky, 2009). One of the larger concepts within this theory is self-efficacy. According to this theory, self-efficacy concerns an individual's belief in his or her own ability to behave in a way which is necessary to deliver specific performance that may affect their lives. The extent to which a person has high or low self-efficacy, influences how people feel, how they behave, how they think and how they motivate themselves (Bandura, 1994). A low sense of self-efficacy is associated with stress, depression, anxiety and helplessness. Individuals with a low sense of self-efficacy will have low self-esteem and will be pessimistic about their accomplishments and personal development (Zulkosky, 2009). A high sense of self-efficacy helps to achieve tasks or goals, and has a positive impact on well-being (Bandura, 1994).
10 As stated earlier, the well-being of employees differs from person to person because every person may react differently to certain situations (Page & Vella-Brodrick 2009) (Hackman & Oldham, 1975). Several researchers showed that self-efficacy plays a protective factor role against burnout (Shoji et al., 2015). People with a high degree of confidence in their abilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered, rather than as threats to be avoided (Bandura, 1994; Zulkosky, 2009). There is also a possibility to have a too high estimate of own beliefs, which can cause them to act in a reckless way.
A sense of self-efficacy will grow when someone has positive experiences with a task or skill.
Successes will increase the feeling of confidence and eventual the feeling of self-efficacy. Several approaches will influence self-efficacy. The first one is performance accomplishments, which relates to being successful at a task. When someone is repeatedly successful at a task it will increase the sense of self-efficacy. On the other hand, negative experiences will decrease the sense of self-efficacy. When a person has been successful in the same task for a longer time, minor setbacks will influence self- efficacy less.
A second method to increase the sense of self-efficacy is to watch others successfully performing a task or a skill resulting in a feeling of confidence that are able to perform the task or skill. In order to feel this way, it is important that the ‘model figure’ has the same abilities according to the person who is watching. The third method is verbal persuasion, which refers to receiving positive feedback regarding the task or skill, or a ‘pep talk’ in which a person is convinced of his own abilities to successfully perform a task. Finally, physiological cues might also influence perceived self-efficacy.
When someone finds a task too demanding, he or she might experience physiological cues such as sweating, racing heart, anxiety and tension. This could contribute to a weaker sense of self-efficacy (Zulkosky, 2009).
One of the aspects which negatively relates passive leadership to well-being is that employees do not know where they stand and what is expected of them. In addition, they receive little/no feedback on what they do. People with a high sense of self-efficacy will be better able to deal with a passive leader than people with a low sense of self-efficacy, because they feel they are able to control the situation. Because a high degree of self-efficacy can relieve work stress, the expectation is that self-efficacy can reduce the risk of burnout when having a passive leader.
The purpose of this research is to investigate if self-efficacy reduces the level of employee burnout when they have a passive leader. As mentioned previously, various studies have shown that this relationship does indeed exist, directly or indirectly (Skogstad et al., 2007; Vullinghs et al. (2018).
11 Therefore, a positive relationship between passive leadership and employee burnout is expected. This leads to the following hypothesis:
H1. Passive leadership is positively related to burnout.
As mentioned before, role ambiguity, lack of social (supervisor) support, lack of control, role overload and psychological contract breach are causes of burnout over which leaders have much influence. These aspects have a major effect on the stress and well-being of employees. At the same time it is expected that passive leadership will strengthen these factors. This leads to the following hypotheses:
H2. The relationship between passive leadership and burnout is mediated by role ambiguity.
H3. The relationship between passive leadership and burnout is mediated by a lack of supervisor support.
H4. The relationship between passive leadership and burnout is mediated by a lack of control.
H5. The relationship between passive leadership and burnout is mediated by role overload.
H6. The relationship between passive leadership and burnout is mediated by psychological contract breach.
The moderator proposed by Barling and Frone (2016) will also be researched. This is the effect of self-efficacy as moderator of the relationship between passive leadership and burn-out and its mediators. It is expected that a high sense of self-efficacy reduces the level of burnout in passive leadership because of the effect it has on the mediators: role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control, role overload and psychological contract breach. The following hypothesis is proposed:
H7. Self-efficacy moderates the indirect relation between passive leadership and burnout, such that it reduces the effect of (a) role ambiguity, (b) lack of supervisor support, (c) lack of control, (d) role overload (e) psychological contract breach.
