Stress Mindset Can Influence How Leaders Treat Their Employees

Topic(s): health and safety, leadership, stress
Publication: Applied Psychology (2022)
Article: A leader in need is a leader indeed? The influence of leaders’ stress mindset on their perception of employee well-being and their intended leadership behavior
Authors: A.J. Kaluza, N.M. Junker, S.C. Schuh, P. Raesch, N.K. von Rooy, R. van Dick
Reviewed by: Payge Japp

Leader behavior can influence the well-being of employees, an idea supported by large amounts of past research. The current paper (Kaluza et al., 2022) examines the role of the leader’s “stress mindset.” This term refers to the general belief about whether stress at work is harmful (“stress is debilitating”) or beneficial (“stress is enhancing”) to employees.


Participants were asked to either recall a situation where stress at work was harmful or where stress at work was useful. Next, participants were asked to imagine managing a fictitious employee who was experiencing high levels of work demands. Participants were then asked to rate the employee’s well-being, how likely they would be to promote the employee, and their expectations for the employee. They also noted the extent to which they – as the leader – would engage in health-oriented leadership behavior, such as helping the employee manage work demands by optimizing work procedures.

Overall, results indicated that when leaders were in a “stress is enhancing” mindset, they were less likely to think that the fictitious employee was experiencing emotional exhaustion. In turn, they were less likely to express intentions to engage in health-oriented leadership behavior that could help the employee cope with job demands. The authors say that this is evidence that leaders “project their own bias” onto employees. In other words, if leaders think that stress is generally good, they will also believe it to be good for their employees.


The findings of this research serve to help organizations understand more about leadership behavior, stress mindset, and the promotion of healthy behavior at work. Overall, the research indicates that how a leader views stress can impact how they interpret employee attitudes and behaviors, and respectively, how they treat their employees. The authors suggest that organizations should teach leaders about stress mindsets, and raise awareness about the potential biases or consequences that may emerge in response to these beliefs.


Kaluza, A. J., Junker, N. M., Schuh, S. C., Raesch, P., von Rooy, N. K., & van Dick, R. (2021). A leader in need is a leader indeed? the influence of leaders’ stress mindset on their perception of employee well‐being and their intended leadership behavior. Applied Psychology, 71(4), 1347–1384.

Image credit: istockphoto/AaronAmat