Emotionally exhausted by depending on the wrong leader?
Is leader narcissism indirectly related to employee emotional exhaustion via exploitative leadership and does employee dependency moderate this indirect relationship?
Anne Smits, 13445448
MSc Business Administration: Leadership & Management Supervisor Dr. Annebel de Hoogh
EBEC approval number: EC 20220322100315 Final Version - 22 June 2022
Email - email@example.com
Statement of originality
This document is written by Anne Smits, 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.
First of all, I would like to thank Annebel de Hoogh for the supportive supervision and constructive feedback throughout the process. Next, thank you to the participants of the questionnaire and I would also like to thank the students in my thesis group for their efforts in collecting all the data. Lastly, I would like to thank my friends and family, especially Bas Lamers, Jeannette Paap and Lisa Appel for motivating me and Debbie and Warren Faulkner for proofreading.
Although narcissism is considered to be positively related to leader emergent, the effect on their employees is mostly negative. How exploitative this narcissistic trait is and when it occurs more often needs to be investigated. This research aims to answer the research question:
“is leader narcissism indirectly related to employee emotional exhaustion via exploitative leadership and does employee dependency moderate this indirect relationship?”. This moderated mediation model is investigated by conducting a survey with leader-employee dyads. The results show significant results to accept the moderated mediation model. Meaning that when the employee is more dependent on the narcissistic leader, the employee experiences more exploitative leadership behavior which in turn strengthens the relationship with emotional exhaustion. There is also a significant result found for the standalone moderation effect, however there are no significant results found for the standalone mediation effect. The research findings add to the literature by expanding the knowledge on narcissism and the effects such a leader can have. This research also brings more understanding to the new concept of exploitative leadership behavior. The practical implication of this research for organizations is on how to handle narcissistic leaders and how to support dependent employees. For future research, it is suggested to further investigate the direct relation between leader narcissism and exploitative leadership and to see which other moderators have an effect. Besides, more information about the effects of a dependent employee should be further investigated with a longitudinal study.
Key words: Leader Narcissism, Exploitative Leadership Behavior, Dependency, Need for Leadership, Emotional Exhaustion.
Table of Contents
Statement of originality ... 2
Acknowledgement ... 3
Abstract ... 4
List of tables ... 7
List of figures ... 7
1. Theoretical Background ... 10
1.1 Leader Narcissism ... 10
1.2 Exploitative leadership ... 11
1.3 Emotional exhaustion ... 13
1.4 Dependency ... 15
2. Method ... 19
2.1 Procedure ... 19
2.2 Participants ... 19
2.3 Measures ... 20
3. Results ... 23
3.1 Descriptive statistics ... 23
3.2 Hypotheses testing ... 24
4. Discussion ... 30
4.2 Limitations, and future research ... 32
4.3 Practical implications... 34
5. Conclusion ... 35
References ... 36
Appendix 1a Dutch questionnaire ... 40
Appendix 1b English Questionnaire ... 44
Appendix 2a Contact participation e-mail Dutch ... 48
Appendix 2b Contact participation e-mail English ... 49
Appendix 3a Questionnaire link e-mail Dutch ... 50
Appendix 3b Questionnaire link e-mail English... 51
List of tables
Table 1 – Means, standard deviations, and correlations ... 24 Table 2 – Mediating model: Leader narcissism IV, Exploitative leadership Mediator, Emotional exhaustion DV. ... 26 Table 3 – Moderating model: leader narcissism = IV, dependency = moderator, exploitative leadership DV. ... 27 Table 4 – Conditional effects of leader narcissism at different values of the moderator (-1 stander deviation, mean, + 1 standard deviation) ... 28 Table 5 – Moderated mediation model, narcissism = IV, exploitative leadership behavior = mediator, emotional exhaustion = DV, and dependency = moderator ... 29 Table 6 – Direct effect of leader narcissism on emotional exhaustion, and conditional indirect effect of leader narcissism on emotional exhaustion with exploitative leadership as mediator, at different levels of the moderator dependency. ... 29
List of figures
Figure 1 – The conceptual model... 18 Figure 2 – Interaction effect of leader narcissism and dependency on exploitative leadership ... 28
Self-promoting, empathy lacking, arrogant, and manipulative (O’Boyle et al., 2012;
Sedikides & Campbell, 2017; Smith et al., 2017). Having a leader with these tendencies does not sound like a workplace where the well-being of the employees is valued. Even though all these characteristics can be perceived as unfavorable, people rating high on narcissism, which these tendencies are related to, are also high in leadership emergence and can hold powerful positions within an organization (Smith et al., 2017). Apparently, narcissistic leaders match the prototypical image of a leader, persuading others to accept them as leaders (O’Boyle et al., 2012; Smith et al., 2017). However, these leaders have a dark side that may harm employees.
Narcissists lack empathy and are exceedingly self-interested and are likely to exploit their employees (Bernerth, 2020; O’Boyle et al., 2012; Sedikides & Campbell, 2017). Indeed, previous research links narcissism to destructive forms of leadership, including exploitative leadership. An exploitative leader is essentially self-interested and treats employees as a means to self-serving ends (Schmid et al., 2019). Furthermore, narcissism and exploitative leadership behavior have both been linked to feeling hopeless, turnover intentions, burnout, emotional exhaustion, and stress for the employees (Schmid et al., 2019; Sedikides & Campbell, 2017)
Stress within a workplace can be defined as a process where experiences and demands produce both short and long-term changes in the health of the employee (Ganster & Rosen, 2013). Stress (Ganster & Rosen, 2013) and emotional exhaustion (Bernerth, 2020) result from an imbalance of reciprocity and social exchanges within the workplace. The fact that exploitative leadership is defined as “the primary intention to further the leader’s self-interest by exploiting others” (Schmid et al., 2019; p. 1426) shows that exploitative leaders, at their core, create an imbalance within the relationship with their employees by only taking and not giving ample in return. Therefore, I expect that when exploitative leadership behavior is high, the emotional exhaustion levels of their employees will also increase.