12 The above hypotheses lead to the research model as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1. Research model
Passive leadership Employee burnout
Role overload Lack of control Lack of supervisor
Psychological contract breach +
13 3. Method
To answer the research question, a quantitative research was done. Data was collected by a survey. As the elements that are measured are about employee perception, only employees were asked to fill out the survey on passive leadership, burnout, self-efficacy and the mediators: role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control, role overload and psychological contract breach. Below is a description of how the variables are measured in the research. Unless otherwise described, the items were measured using a 5-point Likert scale, varying from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
3.1 Employee burnout
To measure burnout, the Dutch version of the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) questionnaire was used (Vullinghs et al, 2018). This is the most widely used scale to measure burnout (Maslach et al.
2001; Schaufeli and Dierendonck 2000). The questionnaire consists of 16 questions that look at the three components of the burnout phenomenon: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization/cynicism, and a sense of diminished personal achievement (Bianchi, Laurent, & Schonfeld, 2019). Participants will rate statements such as "I feel emotionally drained from my work" on a 5 point Likert scale from 1 (never) to 5 (daily). The scale used for burnout has high reliability, the Cronbach’s Alpha is .885.
3.2 Passive leadership
Passive leadership was measured by the Dutch Charismatic Leadership In Organizations questionnaire (CLIO: de Hoogh, den Hartog, & Koopman, 2004). The questionnaire consists of four statements related to a leader that the employee has to fill in, such as: "Avoids getting involved in time-consuming issues".
It has been shown that this questionnaire is more effective when it is filled in by employees as opposed to self-reporting by leaders (de Hoogh et al., 2004). The Cronbach’s Alpha is .712.
3.3 Occupational self-efficacy
Shoji et al. (2015) mention that in the context of occupational stress, self-efficacy reflects the confidence to be able to use the skills needed to deal with job-specific tasks, challenges, stress and its consequences. Because this study aims to measure self-efficacy in the workplace, occupational self- efficacy was measured. To assess occupational self-efficacy, the short version of the ‘Occupational self- efficacy scale’, developed by Schyns and von Collani (2002) will be used.
An example question is: “Thanks to my resourcefulness, I know how to handle unforeseen situations in my job.” The 8 statements from the scale were translated to Dutch. The Cronbach’s Alpha is .786.
14 3.4 Role ambiguity
To measure role ambiguity, a fairly new scale was used, that of Bowling et al. (2017). This scale is an improvement on the most widely used scale, which is at the same time much criticized, namely that of Rizzo, House, and Lirtzman (1970). This new scale has been tested with high validity, internal consistency and test-retest reliability. In addition, evidence for the construct validity was also found.
An example from this questionnaire is: "I am not sure what is expected of me at work". The Cronbach’s Alpha is .841.
3.5 Lack of supervisor support
To assess supervisor support, Eisenbergers' Survey of Perceived Organizational Support (SPOS) was used (Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchison, & Sowa, 1986). The SPOS has been adapted in the same way as in the study by Eisenberger, Stinglhamber, Vandenberghe, Sucharski, and Rhoades (2002), by replacing the word organization with the term supervisor.
Because this questionnaire measures the degree of supervisor support, and this study is about the lack of social support, the answers will be recoded in the opposite direction (see appendix). The Cronbach’s Alpha is .867.
3.6 Lack of control
To measure lack of control, the work control scale was used of Smith, Tisak, Hahn, & Schmieder (1997).
This 22 item scale consists of general control items and predictability items. For this study only the general control items were used, meaning 17 items were used. The questions are measured using a 5 point Likert scale with answers ranging from 'very little' to 'very much'. The questions were translated to Dutch. Because this questionnaire measures the degree of control, and this study measures lack of control, all scores will be recoded in the opposite direction. An example question is: "How much control do you have over how you do your work? The Cronbach’s Alpha is .867.
3.7 Role overload
To measure role overload, the Quantitative Workload Inventory (QWI) is used. This is a 5 item scale, developed by Spector and Jex (1998), to measure the amount of workload. In the QWI, respondents give an indication by filling in statements about how busy they are at work. Answers vary from: 'less than once a month' to 'several times a day'. A high score means a high workload. The translation of the QWI comes from Kwaliteitsbureau NVAB (2013). The Cronbach’s Alpha is .799.
