Happiness and Wellbeing at Work

Putting research into practice

Servant Leader Human Resource Management: A Foundation for Employee Well-being

Current research in the area of servant leadership is demonstrating its wide-ranging positive influence on employee wellbeing. The work by Roberts (2014; 2015) summarizes the principles of how servant leadership is integrated into the human resource management system. The book summarizes 36 key principles supported by scriptural and practical examples. Servant leadership is grounded upon two foundational principles, servanthood and stewardship. Stewardship entails achieving the mission of the organization using moral and ethical motives, means and ends and servanthood is the promotion of the growth, development and best interests of the key stakeholders in the HR system (Roberts, 2014; 2015). The remaining 34 principles describe the implementation of servanthood and stewardship through various employee treatment, staffing, performance management, leadership, training, compensation, motivational, discipline, work/life balance and diversity management principles and practices. The research is also supported by interviews of employees in various occupational domains.

Servant leadership entails excellence of character and competency as modeled by servant leaders in religious settings (e.g., Jesus, Dalai Lama, and Buddha) and politics (e.g., William Wilberforce, Lincoln, Mandela, and Gandhi). The essence of servant leadership is the universal “Golden Rule” human conduct principles as all employees desire to be treated with dignity and respect and avoid instrumentalism, leadership hypocrisy, irrelevancy of work, and lack of meaning and purpose. Servant leader human resource management consists of an overall value orientation that is in founded upon Judeo-Christian “golden rule” employee treatment principles, a love-based, altruistic work motivational system. Servant leadership human resources management positively influences a range of desirable employee attitudes and behaviors including enhancing organizational citizenship, employee commitment, and positive stress coping and adaptation strategies, among others (Roberts, 2015). For example, unreasonable, perfectionistic, performance standards enslaves employees with demands for “victory” in every situation and creates endemic insecurity based upon inappropriate interpersonal performance comparisons (generating pride when deemed “superior”, and envy, insecurity and fear when we do not “measure” up to others). This produces a loss of joy and an aversion to creativity and risk taking given the paralyzing fear of mistakes and failure (Burns, 2004). The result is clear diminution of innovation and creativity. A fundamental servant leadership principle is that problems are learning opportunities and workplace trials serve a greater good by inculcating elevated levels of faith, self-knowledge and problem solving ability.

Servant leadership is associated with a range of positive attitudinal (higher levels of job satisfaction, commitment), behavioral (lower rates of absenteeism, turnover, grievances), performance and employee well-being outcomes (physical and mental health) (Roberts, 2015). These include beneficial consequences at the employee and organizational levels. At the individual level, servant leadership is associated with improved rates of mental and physical health and lower levels of dysfunctional work stress. At the work group level, it enhances organizational citizenship (helping others, working diligently to achieve goals) and servant leadership practices (empowerment, forgiveness). Several potential moderator variables can attenuate or accentuate the hypothesized effects including employee trust and motivation levels.  A recent analysis of 102 empirical studies found in the Business Source Complete database demonstrated the generalized internal and externa validity of servant leadership. Of the 206 outcomes, servant leadership manifested a positive effect on 98 percent including employee attitudes (organizational citizenship, organizational commitment), employee behavior (lower turnover, higher in-role performance), organizational effectiveness (team effectiveness, firm performance), leadership effectiveness (leader competence, trust) and favorable leadership character.  The universality of servant leadership is reflected in that over 55% of the reviewed studies were from non North American settings including Asia (26.2%), Europe (13.1%), and the Middle East (11.2%). In summary, servant leadership in the human resource management system is an important element for promoting employee wellbeing across a wide range of cultures.

Gary E. Roberts is a Professor of Public Administration at Regent University with research and teaching interests in servant leadership human resource management and workplace spiritual intelligence. He has authored four books on Christian servant leadership and over 50 publications in leading journals in the field.


Burns, D. (2004). The feeling good handbook. New York: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated

Roberts, G.  (2014). Servant leader human resource management: A moral and spiritual perspective. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Roberts, G. (2015). Christian scripture and human resource management: Building a path to Servant leadership through faith. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.