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Leading Through the Pandemic

Can leaders still have a positive influence on employees during the COVID-19 pandemic?


Decades of research show that leadership behaviours affect employees’ psychological well-being. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about fear for many employees working during the pandemic. This increasing fear and anxiety experienced by employees has resulted in unique challenges for leaders. In fact, some researchers have questioned whether leaders can still have a positive impact on employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. To test this research question, Canadian researchers conducted a Canada-wide survey of 831 employees still working in their regular workplace during the pandemic residing from Ontario (34%), Quebec (25%), BC (15.6%), the prairies (19.2%), and the Maritimes (6.3%). The survey asked employees about their leaders’ behaviours, such as whether their leader engages in transformational behaviours (i.e., inspiring/motivating staff, challenging staff to grow, being a strong role model, and treating staff as individuals). Additionally, employees were asked whether they feel psychologically safe in their organization (i.e., feel comfortable asking for help or bringing up tough issues, free to take risks, and feel that their unique skills and talents are valued by the organization). Finally, employees were asked to indicate their level of well-being during the past month.


The results of the study found that transformational behaviours exhibited by leaders resulted in employees feeling psychologically safe in their organization. Psychological safety experienced by employees then led to increased employee well-being. Additionally, employees’ level of fear buffered this relationship, such that the more fearful employees were, the more their leader’s transformational behaviours could help them. These findings suggest that transformational leadership may improve employee well-being and guard against fear as we continue to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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