15 3.8 Psychological contract breach
To measure psychological contract breach, the 5 item scale of Robinson and Morrison (2000), was used. This scale assessed employees’ perception of how well their psychological contracts have been fulfilled by their leader or organization, for example: “I have not received everything promised to me in exchange for my contributions.”. Questions were translated to Dutch. The Cronbach’s Alpha is .888.
3.9 Internal validity
In the literature review it has become clear that there are many different causes of burnout. This makes it difficult to secure internal validity. Nevertheless, it seems that there is a strong link between passive leadership and the level of burnout, because almost all described causes of burnout can be linked back to, and be influenced by passive leadership. Four of these causes are added as mediators to find an indirect effect. Control variables will be added as well. For example, Vullinghs et al. (2018) used working hours per week as a control variable in their study to the effect of passive leadership on a burnout. Reason for this is that working hours might influence exhaustion and stress, which relate to burnout.
The population of this research was Dutch people above the age of 18, in employment with a leader.
By sampling a group that is as diverse as possible, age can also be added as a control variable. The survey was deployed via personal and business network.
3.11 Control variables
According to the meta-analysis of Shoji et al. (2015), a relationship between higher age and/or multiple years of work experience and higher self-efficacy is shown. Therefore, five control variables were added; employee age, gender, years of working experience, employee level of education and, as mentioned above, work hours per week.
To ensure that when measuring leadership the passivity of a leader is measured and not so much the conditions in which the leader supervises, or personal characteristics, three more control variables are added concerning the leader and team: gender and age of the leader, and the size of the team. For the size of the team, possible time constraints due to the number of team members are taken into account.
16 4. Results
The data for this research was collected via a survey in Qualtrics. The collected data were analyzed via SPSS (PROCESS in particular). In this chapter the results of the analyses will be presented.
4.1 Descriptive data
The first step in analyzing the results was to remove respondents who only opened the link but did not answer any questions, a total of 310 respondents completed the survey. After this, some of the values were recoded and a reliability test was performed. The reliabilities of the item scales are mentioned in the ‘Method’ section and in the table below. Table 1 shows the means, Standard Deviation, Cronbach’s alpha and the skewness for all variables.
Table 1. Means, Standard Deviation and Cronbach’s alpha
M SD α Skew
Role overload 3.043 .899 .799 .234
Lack of control 2.816 .585 .867 .020
Burnout 2.330 .541 .885 .564
Passive leadership 2.791 .787 .712 .319
Psychological contract breach 2.443 .760 .888 .677
Self-efficacy 3.892 .424 .786 -.126
Role ambiguity 2.465 .721 .841 .445
Lack of supervisor support 2.142 .670 .867 1.093
According to Cicchetti (1994), the Cronbach’s Alpha of a variable should be between .70 and .79 to have acceptable internal consistency. A level of significance between .80 and .89 means good internal consistency. As visible in the table above, the level of significance for all variables is > .7, which means the internal consistency is between acceptable and good.
For the skewness of variables the rule of thumb is to have a skewness between -1 and 1. Within these values we can assume the data is normally distributed. The skewness of ‘lack of supervisor support’ is slightly higher, but negligible.
A correlation analysis was used to assess the relationships between the variables. Table 2 shows the correlation table with all correlations and their significance. As visible in the correlation matrix, the correlation between the two variables: age and years of working experience is very high (r= .920, p <.05). To test multi collinearity, the VIF scores were tested. The VIF score of two variables had a very high value: years of working experience: 7.913 and age: 7.840. For this reason, years of work experience was not included in the analyses.
17 The correlation matrix shows that passive leadership is significantly correlated with all mediators except role overload. This relation is positive for role ambiguity (r=.159, p <.01), lack of supervisor support (r=.525, p <.01), lack of control (r=.123, p <.05) and psychological contract breach (r= .457, p <.01). There is no significant relationship between passive leadership and self-efficacy. A significant positive correlation was found between passive leadership and burnout (r=.302, p <.01).
Burnout shows a significant correlation with all mediators. This correlation is positive for lack of control (r= .461, p <.01). role ambiguity (r= .576, p <.01), lack of supervisor support (r= .520, p <.01), role overload (r= .251, p <.01) and psychological contract breach (r= .544 , p <.01). The correlation is negative for self-efficacy (r= -.574, p <.01).