Even though the narcissistic trait has extensively been studied, the effects on employees who have a greater dependence on narcissistic leaders has yet to be researched (Nevicka et al., 2018). Employee dependency is expected to allow for more exploitative leadership behavior from a narcissistic leader. Dependency of the employee refers to the effect that the absence of the leader has on the performance of that employee (Schyns et al., 2008). The need for leadership means that the employee is limited in their ability to do their work, as well as that their motivation and self-esteem are dependent on recognition from their leader (Kark et al., 2003). This previous research suggests the above statement of exploitative leadership being more apparent when the employee is dependent on the narcissistic leader can be expected to be true.
The goal of this paper is to answer the research question: is leader narcissism indirectly related to employee emotional exhaustion via exploitative leadership and does employee dependency moderate this indirect relationship? Shown in Figure 1 is the proposed conceptual model which will be tested by conducting a survey between leader-employee dyads.
This research is contributing to insights on the link between leader narcissism and exploitative leadership behavior within the workplace by identifying when narcissism is most strongly related to exploitative leader behavior. It also contributes to the literature on employee dependency by examining it as a contextual variable in the relationship between leader narcissism and exploitative leadership. Finally, exploitative leadership is a fairly new leadership construct where the relation to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, workplace deviance, and burnout have been examined (Schmid et al., 2019). However, the relation of exploitative leadership behavior on emotional exhaustion can be more extensively tested (Elsaied, 2021). The results may inform the selection and training processes of organizations, this can also be altered when the organization knows that they have a narcissistic leader, for example, to only hire self-reliant employees.
1. Theoretical Background
1.1 Leader Narcissism
Narcissism as a leadership trait can be considered both positive and negative (O’Boyle et al., 2012). The positive side is that it allows people high in narcissism to receive promotions faster due to the higher intention of self-promotion, organizational politicking, performance and creativity within moments of uncertainty in the organization and during the interviewing and assessing stage of applying for a position (O’Boyle et al., 2012; Sedikides & Campbell, 2017; Smith et al., 2017). All these situations make it easier for narcissistic people to get ahead and be promoted into a leadership position.
However, the positive sides of narcissism wear down rather quickly when they are in that leadership position (Sedikides & Campbell, 2017). Smith et al. (2017) state that although narcissism is linked to leader emergence, leader effectiveness is not a quality that is associated with the narcissistic leadership trait. There are some contradicting studies where leader effectiveness and leader narcissism are connected. However, this is only in situations with unusual strict rules (e.g., the US Army) and not within a ‘normal’ organizational structure (Smith et al., 2017). Within this paper, we will keep the traditional everyday business organization in mind.
The negative sides of narcissism can be shown through the characteristics that describe a narcissistic person. The definition stated in O’Boyle et al. (2012) is that narcissists have an
“inflated view of self, coupled with delusions of grandeur, create a desire to self-promote and engage in attention-seeking behavior” (p. 558). Sedikides and Campbell (2017) describe a narcissist as a “self-absorbed, self-aggrandizing, vanity-prone, arrogant, dominant, and manipulative interpersonal orientation” (p. 400). Lastly, within Smith et al. (2017) the characteristics of narcissism are “grandiose sense of self-importance; delusions of grandeur;
sensitive to ego threat; heightened sense of entitlement; lack of empathy” (p. 194). All previous
definitions give an overall sense of negativity towards the people around the narcissist and only the enhancement of the narcissistic person themselves.
Narcissists are mainly concerned with getting ahead within the organization and their personal life, more so than being social and helpful (Sedikides & Campbell, 2017). Another way that shows this is the tendency that narcissists feel that rules about reciprocity and obligations do not apply to them (O’Boyle et al., 2012). Besides this, narcissists point to others when something fails while they take credit for successes that are not theirs (Nevicka et al., 2018). Overall, narcissistic leaders do not show preferable and social characteristics which makes it less enjoyable to work for such a leader.
1.2 Exploitative leadership
Exploitative leadership behavior can be defined as “the primary intention to further the leader’s self-interest by exploiting others” (Schmid et al., 2019; p. 1426). Schmid et al. (2019) have divided the exploitative leadership concept into five dimensions: (1) genuine egotistic behavior, (2) taking credit, (3) exerting pressure, (4) undermining development, and (5) manipulating. Exploitative leadership behavior is a leadership style and not a stand-alone construct. Exploitative leadership behavior is seen as a complementary concept that will explain destructive leadership behaviors better (Schmid et al., 2019), this can also be the case for leader narcissism.
Looking closer to the five dimensions of exploitative leadership. Firstly, genuine egotistic behavior can be described as leaders prioritizing their goals over the needs or goals of their employees (Schmid et al., 2019). This egotistic behavior goes hand in hand with the next dimension of taking credit for work that they did not complete themselves (Schmid et al., 2019). Subsequently, to achieve the goals and to be able to take undeserving credit, the leaders put an exceeding amount of pressure on their employees by manipulating them (Schmid et al.,
The exploitative leader can underchallenge their employees by providing them with tedious tasks or by not promoting them to keep the useful employee under their command (Schmid et al., 2019).
The effects of an exploitative leadership style are negative to the organization and the employees working for a leader with such a style. The exploitative behavior can be detrimental to the satisfaction, emotional affection, well-being, and performance of the employees, as well as work-balance issues and psychological distress (Bajaba et al., 2021). The organization also suffers from this kind of behavior, with decreasing organizational commitment, poor organizational citizenship behavior, higher turnover intention, and workplace deviance (Elsaied, 2021; Schmid et al., 2019; Wu & Hu, 2009).
Wee et al. (2017) state that when abusive supervision has been taking place, such as exploitative leadership behavior, amending the relationship with the employee to reduce the effects of the detrimental behavior will be challenging. The most successful way of getting back to a healthy relationship between leader and employee is when the leader shows the effort to mend the relationship and apologizes for previous behavior (Wee et al., 2017). However, a leader that shows exploitative leadership behavior is usually less motivated to reconcile with the employee (Wee et al., 2017), especially when the leader is also narcissistic (Sedikides &
All the dimensions and consequences described above about exploitative leadership behavior are not new to a leader high on narcissism. Campbell et al. (2005) even connect narcissism and exploitative tendencies in two successful laboratory studies. These studies show that narcissists exploit the material much faster, creating an advantage for themselves but leaving the people that had to work with the narcissist worse off (Campbell et al., 2005).
