Proactive Employees Need Political Skills to Succeed

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Are Proactive Personalities Always Beneficial? Political Skill as a Moderator
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.


Employers assume that proactive employees are important for job success. Indeed past research shows that proactive employees, those who take initiative and champion change, perform better and earn more. However, proactive employees typically push the envelope, control their environment, and bring unexpected changes which may be viewed as threatening and distracting by others. A new study by Sun and van Emmerik (2014) introduces political skill as a factor that may reduce such concerns.



Politically skillful individuals are good at understanding others and their social environment, monitoring their behavior to influence others, and developing alliances to access resources. They also create good impressions because they are perceived as sincere in what they say and do. According to the researchers, proactive employees need political skills to express their change-oriented patterns in a more socially sensitive and acceptable way. This way, supervisors don’t think that they are challenging the status quo or imposing control based on a hunch.

To test their assertion, the researchers surveyed full time employees and their supervisors from 12 companies in various industries in China. Employees reported their political skills while their supervisors rated the employees on their task performance, helping, and learning behaviors. Results showed that highly proactive employees were rated lower by their supervisors, as long as employees’ political skills were low. However, when employees had high levels of political skill, there was no relationship between proactivity and supervisor ratings. When employees were not politically skilled, it seems that their proactivity was a detriment to themselves.



This new study shows that without high levels of political skill, proactive employees run the risk of being negatively evaluated in terms of performance by their supervisors. Proactive employees who are politically skillful are likely to frame work-related changes as serving the needs of others and garner supervisor support by appearing sincere and influential. This study highlights the importance of developing political skill to be able to identify organizational needs and adopt a socially sensitive approach in bringing change. By having the right amount of political skill, employees can avoid the potential negative influence of their proactive tendencies. From the perspective of employers, proactive employees might seem important, but if these employees aren’t politically savvy as well, employers might find themselves appreciating them less than they expected.

Are You Promoting Work Engagement, or Workaholism?

Publication: Social Behavior and Personality (November, 2013)
Article: The Differences Between Work Engagement and Workaholism, and Organizational Outcomes: An Integrative Model
Reviewed by: Mary Alice Crowe-Taylor, Ph.D.

All business organizations want their employees to be highly involved in their work (which is also known as Work Engagement), but not obsessive-compulsive about it (a.k.a. Workaholism).

Unchecked workaholism can eventually lead employees to burnout, inclinations to leave the company, and other behaviors that put good organizational citizenship at risk.

But how can organization leaders spot the difference between healthy and unhealthy levels of work engagement, and encourage employees towards the former? In “The Differences Between Work Engagement and Workaholism, and Organizational Outcomes: An Integrative Model,” author Youngkeun Choi offers some guidance.

Knowing The Difference

While at work, truly engaged employees tend to be positive, dedicated, and absorbed in their work (Schaufeli et al, 2002).

From previous research, we know that employees suffering from workaholism usually work excessively hard without finding any enjoyment in it. They tend to be perfectionists, distrusting of their coworkers, and often suffer from poorer mental and physical health.

Encouraging Work Engagement

So what can a business organization do to encourage healthy levels of Work Engagement?

The best solution is to provide job resources for its employees. In this article, Choi found that both social support from colleagues and supervisory coaching have a positive impact on Work Engagement, leading to employees who approach their jobs with more vigor, dedication and absorption.

To the organization’s benefit, employees with greater work engagement more often reported that they didn’t intend to quit, and that they were more likely to help others and be a good organizational citizen.

Discouraging Workaholism

What can an organization do to discourage Workaholism among its employees?

Perhaps not surprisingly, the solution is the same: Provide job resources. According to Choi’s research, when ample job resources were available, fewer characteristics of workaholism were reported, regardless of the demands of the job.

Choi concluded that providing resources such as performance feedback, supervisory coaching and colleagues’ support is the key to developing engaged workers who don’t fall into the trappings of becoming workaholics.

Sustaining Corporate Social Responsibility through Responsible Leadership

Publication: Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2013)
Article: Responsible Leadership: A Missing Link
Reviewed by: Arlene Coelho

When an organization works to benefit an environmental, social or humane cause– whether by donating money to non-profit organizations or providing goods and services to them pro bono– it’s called Corporate Social Responsibility. What seems on the surface to be a purely charitable effort also helps to further the company’s work culture. But, according to a study by Susana C. Esper and Kathleen Boies, Responsible Leadership is required to ensure sustainable grassroots involvement.

In “Responsible Leadership: A Missing Link,” the authors found that Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives tend to work best when there is involvement from the very top to the very bottom of the organizational hierarchy. The current paper defines responsible leadership in terms of a supervisor who is able to engage the organization’s stakeholders on a personal level, aligning the individual employee’s values and interests with those of the company. This trait ensures that employees will remain dedicated to the cause on both a personal and organizational level, ensuring long-term sustainability.