Next to the significant negative correlation between burnout and self-efficacy, self-efficacy also shows a significant correlation with all mediators. This correlation is negative for role ambiguity (r= -.507, p <.01), lack of supervisor support (r= -.280, p <.01), lack of control (r= -.344, p <.01), role overload (r= -.152, p <.01) psychological contract breach (r= -.313, p <.01). In addition, as predicted by the meta-analysis of Shoji et al. (2015), there is indeed a significant positive correlation between age (r= .111, p <.05) and/or years of work experience (r= .153, p <.01) and self-efficacy.
Table 2. Correlation matrix
Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
1. Age - .098 .920** -.096 -.071 .408** -.018 .199** -.128* -.166** .049 -.032 -.041 -.015 .144* .111*
2. Gender - .086 .089 -.184** .071 .255** .027 .112* .061 .035 .224** .125* .011 -0.08 -.169**
3. Years of working experience - -.229** -.062 .334** .008 .174** -.135* -.186** .073 -.041 -.071 .003 .130* .153**
4. Level of education - -.019 .127* .026 .038 .130* .298** .015 .054 -.01 .033 0.09 -.091
5. Working hours per week - -.052 -.031 -.073 -.019 .06 .042 -.091 .038 .091 .045 -0.02
6. Age of leader - -.069 .233** -.013 -.011 .01 -.017 .063 .002 .209** .089
7. Gender of leader - -.034 .082 .129* .088 .249** .053 .023 -.140* -.121*
8. Team size - -.143* -.097 -.065 -.221** .04 -.131* .038 .184**
9. Burnout - .576** .520** .461** .251** .544** .302** -.574**
10. Role ambiguity - .363** .300** .163** .396** .159** -.507**
11. Lack of supervisor support - .424** .117* .665** .525** -.280**
12. Lack of control - .228** .319** .123* -.344**
13. Role overload - .222** -.001 -.152**
14. Psychological contract breach - .457** -.313**
15. Passive leadership - -.041
16. Self-efficacy -
** Correlation is significant at the .01 level (2-tailed).
* Correlation is significant at the .05 level (2-tailed).
Gender was coded as 0 = male , 1 = female N = 310
19 4.2 Direct effect and mediation effect
To test the first six hypotheses, a regression analysis was conducted in PROCESS. At first, H1 was tested:
Passive leadership is positively related to burnout. The outcome of this regression analysis shows there is a significant positive relation between passive leadership and burnout. This shows in two ways:
Firstly, it shows in the model including all control variables and mediators (β = .099, R² =.590, p <.05,).
Secondly, the model without control variables and mediators (β = .302, R² = .091, p <.001), therefore Hypothesis 1 is accepted.
Hypotheses 2 – 6 are about the mediation effect of role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control, role overload and psychological contract breach. Table 3 shows the indirect effects of passive leadership on burnout and these mediators. As visible in the table, the confidence interval for role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control and psychological contract breach do not include a 0. Therefore it can be concluded that the mediation effect for the above mentioned variables is significant, meaning the relation between passive leadership and burnout is mediated by role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control and psychological contract breach. This is a partial mediation, since the direct effect between passive leadership and burnout is significant as well. Based on this, the following hypotheses can be accepted: H2, H3, H4, H6. The relation between passive leadership and burnout is not mediated by role overload, meaning H5 was rejected: The relationship between passive leadership and burnout is mediated by role overload. Figure 2 shows all standardized coefficients for the relation between passive leadership and burnout, mediated by role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control, role overload and psychological contract breach.
Table 3. Direct and indirect effect of passive leadership on burnout
b SE 95% CI
Total effect .208 .031 [.146, .270]
Direct effect .068 .033 [.004, .134]
Role ambiguity .022 .010 [.005, .044]
Lack of supervisor support .046 .022 [.003, .090]
Lack of control .016 .008 [.003, .034]
Role overload -.000 .003 [-.008, .007]
Psychological contract breach .054 .019 [.018, .096]
Age, gender, level of education, working hours per week, gender of leader, age of leader were added as control variables.
CI = Confidence interval.
Figure 2. Standardized coefficients for the relation between passive leadership and burnout, mediated by role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control and psychological contract breach. Age, gender, level of education, working hours per week, gender of leader, age of leader were added as control variables. ns = not statistically significant. * p < .05. ** p < .01.
4.3 Self-efficacy as moderator
To test hypothesis 7, another regression analysis was conducted in PROCESS, to test if self-efficacy moderates the indirect relation between passive leadership and burnout, such that it reduces the effect of the mediators: role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control, role overload and psychological contract breach. The outcome of the analysis is visible in table 4.
