According to the researchers, seniors who inspire their staff to perform above and beyond the call of duty may actually harm their employees' health over time.

The findings suggest that constant pressure from these "transformational leaders" may increase sickness absence levels among employees.

Some vulnerable employees in groups with such "transformational leaders" may, in the long term, increase sickness absence rates if they ignore their ill-health and frequently show up for work while being ill.

"It is possible that high-performance expectations pose a risk to both healthy and vulnerable employees and the motivational aspects of transformational leadership may backfire," said Karina Nielsen, professor of work and organisational psychology at Norwich-based University of East Anglia (UEA).

"Transformational leaders may promote self-sacrifice of vulnerable employees for the greater good of the group by encouraging them to ignore their illnesses and exert themselves. This can lead to increased risks of sickness absence in the long term," Nielsen noted.

The study, published in the journal Work Stress, looked for the first time at the relationship between presenteeism, transformational leadership and sickness absence rates.

Transformational leadership has previously been associated with positive employee well-being and reduced general absenteeism in the short term.

However, the new study suggests that a transformational leader who encourages their group to make an extra effort at work may exacerbate sickness absence, as high levels of presenteeism may result in reduced opportunities for recovery along with the risk of spreading contagious health conditions."Such leaders express values to perform above and beyond the call of duty possibly at the expense of employees' health because they have a self-interest in demonstrating low sickness absence rates in their work groups," the authors noted.

This pattern may be a particular problem in organisations where managers are rated according to their ability to control sickness absence levels. The research focused on postal workers and their managers in Denmark over three years.In total, there were 155 participants in 22 work groups.

Employees rated their immediate line manager at the start of the study and were asked about their sickness absence and presenteeism for the previous year. Sickness absence was assessed again in the second and third year.

The authors found that transformational leadership increased sickness absence when workers exhibited 14 more days of presenteeism than their colleagues.

The findings suggests that more immediate, short term effects can be found among staff but for vulnerable workers, such as those with high levels of presenteeism, increasing adverse effects take longer to materialise.

Lack of recovery time may also explain this effect, leading to them eventually having to go off sick because they can no longer ignore their symptoms.

"The assumption that 'more transformational leadership is better' does not hold over time. As role models, transformational leaders should display healthy behaviours when motivating people and encourage workers to look after their own health," added Kevin Daniels, professor of organisational behaviour at UEA's Norwich Business School.

Leaders should also be trained in incorporating well-being and health into the vision, goals and objectives they develop for work groups.

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