To conclude, narcissistic leadership and exploitative leadership behavior can be linked in many ways. Narcissistic leaders have self-interest at their core, which is also the main
component of exploitative leadership (Schmid et al., 2019). Additionally, Nevicka et al. (2018) and Campbell et al. (2005) mention that narcissistic leaders tend to take undeserved credit and blame others for their mistakes. Narcissists will do anything to get ahead, such as manipulating and undermining their employees (O’Boyle et al., 2012), which are also characteristics of the exploitative leadership style (Schmid et al., 2019). For all these associations and similarities between the two variables, I expect the following hypothesis that leader narcissism is positively related to exploitative leadership.
Hypothesis 1a: Leader narcissism is positively related to exploitative leadership behavior.
1.3 Emotional exhaustion
Emotional exhaustion is a specific kind of stress which can be distinguished by physical fatigue and mental weariness when the workload of the employee is higher than the perceived resources that the employee has (Bernerth, 2020). Emotional exhaustion can be seen as the major component of burnout, while burnout can be understood as a stress-related adaptive process (Seidler et al., 2014).
Stress is a process by which experiences and high demands result in both short-term and long-term changes in mental and physical health (Ganster & Rosen, 2013). There are two types of stressors described by Horan et al. (2020), challenge stressors and hindrance stressors.
Challenge stressors are situations that may cause strain but at the same time are energizing, motivating and provide opportunities of feeling accomplished (Horan et al., 2020). These types of stressors are challenging but have achievable workloads and/or deadlines (Horan et al., 2020). Whereas, hindrance stressors are situations that do result in strain but do not energize the affected person (Horan et al., 2020). Examples of hindrance stressors are organizational constraints, unfavorable conditions, interruptions, or poor equipment (Horan et al., 2020). To
summarize, challenging stressors can be beneficial for the employee, where hindrance stressors make the situation for employees less favorable.
Another type of hindrance stressor explained by Siegrist et al. (2004) is the imbalance of effort and reward. When there is an extended time of imbalance of high effort of the employee but low reward from the leader, this can result in an increased susceptibility to illness caused by the continued strain on the employee (Siegrist et al., 2004) and emotional exhaustion (Schmid et al., 2019; Seidler et al., 2014). This type of stressor is exactly what happens when the leader conveys exploitative behavior towards the employee.
The effects emotional exhaustion on the employee and organization are damaging.
For the employee it can cause physical and mental discomforts (Seidler et al., 2014) as well as decreased job performance and increased turnover, which inturn affects the organization (Wu & Hu, 20019). Overall, when the employee is not feeling well both the employee itself and the organization will suffer.
As mentioned above, exploitative leadership behavior falls within the category of hindrance stressors and will be less energizing to the employee. Leaders exploiting employees for their own goals, taking away opportunities and resources, and putting exceeding pressure on their employees (Schmid et al., 2019) are all situations that have an effect on the well-being of the employee and shows a high imbalance of effort-reward (Siegrist et al., 2004). The hindrance from the exploitation of the employee will increase the stress level of the employee resulting in an emotionally exhausted state (Wee et al., 2017), as well as a disproportional relationship which is also a cause for more emotional exhaustion for the employee (Ganster &
Rosen, 2013). For these reasons, I will investigate the following hypotheses.
Hypothesis 1b: Exploitative leadership behavior is positively related to emotional exhaustion.
Hypothesis 1c: Exploitative leadership behavior mediates the relationship between leader narcissism and emotional exhaustion.
Besides the proposed mediation effect of exploitative leadership, dependency of the employee on a narcissistic leader is proposed to have a moderation effect on the exploitative leadership outcome.
Dependency, also interchangeable with ‘need for leadership’, is that the employee is limited in their ability to do their work and make decisions without the leader’s presence (Kark et al., 2003). This means that the employee feels that their motivation and self-esteem are dependent on recognition and approval from the leader (Kark et al., 2003). Hence, employees are influenced by the behavior of their leader.
De Vries et al. (2002) state that the need for leadership is arguably the most important moderator for the effect of leadership. When there is a high need for leadership, for example, when the employee feels insecure or lacks the competency to do their task, the individual outcome of the employee is stronger than when there is a low need for leadership (de Vries et al., 2002). To clarify, the leader has more influence on the outcomes of the employee when the employee is more (vs less) dependent on the leader.
Similar to what de Vries et al. (2002) stated above, Wee et al. (2017) state that when there is an asymmetric dependence on the leader, this will fuel abusive supervision. This dependency implies that the leader has considerably more power over the employee, so that the leader can decide over the fate of the employee (Wee et al., 2017). Due to this imbalance of dependency and power, the leader can promote more opportunistic behaviors towards the employee. Such opportunistic behaviors can be taking credit from the employee, exerting pressure, undermining their development and manipulating them to do the leaders chores without fair compensation in return. All these opportunistic behaviors are linked to Exploitative leadership (Schmid et al., 2019).
Why employees still feel dependent on their leaders even when their leader takes advantage of them is stated in the research of Hogg (2020). Hogg (2020) states that the need for leadership increases when there is self-uncertainty. Feeling insecure and the need for recognition and approval from their leader is the main part of dependence on the leader (Kark et al., 2003). Hogg (2020) also states that when there is not a prototypical leader, or a leader that is good for their employees, the employee will even take the option of a less prototypical leader. Thus, a narcissistic, exploitative leader can rise as a leader.
Another important aspect to point out is the fact that employees experience leadership differently from each other. First of all, Aquino and Thau (2009) point out that dependent employees can be more susceptible for potential victimization such as exploitative behavior.
Employees can also have a bias recall of events (Aquino & Thau, 2009). This means that the dependent employee remembers the exploitative behavior of their leader more than employees experiencing the same amount of abuse who are not dependent on that leader.
Lastly, Tepper (2000) states that when the employee depends on a leader, it is very challenging to then say no or end the work relationship with that leader. This dependence results in decreased job mobility, and thus the employee stays where they are. This decreased job mobility in turn has an effect on how the employee perceives the abusive supervision (Tepper, 2000). The tolerance for abusive supervision is significantly lower than for employees with high job mobility (Tepper, 2000). Meaning, dependent employees experience more exploitation from their leader due to the fact that they feel like they cannot leave their job.