Table 4. Regression analysis on moderating role of self-efficacy between mediators and burnout
b SE P
Role ambiguity -.135 .064 .035*
Lack of supervisor support -.100 .111 .366
Lack of control -.007 .077 .927
Role overload .001 .053 .977
Psychological contract breach .156 .096 .106
Age, gender, level of education, working hours per week, gender of leader, age of leader were added as control variables.
* p < .05. ** p < .01.
The results show that the relation is significant for role ambiguity only, meaning that self- efficacy reduces the effect of role ambiguity in the relation between passive leadership and burnout.
H7a can be accepted, H7 b – e was rejected. The moderating effect of self-efficacy has been visualized in Figure 3.
Role overload ns
Passive leadership Employee burnout
Lack of control Lack of supervisor
Psychological contract breach
Figure 3. Visualization of the moderating role of self-efficacy
This chapter will discuss the results and answer the research question. Furthermore, practical implications of the study will be explored as well as the limitations of this research and directions for future research.
5.1 Passive leadership and burnout
The purpose of this study was to investigate the moderating role of self-efficacy on the indirect relation between passive leadership and employee burnout. Results show a direct relationship between passive leadership and burnout. In addition, role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control and psychological contract breach were found as mediators of the relation between passive leadership and burnout. Finally, self-efficacy was added as moderator to the model. Results showed that self- efficacy is a moderator of the relation of the relation between passive leadership and burnout, when mediated by role ambiguity.
The first step in this research was to examine the direct relationship between passive leadership and burnout. The positive relationship that was found was expected, because it can be assumed from the literature that passive leadership has an effect on burnout. This direct relationship was tested in two ways. First in a model including the control variables, and once without control variables. In the model where control variables were added to the model, a fairly strong relationship is shown.
22 The second step in this research was to include role ambiguity, role overload, lack of supervisor support, lack of control and psychological contract breach as mediators in the relation between passive leadership and burnout. A significant effect was found in the relationship between passive leadership and burnout for all mediators except role overload. The relationship between passive leadership and burnout is thus partly explained by role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control and psychological contract breach. The established relationships were in line with the theory of Kelloway et al. (2004) and Maslach et al. (2001). For role overload the expected relationship was not found.
However, a direct relationship was found between role overload and burnout.
As a final component of this analysis, self-efficacy was added as moderator of the model. It was found that this relationship is only significant for role ambiguity. This suggests that self-efficacy reduces the positive effect of passive leadership on burnout only through buffering the effect of role ambiguity. Employees with a high degree of self-efficacy will therefore suffer less from role ambiguity associated by passive leadership than someone with a low degree of self-efficacy. A possible
explanation is that these employees shape their own role. This allows them to work more autonomously, and require less leadership than someone with a low degree of self-efficacy.
On the contrary, self-efficacy has a direct negative relationship with passive leadership and all mediators. The risk is that the reductive effect of self-efficacy on the relationship between passive leadership and burn-out of employees, explained by role ambiguity, is neutralized by all other
negative aspects that are likely to be present as well. So overall, it appears that self-efficacy does play a role in the relationship between passive leadership and burnout. The results found in this study are not very large, but it is valuable to delve deeper into this.
5.2 Theoretical and practical implications
This research contributes to the literature by providing empirical research on passive leadership and employee burnout, which may help to put passive leadership on the agenda. There are currently very few studies that highlight this dark style of leadership, with the result that people and organizations are not aware of the risks and destructive nature that passive leadership entails (Vullinghs et al., 2018).
Four mediators emerge from this research that explain the relationship between passive leadership and burnout. Creating awareness amongst leaders about what passive leadership means and what the effects are of role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control and psychological contract breach, may help to prevent employee burnout in the future. Organizations could set up guidelines or provide training on how leaders can take on an active role. For example, they will learn how important it is to be available to their employees for questions or help, have check-ins with employees, provide feedback, direction and clarity.
23 As stated before, self-efficacy buffers the relation between passive leadership and burnout, as far as it concerns the indirect role of role ambiguity. Meaning that the relation between role ambiguity and burnout is less strong for people with a high degree of self-efficacy, which in turn may reduce the chance on employee burnout because of a passive leader. Alternatively, there is a risk that this positive effect will be neutralized due to direct negative effects from passive leadership and other moderators on self-efficacy.
