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J Occup Health Psychol. 2012 Jan;17(1):15-27. doi: 10.1037/a0025942.

Empowering leaders optimize working conditions for engagement: a multilevel study.

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Work & Stress Research Group, Centre for Applied Psychological Research, School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia.


Using a multilevel framework, this study examined the role of empowering leadership at the group level by fire brigade captains in facilitating the individual level motivational processes that underpin work engagement in volunteer firefighters. Anonymous mail surveys were completed by 540 volunteer firefighters from 68 fire brigades and, separately, by 68 brigade captains. As predicted on the basis of the Job Demands-Resources model, increased levels of cognitive demands and cognitive resources partially mediated the relationship between empowering leadership and work engagement. In a three-way Leadership × Demands × Resources interaction, empowering leadership also had the effect of optimizing working conditions for engagement by strengthening the positive effect of a work context in which both cognitive demands and cognitive resources were high. Our findings shed light on a process through which leaders can empower workers and enhance well-being: via their influence on and interaction with the work environment. They also underscore the need to examine work engagement from a multilevel theoretical perspective.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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