To summarize, firstly, dependent employees feel the need for recognition and approval from their leader (Kark et al., 2003). Secondly, the leader has increased and asymmetrical influence on the dependent employee which promotes exploitation (de Vries et al., 2002; Wee et al., 2017). Lastly, the insecurity (Hogg, 2020), bias recall (Aquino & Thau, 2009), and decreased job mobility (Tepper, 2000) results in a higher perception of leader exploitation and
apprehensiveness to leave their job. In line with this information, I argue that when the employee has a higher dependency on the narcissistic leader, the leader can take that as an opportunity to abuse and exploit the relationship with the employee, hence the following hypothesis.
Hypothesis 2: Dependency of the employee moderates the relationship between leader narcissism and exploitative leader behavior, such that the relationship between leader narcissism and exploitative leader behavior is stronger when there is a high dependency of the employee compared to a low dependency of the employee.
To review all information above and to argue for the complete moderated mediation model. Leaders scoring high on narcissism are likely to show more exploitative leadership behavior when the employee is dependent on them, resulting in a more emotionally exhausted state for the employee. I argue this because the employee’s dependency makes it easier for the leader to be exploitative towards them than when an employee is highly independent and has little need for leadership (de Vries et al., 2002; Wee et al., 2017). Also, employees who are dependent on their abusive leader perceive this abuse to be more significant (Aquino & Thau, 2009).
Next, the exploitative leadership behavior mediates the effect of leader narcissism and emotional exhaustion because of the lack of reciprocity, social exchanges, and asymmetry between effort and reward (Siegrist et al., 2004) from the leader to the employee causing an imbalance and therefore emotional exhaustion upon the employee (Schmid et al., 2019; Seidler et al., 2014).
The complete research question to answer with this research is as follows ‘is leader narcissism indirectly related to employee emotional exhaustion via exploitative leadership and does employee dependency moderate this indirect relationship?’. In line with all arguments
presented in this theoretical framework and the research question, I propose the following last hypothesis about the full model shown in figure 1.
Hypothesis 3: Leader narcissism is related to employee emotional exhaustion via conditional indirect effects, such that the interaction between leader narcissism and employee dependency is related to exploitative leadership, which is in turn related to emotional exhaustion
Figure 1 – The conceptual model
This quantitative research thesis has been conducted via a survey. I collected the data together with five other students from the University of Amsterdam. One questionnaire has been created for the leader and employee together, where the questionnaire is available in Dutch (appendix 1a) and English (appendix 1b) to make it accessible and international. The creation of the survey was done in Qualtrics and the participants could back out of the survey at any point.
To be able to connect the correct leader and employee together, they both were given the same participation code. The codes were structured in a way that each student collecting data had their own number range (000 – 099 or 100 – 199) as well as their initials in front of the number range, resulting in codes of AS001 till AS099 for my personal collected data.
Besides this participation code, the remainder of the survey is completely anonymous.
The collection of data was done through non-probability convenience sampling. This procedure was chosen due to the time constraint of completing this research. The participants were contacted and asked if they would like to participate beforehand and if they could appoint a leader or employee to also fill in the questionnaire. When both participants agreed, the questionnaire was sent to their e-mails including the participation code that connects the leader and employee. In appendix 2a and 2b the invitation e-mail to participate in the questionnaire in Dutch and English are shown. In appendix 3a and 3b the e-mail message with the actual questionnaire link and participation code in Dutch and English is shown.
The questionnaire was sent out to 417 people, at least 25 people not included in that number declined to participate for numerous reasons. The most recurring reason was that the
employee did not want to ask their leader. These 25 people who declined are not included further in the research and response rate.
Of the 417 questionnaires that were sent out, 53 leaders and 41 employees failed to complete the questionnaire, resulting in a response rate of 77%, which is considered excellent.
An additional 33 responses were deleted due to a number of reasons, such as automatic saving of responses by Qualtrics, missing dyadic partner, and unidentifiable participation codes, resulting in 145 complete leader employee dyads.
Further, on focusing only on the 145 leaders and employees that filled in the questionnaire completely, the leaders consisted of 92 males, 52 females and one person identified as non-binary. The ages of the leaders range from 21 to 67 with an average age of 40 years and the average hours worked a week is 42 hours. Employees consisted of 58 males and 87 females ranging from the ages of 18 to 66 with an average age of 33 years. The average working hours a week for the employee was 33 hours which is nine hours fewer than that for the leader. At least 90 percent of the leader employee dyads work together once a week or more and on average worked together for four years. Lastly, the participants worked in a variety of industries, being finance, hospitality and healthcare as the most mentioned.
All variables used for this research in the questionnaire were scored with a validated seven-point Likert scale. The Likert scale used indicates from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree for three of the variables, where only emotional exhausted was rated from ‘never’ to
‘always’. The variables are explained below and example questions are given. The full measures that were included in the questionnaire are presented in appendix 1a the Dutch translation and in appendix 1b the English version.
2.3.1 Leader Narcissism. Narcissism of the leader are self-rating questions measured by means of the 13-item version of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI; Gentile et al.,
2013). The 13-item scale is drawn from the Raskin and Terry’s (1988) NPI-40. Questions like
“I like having authority over other people” (translation to Dutch “Ik vind het fijn zeggenschap over andere te hebben”) and “I like to show off my body” (translation to Dutch “Ik laat mezelf graag zien”) were asked to the leader. The Cronbach’s alpha for this scale was satisfactory with a score of 0.797. The Likert scale was recoded to fit the 1 = ‘strongly disagree’ and 7 = ‘strongly agree’ as this was not yet the case in the raw data file.
2.3.2 Exploitative Leadership. This variable was measured with 15 items created by Schmid et al. (2019) where the employee rated their leader on exploitative leadership behavior.
The results of this scale were satisfying with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.926. Examples of the questions asked are “takes it for granted that my work can be used for his or her personal benefit” (translation to Dutch “neemt als vanzelfsprekend aan dat mijn werk kan worden gebruikt voor zijn/haar persoonlijk voordeel”) and “passes the team’s work off as his or her own” (translation to Dutch “geeft het werk van het team door alsof het zijn/haar eigen werk is”). This scale is also coded as 1 = ‘strongly disagree’ and 7 = ‘strongly agree’, no recoding was necessary.