A practical implication for the study result is that creating awareness on this topic could help to identify situations of passive leadership and improve the response. For example, when someone with burnout complaints is being supervised and has complaints about role ambiguity, that is, having problems with what the responsibilities of this person are, specific attention can be paid to increasing someone’s self-efficacy. Additionally, self-efficacy shows a significant positive relation with team-size, suggesting that self-efficacy goes together working in a larger team. This may imply that a larger team might be able to help overcome the negative effect of passive leadership, as employees can perhaps turn to colleagues for assistance. However, this comes with a risk as a larger team may also generate an even more passive leader due to the fact there is limited time to pay attention to employees.
According to the meta-analysis of Shoji et al. (2015) there is relation between higher age and/or multiple years of work experience and higher self-efficacy. This relation has also been found in this research. This indicates that self-efficacy increases as a person gets older or gains more work experience. Therefore it is interesting to further investigate how this process of gaining self-efficacy can be increased so that employees are less prone to suffer from role ambiguity or other discomforts caused by passive leaders.
5.3 Limitations and future research
There are several limitations which could be addressed in future research. First, this research uses a cross-sectional design, which means that correlations can be found but causal relationships could not be established. However, we can make an assumption based on the theoretical framework on burnout, which is that passive leadership leads to a higher degree of burnout. Nevertheless, the causal relationship cannot be established. It may also be that people who already have burnout symptoms see their leader as more passive. Therefore, for future research it is recommended to also look specifically at causal relationships. In addition, burnout is a construct that evolves over time (Vullinghs, et al., 2018). It may be interesting to conduct a longitudinal study with a group of respondents in which the development of burnout in passive leadership can be looked at more specifically. It can also help to generate more insight into the causal relationship between the direct negative effect of passive leadership and the concepts: role ambiguity, lack of social (supervisor) support, lack of control,
24 role overload psychological contract breach and self-efficacy. In particular, self-efficacy has received little research into the relationship between passive leadership and burnout.
It is possible that the four mediators found in this research are not solely responsible for the relationship between passive leadership and burnout. For future research, it would be recommended to look if other mediators can be found which relate to passive leadership and burnout, and if self- efficacy moderates those relations. For example, Barling and Frone (2017) have included role conflict in their research on passive leadership and mental health/work attitude. Furthermore, Maslach et al.
(2001) also mention a lack of feedback as cause of burnout. These are examples of two mediators which could be added to this model to see what their relation is in combination with passive leadership, burnout and self-efficacy as moderator.
Secondly, the method of sampling used for this research is convenience/snowball sampling.
All respondents contacted to fill in the survey came through my own network, which entails a risk of social desirability.People in my network who knew what this research was about, may have filled in answers that would show results more quickly. On the other hand, people might have found it uncomfortable to fill out the survey when they personally know me, aware that I could see the results.
To limit this as much as possible, anonymity was guaranteed. Using my own network to get respondents also led to a homogeneous group filling in the survey, because I have many people of the same age group in my network. Therefore, a number of people with a broad network were asked to share the link via social media such as LinkedIn. The result was that many people who filled out the survey did not know me personally. With this, I also tried to reach the broadest possible target group.
One final limitation is that I did not ask where people work. This would have given valuable information about different branches and job positions.For future research it would be interesting to conduct a similar study in another context in order to get a better representation of the population and to see if other results emerge.
25 6. Conclusions
Leaders play a crucial role in the work-related well-being of employees (Montano et al., 2016) and in turn, the well-being of employees is crucial to the success of an organization (Page & Vella-Brodrick, 2009). So far there has been little research into the effect of passive leadership on employees. This study aimed to demonstrate that self-efficacy reduces the risk of employee burnout when having a passive leader.
Results show a significant positive relation between passive leadership and employee burnout.
This relation is partly explained by role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control and psychological contract breach. Role overload was the only mediator that was not shown as significant.
Self-efficacy was added as moderator in the model, to test if it has any effect on the previously mentioned relations. Results show a significant relation for self-efficacy as moderator on the relation between passive leadership and employee burnout, mediated through role ambiguity. For the other mediators, no significant relationship was found with self-efficacy as moderator.
To conclude, this research has shed new light on the relation between passive leadership and burnout, and the mediating factors role ambiguity, lack of supervisor support, lack of control, role overload, and psychological contract breach. Self-efficacy appears to influence this relation such that it reduces the positive effect of passive leadership on burnout through role ambiguity, but it is interesting to further research how this relation manifests in practice. What emerges very strongly from this research is the harm that passive leaders may cause, without possibly being aware of it.
