Leaders Can be More Proactive in Sharing Their Positive Views

Do leaders and employees share similar views on disabilities?

Many employees with disabilities as well as their co-workers perceive disabilities as a barrier at work. For example, employees with disabilities are expected to have lower performance than their coworkers1. Similarly, employees with disabilities are generally less satisfied with their jobs than employees without disabilities2. There is also a general opinion that employees with disabilities have poorer relationships with their supervisors3.

Researchers Zhanna Lyubykh (Haskayne School of Business), Mahfooz A. Ansari (Dhillon School of Business), Kelly Williams-Whitt (Dhillon School of Business), and Vicki L. Kristman (Lakehead University) published a study on disability severity and work outcomes in the Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation4. Using two samples—employees with musculoskeletal disabilities and supervisors with experience leading employees with disabilities—they tested how the severity of employee disability is related to the quality of the relationship between supervisors and employees (i.e., leader-member exchange), as well as other work outcomes.

The findings were intriguing. Employees with disabilities reported that the supervisor-employee relationship was worse with increasing levels of disability severity; these employees noted lower levels of job satisfaction, resilience at work, and desire to seek work accommodations. Supervisors presented opposite findings: the more severe they perceived the disability of their employee, the stronger they perceived the relationship with that employee to be. Supervisors who perceived a high-quality relationship with employees gave those employees higher performance ratings

            These findings show that employees and leaders can have differing views on important issues like disability—and employees with disabilities report negative work outcomes without knowing how they are perceived by their supervisors. Using the findings from this study, leaders can be more proactive in sharing their positive views on disability with employees with disabilities, which may in turn reduce self-stigmatization.


1- Uppal, S. (2005). Disability, workplace characteristics and job satisfaction. International Journal of Manpower26(4), 336-349.

2- Ren, L.R., Paetzold, R.L., & Colella, A. (2008). A meta-analysis of experimental studies on the effects of disability on human resource judgments. Human Resource Management Review18(3), 191-203.

3 - Colella, A., & Varma, A. (2001). The impact of subordinate disability on leader-member exchange relationships. Academy of Management Journal44(2), 304-315.

4- Lyubykh, Z., Ansari, M.A., Williams-Whitt, K., & Kristman, V.L. (2020). Disability Severity, Leader–Member Exchange, and Attitudinal Outcomes: Considering the Employee and Supervisor Perspectives. Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, 30, 613-623.