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How ethical leadership paves the way in preventing staff conflict

Recent research published in Applied Psychology: An International Review has found that when employees get stressed by conflicts between home and work, they tend to adopt words and behaviour meant to damage their co-worker's reputation.

Dr Gabi Eissa, a management professor at San Diego State University and co-author of the research, explained: "When family and life issues conflict with work situations, this can cause 'hindrance stress' which means job demands are viewed as obstacles to personal growth or goals.

"Hindrance stress often depletes the employee's ability to exercise self-control and they lash out with aggressive and undermining behaviour toward their peers."

How can managers nip such situations in the bud? By leading ethically, of course.

According to the research, carried out in collaboration with Dr Rebecca Wyland from the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, when managers demonstrate ethical leadership through two-way communication, positive reinforcement and emotional support, it not only mitigates this type of employee behaviour, but also helps alleviate stress in the work environment.

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Dr Eissa said: "We define 'ethical leadership' as supervisors who demonstrate appropriate work conduct through their personal actions and those who engage employees by discussing their work-related worries and emotions.

"Ethical leaders want to help employees respond positively to negative situations and they try to offer resources to help employees who may find themselves hitting a rough patch."

Both Dr Eissa and Dr Wyland surveyed 156 employees who worked at least 20 hours a week (defined as 'focal employees') and one of their co-workers to determine the impact of work-family conflict on hindrance stress.

These focal employees were asked to measure the level of work/family conflict stress, hindrance stress and their management team's ethical leadership qualities. The co-workers were then asked a series of questions that would measure "social undermining activities."

The data found that hindrance stress was indeed a key factor linking work-family conflict to social undermining. Eissa commented: "We also found less social undermining among employees in presence of ethical leadership as well as how and when work-family conflict led social undermining."

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