Original Research

The influence of ethical leadership on trust and work engagement: An exploratory study

Amos S. Engelbrecht, Gardielle Heine, Bright Mahembe
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 40, No 1 | a1210 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v40i1.1210 | © 2014 Amos S. Engelbrecht, Gardielle Heine, Bright Mahembe | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 15 March 2014 | Published: 26 November 2014

About the author(s)

Amos S. Engelbrecht, Department of Industrial Psychology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Gardielle Heine, Department of Industrial Psychology, Stellenbosch University, South Africa
Bright Mahembe, Department of Industrial Psychology, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

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Orientation: Work engagement is increasingly becoming an important outcome for organisational success. A trusting and ethical relationship between leaders and followers is likely to positively contribute to the work engagement of employees.Research purpose: The aim of the study was to investigate the relationship between ethical leadership and trust in the leader and the effect these constructs have on the work engagement of employees.

Motivation for the study: The study on the role of ethical leadership practices on employee engagement was motivated by the need to create an engaged workforce and a trusting work environment.

Research approach, design and method: Data was collected using an electronic web-based questionnaire comprising three scales, namely the Utrecht Work Engagement Scale (UWES),Leader Trust Scale (LTS) and the Leadership of Ethics Scale (LES). In total, 204 completed questionnaires were returned. Data was analysed by means of item and confirmatory factor analysis conducted via structural equation modelling (SEM).

Main findings: High levels of reliability were found for all the measurement scales used. The results from the structural equation modelling (SEM) indicated positive relationships between trust in the leader and work engagement, between ethical leadership and work engagement and between ethical leadership and trust in the leader.

Practical/managerial implications: The findings emphasise the role played by ethical leadership behaviour of managers in promoting work engagement through the creation of employee relationships anchored on trust. Future studies should develop the theoretical model further by identifying other variables that influence work engagement.

Contribution/value-add: Organisations today still face the challenge of developing an effective strategy for achieving work engagement. The ethical leadership style of managers is likely to create an ethical and trusting work climate conducive to the work engagement of employees.This is likely to enhance productivity as well as employee creativity and innovation.


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