The authors make an important distinction between embedded (i.e. those activities thoroughly ingrained in the company’s routines and policies) and peripheral (i.e. volunteering and donations) Corporate Social Responsibility. Their study found that the embedded variety is ultimately more effective for organizations because it is more meaningful, reflecting responsible leaders focused on the company’s charitable initiatives. As a result, Corporate Social Responsibility becomes pervasive and central to the company’s vision and mission.

In summary, the authors concluded that responsible leaders are crucial to the success and sustainability of an organization’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, and that it is in their best interest to make those initiatives as central to the company’s success as possible. The key to doing so lies in making the message of Corporate Social Responsibility appealing to each individual employee on a personal level.

Whether through the use of formal or informal means, it is through the organizational leaders’ championing of noble causes that a corporate culture of social responsibility can be created. As the missing link between the company’s macro-level strategy and micro-level actions, these responsible leaders are key to ensuring sustainable Corporate Social Responsibility programs.

Building a Positive Work Environment: Acts of Kindness at Work

Publication: Personnel Psychology (August, 2012)
Article: Doing Good at Work Feels Good At Home, But Not Right Away: When and Why Perceived Prosocial Impact Predicts Positive Affect
Reviewed by: Nupur Deshpande

According to researchers Sonnentag & Grant, a positive mood that comes from helping someone is so powerful that it can last till bedtime. Firstly, when you believe that you have helped someone at work you feel good. Then, over the day, you think about it, reflecting on the positive features of the event. This reflection spills over into the rest of your day, leaving you feeling good all day long. Due to our tendency to be more engaged with positive emotions and to detach from negative ones, we improve the positive parts of these memories in our minds, giving them greater power to make us happy. Secondly, helping someone at work creates a sense of progress and achievement (especially in helping professions), because it signals that one is capable of successfully contributing to someone else’s well-being. This perception can carry over to other subsequent tasks. Such knowledge alleviates anxiety and enables employees to feel calm and relaxed. Quite interestingly, researchers found that there is an additional positive effect that occurs at the end of the work day, at bedtime, suggesting the importance of after-work leisure hours to contemplate on one’s day.

There are some clear cut implications of this study. The researchers surmise that, while supervisors can certainly improve their subordinates’ good feelings by acknowledging their contributions, coworkers also play an important role in workplace happiness. Especially on stressful days, coworkers appreciate daily acts of kindness. These behaviors can be brought to light via weekly meetings where heart-warming stories of such acts of kindness are shared among staff members. Another suggestion they provide is creating training programs that focus on helping employees build into their daily schedule a time for reminiscing about good experiences that have happened in the workday. This time would potentially lead employees to cultivate good feelings within themselves that may well last till their head hits the pillow that night.

Leave a Penny, Take a Penny: Effective Giving

Publication: Harvard Business Review (April 2013)
Article: In the Company of Givers and Takers
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

You don’t have to be an I/O psychologist or HR professional to have observed that there are people in the world who are “givers” and others who are “takers.” Givers provide support and assistance to their colleagues, friends, and family expecting nothing in return. They’re classic ‘do-gooders.’ Then you’ve got the takers; the people who take what they can and rarely reciprocate.

Organizations increasingly value a ‘culture of giving.’ Research shows a strong relationship between employee giving behaviors and important business outcomes such as profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction. However, excessive generosity can threaten these very same outcomes, if employees are so distracted by helping others that they neglect their responsibilities.

According to the researcher, Adam Grant, effective givers know that the secret to giving is not to give unconditionally, but to give wisely. Truly effective givers are able to differentiate generosity from being taken advantage of or being ‘used and abused.’

How does one learn to distinguish the two? As a starting point, it’s important to understand that giving is not synonymous with weakness or timidity. Unfortunately it can sometimes be difficult for givers to stick up for themselves and what they want, Grant offers practical advice. First, shift your frame of reference and consider how your actions or negotiations will affect those around you. Advocating for someone else is often substantially easier than advocating on your own behalf. Next, set limits on your availability. You can’t possibly do everything; seek support and delegate tasks to competent others when possible. Set aside time for yourself, and know that it’s okay to say no from time to time. Finally, when making decisions consider others’ perspectives in addition to their feelings so that you don’t let your emotions hold you back from making smart choices.

Can you think of any other effective giving strategies?

