Topic: Disasters, terror and stress management

The impact of a workplace terrorist attack on employees’ perceptions of leadership: A longitudinal study from pre- to postdisaster

Birkeland, M. S., Nielsen, M. B., Hansen, M., Knardahl, S., & Heir, T. (2017). The impact of a workplace terrorist attack on employees' perceptions of leadership: A longitudinal study from pre- to postdisaster. Leadership Quarterly, 28(5), 659-671. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2017.01.002

A terrorist attack targeting a workplace represents an organizational crisis that requires the leaders to manage emerging threats. The changing roles and expectations of the leaders are reflected in the employees' perceptions of them over time.

The purpose of this study was to determine whether the 2011 Oslo bombing attack affected the targeted employees’ perceptions of the leadership behaviors of their immediate superiors or the organizational managers’ interest in the health and well-being of their workers. Ministerial employees (n ≈ 180) completed questionnaires on fair, empowering, and supportive leadership, in addition to human resource primacy, on two occasions several years prior to the terrorist attack. Assessments were then repeated one, two, and three years after the attack. Changes in the course of perceived leadership from predisaster to postdisaster were examined using bootstrapped t-tests and latent growth curve models. Furthermore, the general course of perceived leadership was compared with a nonexposed control sample of matched employees. Results showed that employees with high levels of posttraumatic stress perceived their immediate leader to be less supportive. However, overall perceptions of leadership were remarkably stable, which suggests that the effects of critical incidents on perceptions of leadership may be negligible.

The Researchers

  • Birkeland, Marianne Skogbrott

    Birkeland, Marianne Skogbrott

    Researcher / Ph.D.

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  • Heir, Trond

    Heir, Trond

    Researcher/ Professor University of Oslo / dr. scient.

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