2.3.3 Emotional Exhaustion. The employee self-rated the scale of emotional exhaustion from the Maslach burnout inventory (Maslach & Jackson, 1986) where the six items identifying emotional exhaustion were used. This scale is considered satisfying with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.879. This scale consists of questions such as “I feel mentally exhausted by my work”
(translation to Dutch “ik voel me metaal uitgeput door mijn werk”) and “I feel tired when I get up in the morning and know I have got another working day ahead of me” (translation to Dutch
“ik voel mij vermoeid als ik ‘s morgens opsta en er weer een verkdag voor mij ligt”). These questions were coded as 1 = never and 7 = always, no recoding was necessary.
2.3.4 Dependency. The scale created by Kark et al. (2003) measuring dependency of the employee on the leader, completed by the employee, consists of 9 statements. Examples of
these statements are “if my leader goes on vacation, my functioning would deteriorate”
(translation to Dutch “als mijn leidinggevende op vakantie gaat, zal mijn functioneren achteruit gaan”) and “if my leader was replaced, I would feel that I do not have someone to solve my problems” (translated to Dutch “als mijn leidinggevende vervangen wordt, dan zou ik het gevoel hebben dat ik niemand heb om mij advies te geven”). Question five in this measure had to be recoded since it was a reversed asked question, meaning that this question 1 = “strongly agree and 7 = “strongly disagree. For all other questions the answers were coded as 1 =
“strongly disagree” and 7 = “strongly agree”. The Cronbach’s alpha of this dependency scale is 0.845 and therefore considered satisfying.
2.3.5 Control variable Leader Gender. The gender of the leader is used as a control variable as this might affect the possible results. Leader gender was coded 1 for male and 2 for female. The sole person who identified as non-binary was excluded from the results due to conversion to a nominal variable. The two main reasons why gender needs to be controlled is firstly, because males are more frequently rated narcissistic than females (Grijalva et al., 2014) and secondly, because females are judged differently for behavior that does not fit their gender specific roles behavior and this affects how they are rated (de Hoogh et al., 2015). Having this control variable will account for more clear results and show the maximum effect of the main variables.
2.3.6 Control variable collaboration tenure. Control variable collaboration tenure with the follower was indicated by the leader in years. This variable has been coded as a scale variable. The effect and interpretation of leader narcissism has been established to change over time (Sedikides & Campbell, 2017; Smith et al., 2017). To ensure this effect is accounted for within the results, collaboration tenure is acknowledged as a control variable.
In this chapter the data collected from the leader-employee dyads are analyzed and presented. Note that the confidence intervals are measured at the 90% level. Before analyzing the data, all incomplete surveys and dyads were excluded resulting in a N of 144 dyads. No other discrepancies with the data was found.
3.1 Descriptive statistics
To analyze and give an overview of the gathered data a Pearson correlation matrix was created. The descriptive statistics such as the mean, standard deviation, and correlations are presented in Table 1.
The focus was first on the variables from the conceptual model. This was done to see if there was any correlation between the variables to later determine if a regression analysis would be useful and show any significant relationship. The first variable, leader narcissism has no significant correlation with any of the other variables tested. The conclusion that there is no significant correlation to emotional exhaustion (r = –.090, p = .282) and leader narcissism indicates that there is no direct relationship found between the two variables. This is an expected outcome since no direct effect was indicated in the conceptual model. Subsequently, dependency of the employee on the leader does result in significant positive correlation with both exploitative leadership behavior (r = .184*, p < .05) and emotional exhaustion of the employee (r = .272**, p < .01). These correlations show that when an employee is higher on dependency they will also experience more exploitative leadership behavior and more emotional exhaustion. Exploitative leadership in turn also generates a positive significant correlation with emotional exhaustion of the employee (r = .287**, p < .01), which can be explained as, when an employee experiences more exploitative leadership behavior the ratings of emotional exhaustion also will also increase significantly.
The following control variables I deemed to be important are the gender of the leader and the collaboration tenure. Keeping track of these control variables when analyzing the results is important to reduce the influence of the variables on the results. The gender of the leader shows significant negative correlation between leader gender and dependency (r = – .166*, p < .05), meaning, when the leader is female, the employee feels significantly less dependent on the leader in contrast to when the leader is male. Collaboration tenure does not significantly correlate with any of the other variables.
Table 1 – Means, standard deviations, and correlations
M SD 1 2 3 4
1. Gender Leader 1.37 0.50
2. Collaboration tenure 3.90 5.28 –.085
3. Leader Narcissism 3.85 0.79 –.108 .020 (.797)
4. Exploitative leadership 2.33 0.97 –.162 .123 .145 (.926)
5. Emotional exhaustion 2.91 1.30 .072 –.148 –.090 .287** (.879)
6. Dependency 2.86 1.07 –.166* –.020 .005 .184* .272** (.845)
Note. N = 144 dyads. M = Mean; SD = Standard deviation. *. Correlation is significant at the .05 level (2- tailed). **. Correlation is significant at the .01 level (2-tailed). Cronbach’s alphas are indicated on the diagonal between brackets.
3.2 Hypotheses testing
To test my hypotheses, the Process tool by Hayes (2013) was used. The Process tool allows to investigate possible interaction effects. The relationship of hypothesis 1 and hypothesis 2 as well as the whole moderated mediation model of hypothesis 3 was examined.
Within the Process tool, model four and model seven were used. Model four allows for the testing of a mediation model where model seven allows for the testing of the independent, moderator, mediator, and dependent variable all with a continuous characteristic (Hayes, 2013). The hypotheses testing was done in a chronological order.
The variables included in model four are as follows: Leader narcissism as the
employee emotional exhaustion Y. For model seven, all variables stayed the same with employee dependency W being the only moderator that was added. Using Process model seven allows for testing the direct effect of X on Y and testing indirect effect of X on Y through the moderated mediation (Hayes, 2013). Again, pointing out that a 90% confidence interval was used to produce the following results.
