According to findings published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, employees of authoritarian bosses experience greater work-family conflict, and in turn, their spouses report less satisfaction with family life. By contrast, employees whose bosses use a benevolent leadership style say their family roles are facilitated by their jobs, and in turn, their spouses report being more satisfied with family life.
Numerous psychology studies have explored how a supervisor’s leadership style can negatively impact employees, yet little research has considered how these effects might cross over to impact an employee’s family. Study authors Lei Yao and team proposed that authoritarian leadership may have negative repercussions on an employee’s work-family life and on their spouse’s well-being, while benevolent leadership is likely to have positive consequences.
Authoritarian leaders exert control over their employees, expecting high obedience and reprimanding disobedience. This type of behavior is likely taxing for employees, affecting their ability to manage family roles and increasing work-family conflict. Benevolent leaders, on the other hand, support employees’ well-being both at work and at home, which likely facilitates the employee’s ability to carry out family roles and positively affects their home life.
Motivated by these ideas, Yao and colleagues conducted a study among a final sample of 207 employees from two IT companies and a real estate company in northern China. Data was collected in three separate waves. At Wave 1, the employees answered questions about their boss’s leadership style. At Wave 2, the employees answered questions about the relationship between their work and family life, and at Wave 3, the employees’ spouses answered questions about their family satisfaction and need for control.
As the researchers had predicted, employees who rated their bosses higher in authoritarian leadership also reported greater work-family conflict (e.g., “The demands of my work interfere with our home and family life”). In turn, these employees had spouses who reported lower family satisfaction. On the other hand, employees with benevolent bosses reported higher work-family facilitation (e.g., “The things you do at work help you deal with personal and practical issues at home”), and in turn, had spouses who reported greater family satisfaction.
The researchers further found that the extent that authoritarian leadership was a detriment to family outcomes was moderated by a spouse’s need for control. When a spouse’s need for control was high, this increased the indirect effect of authoritarian leadership on spousal family satisfaction through work-family conflict.
The study authors say that these findings shed light on how a supervisor’s leadership style can impact not only an employee but the employee’s family life and their spouse’s well-being. If this spouse is also in the workforce, these effects could presumably spill over into the spouse’s effectiveness at their own job.
“Based on these findings,” the authors write, “the costs of business organizations not taking timely action in eliminating authoritarian leadership behaviors, could have far-reaching societal impact on family structures.”
To mitigate these negative repercussions, the researchers suggest that companies monitor their supervisors’ leadership styles and inform them of the detrimental effects of authoritarian leadership. “Authoritarian leaders should be encouraged to reflect on and recognize their behaviors, learn to decrease their tight control over employees, and adopt benevolent leadership as a model by providing more personalized career and personal support to employees,” Yao and colleagues say. Along with this, employees working under authoritarian leadership could be taught coping strategies to improve their work-life balance and to avoid taking their work stress home with them.
The authors note that their findings may not generalize beyond the Chinese work context and that future studies should attempt to replicate the findings in other parts of the world where benevolent and authoritarian leadership is common.
The study, “The Boss’s Long Arm: The Differential Impact of Authoritarian and Benevolent Leadership on Spousal Family Satisfaction”, was authored by Lei Yao, Minya Xu, and Ekin K. Pellegrini.