The Effects of Leadership and Job Autonomy on Vitality: Survey and Experimental Evidence

AuthorBarbara Nevicka,Lars Tummers,Bram Steijn,Madelon Heerema
Published date01 September 2018
Date01 September 2018
Subject MatterArticles
671980ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X16671980Review of Public Personnel AdministrationTummers et al.
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2018, Vol. 38(3) 355 –377
The Effects of Leadership
© The Author(s) 2016
Reprints and permissions:
and Job Autonomy on
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X16671980
Vitality: Survey and

Experimental Evidence
Lars Tummers1,2, Bram Steijn3,
Barbara Nevicka4, and Madelon Heerema5
Vitality refers to the experience of having energy available to one’s self. Vital
employees are full of positive energy when they work, and feel mentally and physically
strong. Such employees often show higher job performance and lower stress than
their less vital colleagues. Despite the importance of vitality, few public administration
studies have studied vitality. More generally, by focusing on vitality, we aim to bring
a “positive psychology” perspective into the domain of public administration. We
analyze whether two important job characteristics (leader’s task communication and
job autonomy) affect vitality. We use a multi-method design. A large-scale survey (N
= 1,502) shows that leader’s task communication and job autonomy are positively
related to vitality. A lab experiment (N = 102) replicated these findings, showing
cause-and-effect relationships. In conclusion, public organizations can potentially
increase employee vitality (a) by increased task communication from leaders and (b)
by providing employees with greater job autonomy.
leadership, experiment, autonomy, multi-method, vitality, psychology, positive
psychology, public management
1Utrecht University, The Netherlands
2Arizona State University, Phoenix, AZ, USA
3Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands
4University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
5BMC, Amersfoort, The Netherlands
Corresponding Author:
Lars Tummers, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands.

Review of Public Personnel Administration 38(3)
Vitality is a direct experience of having energy available to one’s self (Ryan &
Frederick, 1997). Vital employees are full of positive energy when they are working,
and feel mentally and physically strong (Kark & Carmeli, 2009). Vitality has been
linked to higher job performance (Carmeli, 2009), better mental health (Nix, Ryan,
Manly, & Deci, 1999), and better coping with stress (Ryan & Frederick, 1997).
Research also suggests that higher vitality enhances people’s resilience to physical and
viral stressors, and thereby makes them less vulnerable to illness (Ryan & Deci, 2008).
Although vitality is considered important (Kark & Carmeli, 2009; Ryan & Deci,
2001), there is a dearth of research examining vitality in the public administration lit-
erature. A greater focus is being placed on “hedonic” (Ryan & Deci, 2001) indicators
of well-being, such as job satisfaction and organizational commitment (see, for
instance, Cantarelli, Belardinelli, & Belle, 2016). Managing such hedonic indicators
of well-being is important, as they can have significant consequences for employees
and their organizations, such as lower turnover (Griffeth, Hom, & Gaertner, 2000).
However, this is not sufficient. For example, employees can be very satisfied with
their job, but simultaneously be passive in their behavior (e.g., arriving at 10 a.m., tak-
ing an extensively long lunch break, unwilling to help colleagues). Most likely such
satisfied, but passive employees might not show much initiative and might not always
realize their full potential. Therefore, positive psychology argues that “eudaimonic”
well-being indicators such as vitality, engagement, and thriving should also be taken
into consideration (Ryan & Bernstein, 2004, see for two recent public administration
examples, Vigoda-Gadot, Eldor, & Schohat, 2013, and Meng & Wu, 2015). Whereas
the hedonic approach conceptualizes well-being as a subjective experience of happi-
ness, positive affect, and satisfaction, the eudaimonic approach conceptualizes well-
being as fulfillment of one’s potential (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Thus, the eudaimonic
approach focuses more on the process of living well—feeling vital and having a sense
of meaning—rather than a delimited state such as pleasure or satisfaction (Ryan, Huta,
& Deci, 2008).
We will examine how two important factors in the work environment of employees
can positively influence vitality, namely, leader’s task communication and job auton-
omy. We acknowledge that many other factors—such as reward practices and social
support—can also be relevant (see, for an overview, Shirom, 2011). However, leader’s
task communication and job autonomy are important potential antecedents of vitality,
as we will argue extensively in the theoretical framework. Based on the above, we will
answer the following research question:
Research Question: To what extent do leader’s task communication and job auton-
omy influence the vitality of public employees?
This article thus contributes to the public administration field by examining a core but
neglected component of well-being, namely, vitality. We utilize a multi-method design,
conducting both a cross-sectional survey and an experiment. By doing so, this research