3.2.1 Hypothesis 1
The hypothesis 1a, stated in the theoretical framework, is speculating that leader narcissism positively relates to exploitative leadership behavior. The correlation matrix in table 1 already shows no correlation between the two variables. The results from Process model four are in line with the outcome of the correlation matrix showing no significant relationship between leader narcissism and exploitative leadership behavior (Coeff = .156, t = 1.551, p = .123, CI [–.011, .323]). With this result, refuting hypothesis 1a is necessary. Neither of the covariates gender and collaboration tenure predict the possible significant relationship of narcissism and exploitative leadership behavior.
Hypothesis 1b, the hypothesized positive relationship between exploitative leadership behavior and emotional exhaustion did give a significant correlation in table 1. The direct positive relation of exploitative leadership behavior on emotional exhaustion has been established (Coeff = .457, t = 4.250, p = .000, CI [.279, .635]), the results are also shown in Table 2. This outcome shows a significant positive relationship between the two variables resulting in the acceptance of hypothesis 1b. Meaning, having a leader showing exploitative leadership behavior results in the employee feeling more emotionally exhausted. The control variable collaboration tenure is significant (p < .05) in this situation, meaning that it significantly adjusts the dependent variable emotional exhaustion. This significant control
variable has a negative relation to emotional exhaustion, decreasing emotional exhaustion the longer the employee works for an exploitative leader.
Hypothesis 1c is proposed to be the positive mediation effect of exploitative leadership behavior between leader narcissism and emotional exhaustion. First establishing that there is no significant direct effect of leader narcissism on emotional exhaustion (Effect = –.205, t = – 1.582, p = .1116, CI [–.419, .010]). In the same manner there is also no mediation effect of exploitative leadership behavior found since the indirect effect (Effect = .072, SE = .056, CI [–
.013, .171]) has a confidence interval including zero. Therefore, hypothesis 1c was rejected, meaning that exploitative leadership behavior does not mediate the relationship between leader narcissism and emotional exhaustion of the employee. Neither gender of the leader and collaboration tenure are significant in this mediation model, having no significant influence on the outcome.
Table 2 – Mediating model: Leader narcissism IV, Exploitative leadership Mediator, Emotional exhaustion DV.
Coefficient SE t p
Constant 2.458 .650 3.780 .000
Leader Narcissism –.205 .129 –1.582 .116
Exploitative Leadership .457 .108 4.250 .000
Leader Gender (Control) .264 .215 1.232 .220
Leader tenure (Control) –.044 .019 –2.261 .025
R2 = .143 F (5.817)
Note. N = 144 dyads, confidence level of 90%
3.2.2 Hypothesis 2
Looking at hypothesis 2, hypothesizing a moderation effect of dependency on the relationship between leader narcissism and exploitative leadership behavior. In table 3, the results of the moderating model from process model seven are shown. Where the interaction
between leader narcissism and dependency on exploitative leadership is significant (Coeff = 1.97, t = 2.195, p = .030, CI [.048, .345]). Additional results of the effects of leader narcissism on different values of the moderator can be found in table 4. There are no indications that the control variables leader gender and collaboration tenure have any significant influence on these results.
The results of the moderation model are depicted in Figure 2, showing clearly that when the employee is dependent on the narcissistic leader that the employee will experience more exploitative leadership behavior. If the employee is not dependent on the narcissistic leader the employee does not experience more exploitative leadership behavior. Concluding that hypothesis 2 can be accepted.
Table 3 – Moderating model: leader narcissism = IV, dependency = moderator, exploitative leadership DV.
Coefficient SE t p
Constant 3.710 1.139 3.257 .001
Leader Narcissism –.385 .267 –1.444 .151
Dependency –.636 .366 –1.736 .085
Int_1 .197 .090 2.195 .030
Leader Gender (Control) –.248 .166 –1.494 .138
Collaboration tenure .023 .015 1.547 .124
R2 = .113 F (3.501)
Note. N = 144 dyads. Confidence level of 90%
Figure 2 – Interaction effect of leader narcissism and dependency on exploitative leadership
Table 4 – Conditional effects of leader narcissism at different values of the moderator (-1 stander deviation, mean, + 1 standard deviation)
Effect SE t p LLCI ULCI
Dependency (1.795) –.032 .131 –.243 .809 –.249 .186
Dependency (2.863) .179 .099 1.807 .073 .015 .342
Dependency (3.932) .389 .144 2.707 .008 .151 .627
Note. N = 144 dyads.
3.2.3 Hypothesis 3
The last hypothesis that needed to be tested is the full model hypothesis. The expectation was that leader narcissism is related to emotional exhaustion via two conditional indirect effects, the moderating effect of dependency on emotional exhaustion and the mediating effect between leader narcissism and emotional exhaustion. In table 5 and table 6 the results of the full moderated mediation model are shown. Seeing that when there is a higher dependency of the employee on the narcissistic leader the full model comes true. This can be indicated since there is no zero included in the BootCI interval. The index of the full moderated mediation model is also significant (index = .090, BootSE = .051, BootCI = [.011, .174]) excluding zero from the interval. Resulting in the conclusion that Hypothesis 3 can be accepted.
What needs to be indicated is that the control variable collaboration tenure shows significant results (p < .05) meaning that it has significant influence on the results mentioned above. The control variable gender of the leader did not suggest any significant influence.
Table 5 – Moderated mediation model, narcissism = IV, exploitative leadership behavior = mediator, emotional exhaustion = DV, and dependency = moderator
Coefficient SE t p
Constant 3.458 .650 3.781 .000
Leader Narcissism –.205 .129 –1.582 .116
Exploitative leadership .457 .108 4.250 .000
Leader Gender (Control) .264 .215 1.232 .220
Collaboration tenure –.044 .019 –2.261 .025
R2 = .143 F (5.817)
Note. N = 144 dyads
Table 6 – Direct effect of leader narcissism on emotional exhaustion, and conditional indirect effect of leader narcissism on emotional exhaustion with exploitative leadership as mediator, at different levels of the moderator dependency.
Effect SE t p LLCI ULCI
Leader narcissism –.205 .129 –1.582 .116 –.419 .010
Boot SE Boot LLCI Boot ULCI
Dependency (1.795) –.015 .067 –.123 .096
Dependency (2.863) .082 .055 .000 .175
Dependency (3.932) .178 .086 .041 .324
Note. N = 144 dyads
In conclusion, this chapter summarizes what has been the result of my analysis.
