Uncovering the link between inclusive leadership and employee outcomes. The explanatory role of prosocial and proactive employee behaviors

Janna BEHNKE, Sonja RISPENS, Evangelia DEMEROUTI, Huatian WANG

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsConference Paper (other)Other Conference Paperpeer-review


Research goals and why the work was worth doing: This research examines employees' resource-seeking and helping behavior as possible mechanisms that explain the influence of inclusive leadership (IL) on work engagement (WE) and task performance (TP). While scholars acknowledge IL as essential in managing workforce diversity, we cannot assume that leaders' behaviors affect employees in a vacuum. Our research efforts follow the belief that employees and leaders simultaneously create inclusive work climates, but research neglects the role of employees (Nishii & Leroy, 2022).
Theoretical background: One possibility for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) organizations to benefit from workforce diversity is to implement IL and boost employees' inclusion experiences (Shore et al., 2018). Randel and colleagues (2018, p.192) conceptualize IL as "leader behaviors that respond to group members' needs for belongingness and uniqueness within a workgroup." IL links to various positive outcomes (Veli Korkmaz et al., 2022). However, research lacks insight into the collective impact of employee and leader behaviors on employee outcomes in the context of diversity and inclusion (e.g., Ashikali et al., 2020; Homan et al., 2020). Based on the social learning theory (Bandura, 1971), we argue that IL sends information about desired behaviors and values, which will stimulate the employees to engage in prosocial/proactive behaviors at work (i.e., seeking resources from leaders and helping colleagues). While contributing to a more inclusive and social workplace, employees will be more engaged and productive at work (Shore et al., 2018). Additionally, diversity displays a crucial contextual aspect of IL (Nishii & Leroy, 2022). We thus assume that the relationships between IL and employee outcomes will be stronger in more diverse work groups.
Methodology: We collected survey data from 153 employees and their supervisors at Dutch and German STEM organizations. Employees shared their perceptions of IL (Zheng et al., 2017), their seeking-resources behavior (Tims et al., 2012), as well as their WE (Schaufeli et al., 2006). Leaders indicated the extent to which the employee engaged in helping behavior (MacKenzie et al., 1991) and TP (Williams and Anderson, 1991). Employees and leaders reported their perceptions of workforce diversity (Van Dick et al., 2008). We tested the hypotheses by utilizing the structural equation modeling (SEM) approach using SmartPLS 3.0.
Results obtained: In line with our hypotheses, IL related positively to TP (b = 0.269; p ≤ 0.01) and WE (dedication: b = 0.245; p ≤ 0.01; vigor: b = 0.301; p ≤ .01; and absorption: b = 0.215; p ≤ 0.01). Moreover, IL was positively related to TP through helping behavior (b = 0.153, p ≤ 0.01, CI = [0.065, 0.256]) and resources-seeking behavior (b = 0.063, p ≤ 0.05, CI = [0.003, 0.127]). Nevertheless, IL was not significantly related to WE through helping behavior (b = 0.019, p = 0.375, CI = [-0.024, 0.065] for vigor; b = 0.031, p = 0.137, CI = [-0.010, 0.080] for dedication; b = 0.024, p = 0.339, CI = [-0.022, 0.077] for absorption) and only the indirect effect through resources-seeking behavior on dedication was significant (one dimension of WE; b = 0.115, p ≤ 0.05, CI = [0.016, 0.222]). Finally, IL was only positively related to TP when workplace diversity was high (b = 0.236, p ≤ 0.05) compared to when it was low (b = 0.074, p = 0.100), highlighting the important contextual role of workforce diversity.
Limitations: The cross-sectional data limits the possibility of concluding causality. Moreover, the study did not consider possible confounds, such as frequency of contact between employees and leaders or value congruence, which might impact how leaders and employees rated each other’s behaviors.
Research and practical implications: Future longitudinal and experimental research should investigate the directionality of the relationship between IL, prosocial/proactive behaviors, and employee outcomes. Studies could also include the role of and the impact on a team.
Relevance to the Congress Theme: Our research contributes to the urgency aspect of "The future is now!" theme. Diversification of the workforce in STEM displays a reality and ethical imperative for organizations that they need to manage "now." By examining inclusive leadership and specific prosocial/proactive employee behaviors, we offer insights into how organizations and their members can jointly facilitate more inclusive workplaces in which employees feel engaged and productive.
Relevant UN SDGs: This study applies to the UN SDG "Decent work and economic growth." Our research shows that leaders who manage their diverse workforce more inclusively stimulate employees' prosocial/proactive behaviors and enhance employee functioning and well-being, especially in diverse workplaces.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2023
EventEAWOP Congress 2023: The Future is Now: the changing world of work - Katowice, Poland
Duration: 24 May 202327 May 2023


ConferenceEAWOP Congress 2023
Internet address


  • Inclusive leadership
  • helping behavior
  • resource-seeking behavior


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