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Does being proactive at work come at a cost?

This week we received the good news that our publication on potential personal costs of being proactive at work was accepted for publication in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

Most research shows that when people behave proactively at work, such as by initiating change or taking charge to prevent problems, the effects are positive. For example, research shows that being proactive builds larger social networks, which helps a person's career. And being proactive also boosts job performance, which is good for the initiator's career, as well as being good for the organisation.

But can being proactive have a personal toll? After all, it can take a lot of energy to make change happen, and it can sometimes cause negative reactions from others....

In our study, led by Karoline Strauss (pictured), we show that - for the most part - being proactive is absolutely fine for the initiator. It doesn't cause psychological strain, such as feeling anxious or miserable. But - and there is a but - when a person experiences controlled motivation as well as a lack of autonomous motivation, their proactive behavior then takes a personal toll.

This study suggests that organizations should not 'coerce' people to be proactive as this is not a very sustainable strategy. Rather, organisations should put in place conditions that will motivate an individual to want to be proactive out of genuine interest and/or the desire to make a difference. Such autonomously motivated proactivity will yield benefits both for individuals and for the organisation.

Click here for the paper, and here for a short video presentation about the paper.

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