Hypothesis 1a and 1c are both insignificant and need to be rejected. Hypothesis 2, the moderation, has significant results and can be accepted. The full model represented in hypothesis 3 can be accepted as well with significant results. All results are shown with a 90%
The goal of this research paper is to answer the question “is leader narcissism indirectly related to employee emotional exhaustion via exploitative leadership and does employee dependency moderate this indirect relationship?”. With confidence, we can conclude that the results from this research confirm with enough significance that the question asked above is true. Please find below a recap of the findings of this research.
The findings of this study show that there is no direct effect between leader narcissism and emotional exhaustion, no direct effect of leader narcissism on exploitative leadership, and no mediating effect of exploitative leadership behavior between leader narcissism and emotional exhaustion. This indicates that hypotheses 1a and 1c are rejected. The lack of results for the mediation on its own can be explained in that there is another aspect or characteristic that mediates the relationship between narcissism and emotional exhaustion (Sedikides &
Campbell, 2017). The possibility of another mediator can be further investigated in future research.
For the moderating effect of dependency between leader narcissism and exploitative leadership behavior, a significant result was found. While there was no direct relationship between narcissism and exploitative leadership as mentioned before, this lack of direct relationship means that when a leader is high on the narcissistic scale and has a dependent employee, that employee will experience more exploitative leadership behavior than if the employee was not dependent on the narcissistic leader. This is in line with previous research shown in the following two cases. First, the narcissistic leader can take more advantage of the dependent employee and therefore show more exploitative leadership behavior (Wee et al., 2017). Secondly, dependent employees might experience more exploitative leadership when working for narcissistic leaders. Dependent employees may be more attuned to potential
victimization (Aquino & Thau, 2019) and may experience narcissists’ egocentrism as exploitative.
The complete model, and thus hypothesis 3, has been accepted with significant results.
This indicates that when an employee is dependent on the narcissistic leader, the narcissistic leader shows more exploitative leadership traits, which in turn provides more emotional exhaustion for the employee. This is in line with the expectations and previous research stated in the theoretical framework. This research shows that exploitative leadership behavior is only a mediator between leader narcissism and emotional exhaustion when the relationship between leader narcissism and exploitative leadership behavior is moderated by dependency. Thus, when the employee is more dependent on the narcissistic leader, the employee experiences more exploitative leadership behavior which in turn strengthens the relationship with emotional exhaustion.
4.1 Theoretical implications
Multiple theoretical implications come with the achieved results mentioned above. The first theoretical implication is about narcissism. This research has expanded on the knowledge about narcissism and the effects of such leaders (Nevicka et al., 2018), showing that narcissists do not have a relationship with exploitative leadership unless it is moderated by a dependent employee. This reveals options on how to elevate or reduce exploitation within an organization.
The second theoretical implication is expanding the literature on exploitative leadership behavior. Since the leadership style is considerably new to the academic literature proposed by Schmid et al. (2019), new insights on what effects and when exploitative leadership is most prevalent are helpful. For instance, the relationship between exploitative leadership behavior and emotional exhaustion could be more extensively tested (Elsaied, 2021). Future research is still necessary to investigate how and when exploitative leadership is
Next, Bajaba et al. (2021) state that it is important to understand what effects destructive and abusive leadership has on the employee’s well-being. This research has expanded on that knowledge being able to give a clear answer that an exploitative leadership style can be detrimental to the mental health of the employee, resulting in emotional exhaustion. This relationship is even stronger when the employee is dependent, which is shown in the moderated mediation results.
Furthermore, this research also contributes to the knowledge of the dependence of employees in connection with a narcissistic leader, which was suggested to be future research by Nevicka et al. (2018) and a moderating effect that could cause exploitative leadership behavior proposed by Bajaba et al. (2021). The knowledge that comes from this research is in regard to the strengthening of the perception of exploitative leadership on such employees. For future research, it would be interesting to know if this perception is true and the dependent employees are actually exploited more or if the dependent employee only imagines this. A longitudinal study would be most suitable for that.
4.2 Limitations, and future research
Even though hypotheses 1a and 1c have been rejected, and all other hypotheses have been accepted, a few discussion points have risen that could have affected the end results and could be improved for future research. Overall, the results have shown this research to be a success due to its strength. In the next few paragraphs limitations are stated. These limitations were refuted or mitigated during the collection of the data and are advised to be handled differently in future research. These limitations do not mean that the research and results shown are invalid.
The selection of participants could have affected the results of this study for two reasons. Firstly, convenience sampling was used to collect all data. While collecting the data, numerous people refused to even participate in the questionnaire due to not having a good
relationship with their leader. This might have excluded leaders high in narcissism or exploitative leadership behavior which could have affected the results. Secondly, when the leader was asked first, the leader could appoint an employee that would complete the survey favorably. This could have affected the results of this research. To ensure the results from this study are correct, another similar study needs to be executed with a random sample of leader employee dyads that are selected by the researcher instead of the participants. Even though these limitations of participation selection could have affected the results of this study, possible fluctuations in the data would have less effect because of the substantial size of the collected data.
Another discussion point which could have limited the results of this study is the average time it took to complete the questionnaire. The questionnaire for the leader took about 10 minutes, where the questionnaire for the employee took about 15 minutes on average. This time-consuming questionnaire could result in less thoughtful answers and increased careless responses (Gibson & Bowling, 2020). However, the scales that were used were not placed at the very end of the survey to reduce this from happening. Although the scales were not at the end of the survey, for future research it would be more insightful to include attention checks.
When this is included, participants that do not answer this question correctly will be excluded from the rest of the survey with the assumption that they did not pay enough attention throughout the whole survey and could have given more careless responses. Another counterargument to the limitation of the time-consuming questionnaire is that the response rate was 77%, which could be considered high and sufficient and shows no sign of the questionnaire being too long or burdensome.
The last limitation that needs to be mentioned is the fear that participants could have had about their colleagues finding out what they had answered on the questionnaire. This fear could result in less honest answers during the questionnaire. This has been mitigated by
mentioning multiple times during the communication with the participants that their answers would be handled confidentially and anonymously. This has been stated again within the questionnaire just before questions the participant had to answer about their leader/employee.
No indication was given by the participants that they felt unsafe answering all questions honestly and truthfully.
For future research, the failed hypothesis of the direct relationship between leader narcissism and exploitative leadership behavior would be interesting to investigate further.
Since the theoretical framework shows a basis to believe the stated hypothesis, the lack of significant results was not expected. It would be insightful to find out why this did not come true. The investigation of other possible moderators for this relationship is also noteworthy to further investigate.
4.3 Practical implications
There are also practical implications of this research. The most important one is that organizations can help their employees prevent emotional exhaustion by offering them tools or workshops to become more independent from their leader. This research has shown that when there is a lower dependency on the narcissistic leader, the experience of exploitative leadership behavior and emotional exhaustion are also lower. This would have a great impact on the health of the employee as well as expected productivity.
Another practical implication of this research would be for organizations to only hire independent workers when they know they have a leader with narcissistic tendencies. This would reduce the experienced exploitative leadership behavior of the leader and reduce the possible emotional exhaustion of the employee.
To conclude this research, I have found that when a narcissistic leader has a dependent employee, the leader shows more exploitative leadership behavior, which in turn results in more emotional exhaustion for the employee. This finding shows that having narcissistic leaders and dependent employees can have a huge consequence for the employee and organization. A good solution for these findings would be to either not hire narcissistic leaders or make the employees independent.
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Appendix 1a Dutch questionnaire
Allereerst wil ik u bedanken voor uw deelname aan dit onderzoek.
Deze enquête zal worden gebruikt voor onze masterthese ter afronding van de MSc Business Administration aan de Universiteit van Amsterdam.
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Het invullen van de enquête duurt ongeveer 10 tot 15 minuten. De vragenlijst bevat stellingen die u beantwoordt over uzelf of met uw leidinggevende/medewerker in gedachten. Hierbij wordt duidelijk aangegeven op wie de vragen betrekking hebben.
Beantwoord alstublieft alle vragen eerlijk en volledig, zodat uw bijdrage kan worden gebruikt als een essentieel onderdeel van ons onderzoek.
Al uw antwoorden blijven vertrouwelijk en worden alleen gebruikt voor onze masterthese.
Nogmaals, bedankt dat u de tijd heeft genomen om ons te helpen met ons onderzoek. Voor elk paar dat mee doet, doneren wij €1 aan Giro555 voor Oekraïne.
Als u een vraag of opmerking heeft, schroom dan niet om contact met ons op te nemen.
Anne Smits (firstname.lastname@example.org) Binn Pham (email@example.com)
Céline de Brouwer (firstname.lastname@example.org) Katinka Tomcsanyi (email@example.com) Michelle Tan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mo Veenman (email@example.com)
1 = helemaal niet mee eens, 2 = niet mee eens, 3 = een beetje niet mee eens, 4 = neutraal, 5 = een beetje mee eens, 6 = mee eens, 7 = helemaal mee eens.
1. Ik vind het fijn zeggenschap over anderen te hebben.
2. Ik heb een sterk verlangen naar macht.
3. Mensen zijn altijd geneigd mijn gezag te erkennen.
4. Ik ben een geboren leider.
5. Ik weet dat ik goed ben omdat anderen me dat vaak vertellen.
6. Ik laat mezelf graag zien.
7. Ik kijk graag naar mezelf.
8. Ik ben geneigd op te scheppen als ik de kans krijg.
9. Ik kijk graag naar mezelf in de spiegel.
10. Ik vind het makkelijk andere mensen naar mijn hand te zetten.
11. Ik sta erop dat ik het respect krijg dat ik verdien.
12. Ik verwacht veel van anderen.
13. Ik zal nooit tevreden zijn totdat ik alles krijg wat ik verdien.
Exploitative leadership scale
1 = helemaal niet mee eens, 2 = niet mee eens, 3 = een beetje niet mee eens, 4 = neutraal, 5 = een beetje mee eens, 6 = mee eens, 7 = helemaal mee eens.
1. Neemt als vanzelfsprekend aan dat mijn werk kan worden gebruikt voor zijn/haar persoonlijk voordeel.
2. Ziet werknemers als een manier om zijn/haar persoonlijke doelen te bereiken.
3. Waardeert het bereiken van zijn/haar eigen doelen boven de behoeften van de werknemers.
4. Zet me onder druk om zijn/haar doelen te bereiken.
5. Verhoogt mijn werkdruk zonder rekening te houden met mijn behoeften, om zijn/haar eigen doelen te kunnen bereiken.
6. Neemt mijn werkdruk niet in beschouwing wanneer nieuwe taken moeten worden toegewezen.
8. Biedt mij geen mogelijkheden om mezelf professioneel verder te ontwikkelen omdat zijn/haar eigen doelen voorop staan.
9. Geeft mij roetine en saaie opdracthen om zelf van te profiteren 10. Gebruikt mijn werk om zichzelf op te laten vallen.
11. Geeft het werk van het team door alsof het zijn/haar eigen werk is.
12. Gebruikt mijn werk voor zijn/haar persoonlijk gewin.
13. Speelt mij en mijn collega's tegen elkaar uit om zijn/haar doelen te bereiken.
14. Manipuleert anderen om zijn/haar doelen te bereiken.
15. Schroomt niet om werknemers te manipuleren of te misleiden om zijn/haar doelen te bereiken.
Emotional Exhaustion scale
1 = nooit, 2 = een keer per jaar of minder, 3 = een keer per maand of minder, 4 = een paar keer per maand, 5 = een keer per week, 6 = een paar keer per week, 7 = elke dag.
1. Ik voel me mentaal uitgeput door mijn werk
2. Een hele dag werken vormt een zware belasting voor mij 3. Ik voel me ‘opgebrand’ door mijn werk
4. Ik denk dat ik me te veel inzet voor mijn werk 5. Aan het einde van een werkdag voel ik mij leeg
6. Ik voel mij vermoeid als ’s morgens opsta en er weer een werkdag voor mij lig
1 = helemaal niet mee eens, 2 = niet mee eens, 3 = een beetje niet mee eens, 4 = neutraal, 5 = een beetje mee eens, 6 = mee eens, 7 = helemaal mee eens.