With OCBs and Justice For All (IO Psychology)

Topic: Organizational Justice, Teams, Citizenship Behavior, Performance Appraisal
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (NOV 2012)
Article: Examining Retaliatory Responses to Justice Violations and Recovery
Attempts in Teams
Authors: J.S. Christian, M.S. Christian, A.S. Garza, A.P.J. Ellis
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

Should managers deal fairly with their employees? Well yes, of course, if they are concerned about being nice people or perhaps want to be told the correct location of the
holiday party. But what if managers are only concerned with bottom-line organizational effectiveness, profit, and ruthless getting-ahead in life? For these types, research by
Christian, et al. (2012) has shown that treating employees unfairly can lead to certain negative workplace outcomes.

The authors conducted an experiment with teams of simulated employees and found
that employees who are treated unfairly respond in two harmful ways. The first is that
these employees engage in fewer organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs). This
refers to things that an employee might do to help out at work, but are not technically
considered part of the employee’s job. The second thing that employees do in
response to unfair treatment is give supervisors lower performance ratings.

But worse than that, these retaliatory behaviors may not be confined to the individuals
who were treated unfairly. The authors found that entire teams of employees banded
together and performed fewer OCBs as a response to a teammate’s unfair treatment.
When teammates perceive that someone is getting treated unfairly, they may have an
emotional response of moral outrage that moves them to supportive action.

Another interesting discovery is that these findings do not work equally for all people.
The authors describe “strategic core” employees, or employees whose work is
instrumental for team success, and who encounter more problems and a heavier
workload than the typical employee. When these employees are treated unfairly,
they respond with even fewer OCBs than ordinary employees would under similar
circumstances. Also, teams more drastically reduced their OCBs when a strategic core
employee was wronged.

This research shows the importance of treating employees fairly. But what can
managers do if they have already behaved unfairly toward an employee? Luckily
this study provides a solution. “Recovery” is an attempt to atone for past injustice
by correcting the injustice or showing genuine remorse. Recovery was successful
at raising levels of OCBs as well as improving subsequent performance ratings of
managers. In this situation, the wronged employee’s teammates also increased OCBs
and managerial performance ratings. In other words, don’t underestimate the power of
simply saying “I’m sorry”.

Christian, J.S., Christian, M.S., Garza, A.S., & Ellis, A.P.J. (2012). Examining retaliatory
responses to justice violations and recovery attempts in teams. Journal of Applied
Psychology, 97(6), 1218-1232.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management




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Proactive Performance Increases Customer Satisfaction (IO Psychology)

Topic: Culture, Self-Efficacy, Job Attitudes, Citizenship Behavior
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAY 2012)
Article: Doing the right thing without being told: Joint effects of initiative climate and general self-efficacy on employee proactive customer service performance.
Authors: S. Raub, H. Liao
Reviewed By: Ben Sher

In the customer service division, men and women of the proactive service performance unit go above and beyond the call of duty. Their efforts often lead to increased customer satisfaction. These are their stories…

When customer service professionals follow established protocols and scripts during their interactions with customers, they are engaging in general service performance. Successfully meeting these standards is the mark of a good employee. Still, employees can do even better. One way to exceed expectations is to engage in proactive customer service performance. Employees who do this think about the future and have a long-term-oriented approach to anticipating and solving problems. They are also self-starters who do not wait to be told what to do. Instead, they take initiative to make decisions and do things that will help satisfy customers.

How can you get employees to engage in proactive customer service performance? Research by Raub and Liao (2012) has provided some clues. After conducting a large study involving dozens of service organizations, they found a positive relationship between initiative-climate and proactive customer service performance. What is initiative-climate? This is when an organization’s culture rewards and supports employees who show initiative. By doing so, they encourage employees to engage in behavior which is proactive.

The researchers also found that employee self-efficacy is positively related to proactive customer service performance. Why would this be? Employees with high self-efficacy, or the belief that they will be successful at work-related activities, are more likely to take a chance and be proactive. After all, they believe their actions have a high chance of leading to a successful outcome. Employees with low self-efficacy who do not believe they will be successful at work-related activities are less likely to be proactive. The researchers also found that the relationship between self-efficacy and proactive behavior is strengthened in an initiative-climate.

What happens when employees use proactive customer service performance? The authors found that this behavior is related to customer satisfaction, above and beyond general service performance. This means that it’s the extra, proactive behavior that is associated with the increase in customer satisfaction.

This study is important because it suggests a method for managers to increase customer satisfaction. It’s both the organization and the employee that make for a proactive environment. Organizations can create an initiative-climate that supports and rewards proactive behavior and recruit employees with high self-efficacy. Taking these steps can create an environment which is ripe for proactive service performance and customer satisfaction. And even if we are not in the service industry, don’t we all have customers whom we would like to satisfy?

