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J Behav Med. 2019 Apr;42(2):265-275. doi: 10.1007/s10865-018-9982-z. Epub 2018 Oct 26.

Associations of ambivalent leadership with distress and cortisol secretion.

Author information

1
Mannheim Institute of Public Health, Social and Preventive Medicine, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany. raphael.herr@medma.uni-heidelberg.de.
2
Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Social Psychology Program, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
3
Department of Psychology and Health Psychology Program, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT, USA.
4
Department of Psychology, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, USA.
5
Institute of Occupational, Social and Environmental Medicine, Centre for Health and Society, Faculty of Medicine, Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany.
6
Mannheim Institute of Public Health, Social and Preventive Medicine, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany.
7
Department of Clinical Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Abstract

Ambivalent social ties, i.e., whereby a relationship is evaluated simultaneously in positive and negative terms, are a potential source of distress and can perturb health-relevant biological functions. Social interactions at the workplace, in particular with supervisors, are often described in ambivalent terms, but the psychological and psychobiological impact of such interactions has received little scientific attention. The current study examined associations between ambivalent attitudes towards one's supervisor, perceived distress (general and work-related), and diurnal dynamics of the stress hormone cortisol. 613 employees evaluated their supervisor in terms of positive and negative behaviors, which was combined into an ambivalent index. Higher ambivalence was associated with higher perceived distress and work-related stress (p < .001), and with a larger cortisol awakening response and higher day-time secretion post-awakening (p < .01). The present study is the first to identify ambivalence towards supervisors as a predictor of employee distress and stress-related endocrine dysregulation. In consequence, focusing solely on positive or negative leader behavior may insufficiently capture the true complexity of workplace interactions and attempts to compensate negative behaviors with positive are unlikely to reduce distress-but quite the opposite-by increasing ambivalence.

KEYWORDS:

Ambivalence; Cortisol; Leadership; Stress; Supervisor

PMID:
30367333
DOI:
10.1007/s10865-018-9982-z

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