Leadership for health and well-being

This report presents a literature review of research on the importance of leadership for employee health and well-being.


This report presents a literature review focused on empirical research on the importance of leadership for employee health and well-being. The literature review was written within the framework of a government mandate to the Swedish Agency for Work Environment Expertise with the purpose of compiling information on factors that create healthy, thriving workplaces (Government decision, A2018/01349/ARM).

In summary, the studies included in the literature review show that leadership is related to employee health and well-being. Almost all of the quantitative studies show a link between leadership and health-related outcomes if no other factors are considered. As many different kinds of outcomes are used in the studies, it is difficult to provide a clear and uniform picture, but primarily, so called transformational leadership and supportive leadership are connected to employee health and well-being, especially in relation to work-related health outcomes, such as job satisfaction and work engagement.

The qualitative studies mainly emphasize relationship-oriented and democratic leadership, which is characterized by a leader who motivates and inspires employees, is available and listens to employees, and who simultaneously trusts employees’ abilities and gives them responsibility, space and codetermination. The behaviours pointed out as important in the qualitative studies also appear frequently in leadership theories and the leadership scales used in the research field. Together, these methods provide a clearer picture of what kind of leadership behaviours promote health. The studies also point out that indirect leadership influences employee health and well-being.

Taken together, the studies indicate several different kinds of factors through which leadership has an impact. One factor involves the actual tasks and the conditions for completing them. Another factor involves the social climate and environment at the workplace or organization. A third factor is the individual and his or her attitude towards the work, while the fourth factor is health-promoting activities and initiatives. Here, it is difficult to say that any particular leadership style in relation to a given health outcome is “better” or “worse”. Transformational leadership is the most studied form of leadership; it is also the form of leadership that most studies find to be active through other factors in the work environment.

This report is written by

Andreas Wallo
Daniel Lundqvist