The Recipe for Creating Proactive Employees

Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (2015)
Article: Building and sustaining proactive behaviors: The role of adaptivity and job satisfaction
Reviewed by: Alex Rechlin


Employers seek proactive employees – those who will initiate positive change in the organization. However, not much is known about how to build and sustain proactivity in the workplace. One perspective is that adaptability is important for being proactive later on. Adaptability is adjusting and changing your behavior when a change occurs. The current authors (Strauss, Griffin, Parker, & Mason, 2015) argue that adaptability is important for knowledge acquisition, increasing change-related self-efficacy, and maintaining positive relationships. Through these mechanisms, adaptability may lead to greater proactivity at a later time.



While adaptability may be important for building proactivity, the authors argue that job satisfaction is important for sustaining proactivity. Being proactive is draining, and higher levels of job satisfaction may help individuals maintain their proactivity. When setbacks occur, positive emotions (such as higher job satisfaction) help individuals push through.



In this study, 75 participants completed the same survey two years apart. Participants were asked about their levels of adaptability, proactivity, and job satisfaction. The authors found that adaptability predicted proactivity two years later. In addition, there was interplay between job satisfaction and proactivity; proactivity at the start was not related to proactivity two years later for those who had low job satisfaction, but proactivity was maintained over the two year period for those with higher job satisfaction.



The results of this study suggest that employees need to be adaptable if they are going to be proactive and initiate change in the organization. If they aren’t able to adapt, it appears that they are less likely to be proactive in the future. Highly satisfied employees who are proactive will probably continue to be proactive, but employees with low job satisfaction will likely stop trying to be proactive.

For example, if you have an employee who doesn’t like her job, proactively tries to improve it, and fails, she may feel hopeless, continue to dislike her job, and stop trying to improve things. However, if she is successful, she may exhibit higher levels of job satisfaction and keep trying to improve things in the future. Although managers might have a hard time increasing the adaptability of their employees, they can encourage them to be proactive and strive to keep higher levels of job satisfaction so that their employees will continue to be proactive.

How Employees Develop Passion For Work

Publication: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (2015)
Article: Finding a Fit or Development It: Implicit Theories About Achieving Passion for Work
Reviewed by: Winnie Jiang


As a new generation enters the workforce, a growing number of people are seeking passion for work. They desire to attain passion, or a strong sense of enjoyment, fulfillment, identification, and motivation from their work. Ample studies have demonstrated that passion for work predicts positive individual and organizational outcomes, including positive affect (or good feelings), lower job burnout, and higher job satisfaction.

Despite the popularity of studying the outcomes of passion for work, relatively few studies have examined how passion for work is achieved. In this recent article, the authors (Chen, Ellsworth, & Schwarz, 2015) identified two different mindsets that people often endorse when considering how passion for work is attained–fit theory and develop theory. Through four different studies, the authors also showed that fit and develop theorists tend to have different passion expectations and make different vocational choices. While they are almost equally likely to experience passion, satisfaction, and commitment at work, they attain these outcomes through different paths.



Individuals endorsing the fit theory believe that passion can be achieved when there is a fit between the individual and the line of work. This theory is reflected in the popular phrase of “follow your passion.” Passion in this phrase refers to a line of work which individuals consider a perfect fit. Both the fit theory and the follow your passion notion are based on the assumption that individuals have a general understanding of what their interests and strengths are, and they know what kind of work would be a good match.

However, not everyone has a good grasp of what type of work is a perfect fit. Furthermore, in a tight job market, most individuals don’t have the luxury of choosing their preferred vocations. Consistent with these situations, some individuals adopt the develop theory, which suggests that instead of feeling passion at the beginning, individuals can develop or cultivate passion as they gain mastery and expertise in any line of work.

In short, individuals endorsing the fit theory (i.e., fit theorists) believe that passion for work is obtained through matching personal characteristics with the right line of work, while those endorsing the develop theory (i.e., develop theorists) think passion for a line of work can be developed over time. In this study, the authors designed scales to measure whether an individual endorses the fit theory or develop theory.



Through four studies based on both hypothetical and actual scenarios, the authors found significant differences in expected passion for work and career choices between fit and develop theorists. When asked to choose between an enjoyable but lowly paid line of work and a less enjoyable but highly paid line of work, fit theorists were more likely to select the former while develop theorists were more likely to select the latter.