Therefore it is very important increase awareness on the subject and the consequences it might have for employees within an organization.
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31 8. Appendices
1. Instructions for completing the survey
Allereerst wil ik u bedanken voor uw deelname aan dit onderzoek. De vragenlijst die u invult maakt deel uit van mijn afstudeeronderzoek in de richting van 'Leadership en Management', waarin ik mij richt op het effect van passief leiderschap op het krijgen van een burnout. U kunt alleen meedoen aan dit onderzoek als u ook daadwerkelijk een leidinggevende op het werk heeft.
Op de volgende pagina's krijgt u een aantal stellingen te zien, waarbij gevraagd wordt om aan te vinken wat voor u het meest van toepassing is. Kies het antwoord dat het beste past bij de situatie waarin u dagelijks uw werk uitvoert. Het invullen van de vragenlijst duurt ongeveer 10 minuten.
Alle resultaten worden geheel anoniem verwerkt. Mocht u nog vragen of opmerkingen hebben over het onderzoek, neem dan contact met mij op via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nogmaals hartelijk dank voor uw deelname.
Met vriendelijke groet, Romy Schoordijk
32 2. Survey questions
This appendix lists all the questions that were asked in the survey. The survey started with questions on background variables. Subsequently, respondents were shown statements or questions about the different concepts: role overload, lack of control, lack of supervisor support, passive leadership, psychological contract breach, burnout, self-efficacy, role ambiguity. Respondents were asked to select the answer which applied most to them.
1. Wat is uw leeftijd?
2. Wat is uw geslacht?
3. Hoeveel jaren werkervaring heeft u?
4. Wat is uw hoogst genoten opleiding?
5. Hoeveel uur per week werkt u volgens uw huidige contract?
6. Hoe oud is uw leidinggevende?
7. Welk geslacht heeft uw leidinggevende?
8. Hoe groot is het team dat onder de verantwoordelijkheid van uw leidinggevende valt?
Role overload - Quantitative Workload Inventory, QWI
1. Hoe vaak vereist uw werk dat u heel snel moet werken?
2. Hoe vaak vereist uw werk dat u hard moet werken?
3. Hoe vaak komt u in tijdsnood om werktaken af te ronden?
4. Hoe vaak komt het voor dat er heel veel te doen is op het werk?
5. Hoe vaak komt het voor dat u meer werktaken moet uitvoeren dan u aankunt?
1 = minder dan één keer per maand of nooit 2 = één tot twee keer per maand
3 = één tot twee keer per week 4 = één tot twee keer per dag 5 = meerdere keren per dag
33 Lack of control
1. Hoeveel controle heeft u over de verscheidenheid aan methoden die u gebruikt bij het voltooien van uw werk? (R)
2. Hoeveel kunt u kiezen uit verschillende taken of projecten? (R)
3. Hoeveel controle heeft u persoonlijk over de kwaliteit van uw werk? (R) 4. Hoeveel controle heeft u over de planning en de duur van uw pauzes? (R) 5. Hoeveel controle heeft u over de tijd dat u naar uw werk komt en vertrekt? (R) 6. Hoeveel controle heeft u over wanneer u op vakantie gaat of dagen vrij neemt? (R) 7. Hoeveel kunt u uw werkruimte inrichten, herschikken of personaliseren? (R) 8. Hoeveel kunt u de fysieke omstandigheden van uw werkplek (verlichting,
temperatuur) controleren? (R)
9. Hoeveel controle heeft u over hoe u uw werk doet? (R)
10. Hoeveel controle heb je over wanneer en hoeveel interactie u heeft met anderen op het werk? (R)
11. Hoeveel invloed heeft u op het beleid en de procedures in uw werkomgeving?
12. Hoeveel controle heeft u over de informatiebronnen die u nodig heeft om uw werk te doen? (R)
13. Hoeveel controle heeft u over de hoeveelheid middelen (tools, materiaal) die u krijgt? (R)
14. Hoeveel controle heeft u over het aantal keren dat u wordt onderbroken tijdens uw werk? (R)
15. Hoeveel controle heeft u over het bedrag dat u op uw werk verdient? (R) 16. Hoeveel controle heeft u over hoe uw werk wordt geëvalueerd? (R)
17. Hoeveel controle heeft u over het algemeen over werk en werk gerelateerde zaken? (R)