Tummers et al.
answers to calls for more multi-method research in public administration and specifi-
cally more emphasis on using experiments (Perry, 2012). Groeneveld, Tummers,
Bronkhorst, Ashikali, and Van Thiel (2015) found that only 6% of journal articles in
the top tier public administration journals use a multi-method design. The combination
of these two methods allows for greater validity of the findings (Grimmelikhuijsen,
Jilke, Olsen, & Tummers, 2016; Jilke, Van de Walle, & Kim, 2016).
This article is structured as follows. The section “Theoretical Framework” explains
the theoretical background and develops three hypotheses. The section “Study 1—
Survey” discusses the method of the survey, involving 1,502 public health care
employees, as well as its results. The advantage of this survey is that it is located in
real organizational environments and employs a large sample. This increases the gen-
eralizability and makes it possible to examine whether relationships exist. Section
“Study 2—Experiment” describes the method used for the experiment, involving 102
participants, and its results. The experimental study is beneficial as it can make a
stronger causal claim because the independent variables are exogenously manipulated.
We manipulate leadership communication and job autonomy and investigate whether
this causally influences the degree of vitality that the participants experience. The
concluding section discusses the contributions of this article and highlights a number
of limitations.
Theoretical Framework
Positive Psychology and Public Administration
Since the early 2000s, research based on positive psychology insights has gained
momentum (Ramlall, 2008; Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). According to
Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson (2005) positive psychology is “an umbrella term
for the study of positive emotions, positive character traits, and enabling institutions”
(p. 410). Positive psychologists argue that traditional psychology has tended to focus
too much on what is wrong with people. As a counterweight to this, positive psychol-
ogy emphasizes human strengths and ways to increase these.
Drawing upon positive psychology, organizational behavior scholars started study-
ing and looking for conceptual models and measurements, which are in line with a
positive, proactive approach to organizational research (Wright & Quick, 2009).
Related to this, Deci and Ryan (2008) advocate the use of eudaimonic concepts of
well-being. In contrast to the hedonic view—which stresses the fact that well-being
consists of pleasure and happiness—the eudaimonic view suggests that well-being
involves the actualization of human potential. With this focus, the eudaimonic view of
well-being fits well within the focus of positive psychology, which also stresses the
importance of using strengths and psychological capacities (see, for instance, Luthans,
2002). In line with the rise of positive psychology, in the recent decades, eudaimonic
concepts of well-being such as engagement, vitality, and thriving are being used
increasingly (Ryan & Bernstein, 2004; Schaufeli & Bakker, 2004; Spreitzer, Sutcliffe,
Dutton, Sonenshein, & Grant, 2005).

Review of Public Personnel Administration 38(3)
However, the application of ideas from positive psychology to the field of public
administration has been scarce (exceptions are Bakker, 2015; Meng & Wu, 2015;
Vigoda-Gadot et al., 2013). Vigoda-Gadot et al. (2013) express their surprise at the
fact that the concept of employee engagement is seldom used. Employee engagement
is according to them, a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind. They empiri-
cally show that employee engagement is distinct from more widely used concepts such
as affective commitment and job involvement.
We argue that insights from positive psychology can be beneficial for public
employees and their clients. For public employees (as well as private employees), it is
important to feel vital and energetic at work as it has been linked to lower stress and
better mental health (Nix et al., 1999; Ryan & Frederick, 1997). Understanding the
antecedents for concepts such as vitality—as we do in this article—is, therefore,

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT