Making or breaking organizational interventions : the role of leadership

Abstract: Introduction: In the occupational health literature, organizational interventions have been recommended as an effective way to improve employee health and well-being. However, meta-analyses and literature reviews have shown that they often fail to achieve these intended outcomes. Owing to the organizational role of line managers, their actions have been suggested to be of particular importance to whether or not organizational interventions are implemented successfully. Still, we know relatively little about in what way line managers may facilitate or hinder implementation, and thereby organizational intervention outcomes. We also know relatively little about what causes line managers to facilitate or hinder organizational interventions, especially with regard to the contextual prerequisites for their behaviours. Increasing our knowledge about line managers’ leadership, and the antecedents to their leadership, during implementation of organizational interventions is therefore important in helping organizations to improve employee health and well-being. Aim: The overall aim of the present thesis was to investigate line managers’ leadership behaviours in conjunction with implementation of organizational interventions. More specifically, the aim was to investigate the association between line managers’ transformational leadership behaviours and implementation as well as intervention outcomes. An additional aim was to study the association between the contextual antecedents to their leadership behaviours during implementation. Methods: The present thesis consists of four quantitative studies investigating line managers’ leadership in conjunction with implementation of organizational interventions. Three organizational interventions were used as cases for these four studies. In Study I and II, line managers’ transformational leadership and change-supportive behaviours were related to an implementation outcome (employee use of a web-based system; Study I), and to distal intervention outcomes (employee self-rated health and work ability; Study II). In both studies, indirect effects of transformational leadership on these outcomes were examined, with line managers’ change-supportive behaviours as a mediator. These two studies were based on data from a web-based intervention conducted on both an individual and organizational level. In Study I, multilevel Poisson regression was used to analyse the data. A total of 216 white-collar employees, from 73 work units in 6 organizations, constituted the panel sample. In Study II, structural equation modelling was used to analyse data gathered from one of the organizations. A total of 180 employees constituted the panel sample in Study II. In Study III, the association between intervention-specific transformational leadership (IsTL) and employee’s perceptions of intervention fit (i.e., with context and individual needs) as an outcome of implementation was investigated. Furthermore, direct and indirect relationships between IsTL and intervention outcomes (i.e., change in intrinsic motivation and vigour) were studied. The data in Study III were gathered from an organizational intervention conducted at a process-industry plant, with 90 employees constituting the panel sample. In Study IV, the association between two contextual antecedents (i.e., span of control and employees’ readiness for change) and line managers’ IsTL and destructive leadership was examined using multilevel analysis. Data were gathered from another organizational intervention conducted at a process-industry plant, with 172 employees constituting the panel sample of the study. Results: In Study I and II, indirect relationships between line managers’ transformational leadership and studied outcomes were found, when mediated by line managers’ change-supportive behaviours. In Study III, IsTL was associated with intervention fit, which in turn was associated with change in intrinsic motivation. IsTL was indirectly related to change in intrinsic motivation when mediated by intervention fit. No relationship between IsTL and change in vigour was found, nor between intervention fit and change in vigour. However, when combining the strength of direct and indirect effects, line managers’ IsTL was statistically significantly related to change in vigour. In Study IV, span of control was associated with line managers’ IsTL and passive intervention-specific destructive leadership. Employees’ readiness for change was associated with line managers’ IsTL, and both passive and active intervention-specific destructive leadership. Conclusions: Taken together, the results of the four studies support previous findings suggesting that line managers’ behaviours in conjunction with implementation of organizational interventions are important to both implementation and intervention outcomes. The results also indicate that it is line managers’ intervention-specific behaviours that are directly associated with implementation and intervention outcomes, and therefore should be primarily focused on in organizational intervention process evaluations. Furthermore, the results illustrate how including a leadership theory-based evaluation of line managers’ behaviours (i.e., focusing on line managers’ exercise of social influence on employees) can provide additional information concerning how line managers’ facilitate implementation of organizational interventions. In addition, the results emphasize the importance of taking the contextual antecedents to line managers’ leadership behaviours into account, as these may help to explain their actions during an organizational intervention. From a practical perspective, in order to facilitate organizational interventions, assessing contextual conditions can help secure the resources needed for line managers to lead interventions effectively. Training and supporting line managers’ in exercising an IsTL may also increase the chances of intervention success.

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