Raub, S. & Liao, H. (2012). Doing the right thing without being told: Joint effects of
initiative climate and general self-efficacy on employee proactive customer service
performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(3), 651-667.

human resource management, organizational industrial psychology, organizational management



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Why LMX Works: Some Reasons Why High-Quality Relationships Are So Important

Topic: Citizenship Behavior, Leadership
Publication: Personnel Psychology (Autumn 2011)
Article: How Leader–Member Exchange Influences Effective Work Behaviors: Social Exchange and Internal–External Efficacy Perspectives
Authors: Walumbwa, F. O., Cropanzano, R., & Goldman, B. M.
Reviewed By: Thaddeus Rada

Leader-member exchange (LMX) theory has been an influential leadership theory for many years. The central tenet of LMX theory is that managers and other individuals in leadership positions are likely to form relationships with their subordinates that differ in quality. A leader’s relationship with some subordinates may be close, personal, and open, while their relationship with other subordinates may be more formal, with less communication about non-work issues. LMX theory posits that these relational differences will lead to a variety of outcomes, including differences in performance and satisfaction among employees.

Although LMX theory has been influential for some time, there are still unanswered questions about the theory, such as what moderators or mediators might play a role in the LMX-performance relationship. Addressing this knowledge gap, a recent study by Fred Walumbwa and colleagues examined the potential impact of three mediators on the link between LMX and effective employee performance: commitment to the supervisor, self-efficacy, and means efficacy. Among their hypotheses, the authors believed that self- and means efficacy would be positively related to job performance, and that LMX would be directly related to both types of efficacy. The authors tested their hypotheses with a large sample of nurses. Results were supportive of the authors’ hypotheses, including the full mediation of the LMX-job performance relationship by supervisor commitment, self-efficacy, and means efficacy.

From a practical perspective, this study suggests that high LMX is associated with three important conditions – supervisor commitment, self-efficacy, and means efficacy — that contribute to high job performance by subordinates. It is also worth noting that the authors of the current article found that higher supervisor commitment was associated with higher levels of organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs), directed towards both the individual and the organization. As such, it appears that organizations have much to gain by encouraging (and facilitating) managers, supervisors, and other leaders to have positive relationships with their subordinates.

Walumbwa, F. O., Cropanzano, R., & Goldman, B. M. (2011). How leader-member exchange influences effective work behaviors: Social exchange and internal-external efficacy perspectives. Personnel Psychology, 64, 739-770.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management

One Plank at a Time: Building the Bridge from OCBs to Performance

Topic: Job Performance, Citizenship Behavior
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: A Moderated Mediation Model of the Relationship Between Organizational Citizenship Behaviors and Job Performance
Authors: Ozer, M.
Reviewed by: Neil Morelli

What do employers ultimately care about when considering employee behavior? Performance. Understanding organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) have been an important part of understanding job performance. OCBs are defined as actions employees take to go “above and beyond” their regular job to help meet the needs of coworkers and company.

In an effort to continue building the theoretical bridge between OCBs and performance, Ozer (2011) discovered that the quality of coworker relationships (called team member exchange; TMX) mediates the OCB to performance relationship, but only for OCBs directed toward individuals like providing encouragement, extra help, or advice. Because this relationship depends on the amount of leeway an employee has to engage in these relationships, Ozer also discovered that task autonomy moderated the OCB to TMX to performance relationships.


Help the Organization and…Help Yourself!!!

Topic: Citizenship Behavior, Interviewing, Selection
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (MAR 2011)
Article: Effects of organizational citizenship behaviors on selection decisions in employment interviews.
Authors: N. P. Podsakoff, S. W. Whiting, P. M. Podsakoff, & P. Mishra
Reviewed By: Thaddeus Rada

Organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs) are behaviors an employee may engage in that have a positive impact on the work environment. Recent research has found that OCBs can have an important impact on productivity, turnover, and other outcomes that organizations value. In an effort to hire individuals who are likely to engage in OCBs, research has been devoted to finding ways to assess the tendency of job applicants to engage in these behaviors. However, little research has assessed how knowledge of an applicant’s tendency to engage (or not engage) in OCBs might impact selection decisions concerning that individual – until now.

Using an interview in a hypothetical hiring scenario, the current study found that individuals who demonstrated a tendency to engage in a variety of OCBs (helping behavior, constructively challenging the status quo, and verbally defending the organization) were given higher starting salary recommendations, higher ratings of competence, and overall higher evaluations than individuals who did not exhibit a tendency to engage in these OCBs.

Although our knowledge of how OCBs impact organizations is still growing, this study demonstrates that knowledge of applicant tendencies to engage in OCBs can have an impact on selection decisions. As we refine our knowledge of which OCBs are most useful for specific types of organizations, practitioners may use this knowledge to guide organizations towards selection systems that will effectively assess relevant OCBs.

Podsakoff, N. P., Whiting, S. W., Podsakoff, P. M., & Mishra, P. (2011). Effects of organizational citizenship behaviors on selection decisions in employment interviews. Journal of Applied Psychology, 96, 310-326.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management