Fit theorists anticipated more passion for the enjoyable but lowly paid line of work than the less enjoyable but highly paid line of work. On the other hand, develop theorists anticipated feeling equally passionate about both lines of work, suggesting it was reasonable for them to select the work with higher pay. In addition, it was the individual’s expected passion in the two different lines of work that explained why there was a link between theory endorsement and career selection. In other words, fit theorists are more likely to choose the enjoyable but lowly paid line of work because they anticipate feeling more passion in that line of work compared to develop theorists.

Additionally, the authors found that both fit and develop theory endorsement can account for feelings of passion, satisfaction, and commitment at work, although through different paths. While fit theorists tend to choose work that provides them with passion and then maintain a relatively stable level of passion, develop theorists generally start their work with a lower level of passion but gradually achieve the same level of passion as fit theorists as time goes by.



This research provides important practical implications on career advising, coaching, and development in organizations. First of all, helping all employees to form a develop theory mindset can be a good way to assist them in cultivating passion for their line of work. In cases where individuals strongly endorse a particular theory and are reluctant to change their mindset, career advisors and HR practitioners should consider adopting the right strategies to help different individuals. For example, realistic job previews and personality tests are particularly effective at allowing fit theorists and organizations to find a good match and enable employees to achieve passion for their work. On the other hand, organizational socialization, training, learning, and other on-boarding integration events would be more helpful for develop theorists to attain that same level of passion for their work.


Do Telecommuters Have Better Job Performance?


With the dawn of the technological age upon use, telecommuters are employees who are able to work in remote locations, such as home, outside of the traditional work setting. Rather than commute into work every day, technology enables people to work virtually and perform tasks while physically apart from their colleagues and supervisors.

One of the challenges with this flexible work arrangement is that companies cannot be assured that their remote workers, or telecommuters, are performing tasks or contributing positively to the work environment compared to workers that are in the office. In fact, managerial concerns about telecommuting include the lack of face time, which might be perceived as a lack of commitment, and perceptions that employees will shirk their duties without supervision. Given that some companies—such as Yahoo—are banning telecommuting arrangements, it is critical to examine whether virtual work is actually harmful to employee performance and the general work environment.

A new study conducted with employees and their supervisors (Gajendran, Harrison, & Delaney-Klinger, 2015) provides evidence for the performance benefits of telecommuters compared to office workers. The authors found that telecommuting is associated with an increase in two types of performance: task performance and contextual performance. Task performance includes how well employees complete their job requirements and tasks, and is typically measured by supervisor ratings. Contextual performance, or organizational citizenship behaviors, are activities that contribute to the social and psychological environment of the organization and can include both interpersonal facilitation (considerate and helpful acts that benefit colleagues) and job dedication (such as working hard, taking initiative, and self-discipline).



The authors theorized that telecommuting enhances autonomy, a psychological resource that counteracts the difficult demands or strains of the job. Through perceptions of autonomy, telecommuters can reinvest their surplus resources into their work performance. In addition, several psychological theories state that the feeling of autonomy can increase intrinsic motivation and job engagement.

The authors also used various psychological theories to explain that there are negotiated agreements between employees and employers that are mutually beneficial, known as idiosyncratic deals (also called “i-deals”). From these i-deals, telecommuters feel obligated towards the person that approved their flexible work arrangement, or their supervisors, and would be motivated to work harder or more cooperatively for their supervisor. Likewise, telecommuters may feel obligated to reciprocate for the additional responsibilities that the in-office workers must assume when their colleague works remotely. In order to reduce the resentment that office coworkers may feel, telecommuters will make extra effort and go above and beyond to prove that they are assets to the office.



In addition, the authors found that the quality of the employer-employee relationship influenced the task and contextual performance of telecommuters. Employees who had a relationship of trust and professional respect with their managers did not have as great of a performance boost when telecommuting. On the other hand, employees that had a low quality relationship with their manager, which is characterized by distrust and close monitoring, revealed a greater positive change in performance when telecommuting.

The authors also found that the difference in task performance between in-office and telecommuting employees is greater when telecommuting is less of an office norm. In other words, when telecommuting is a common practice in the office, it is seen as less special and workers are not as motivated to perform. But when telecommuting is only approved for a select few in the office, then it is viewed as more of a privilege.



In conclusion, telecommuting did not result in worse task performance or contextual performance. In fact overall, telecommuting is associated with better performance. In some scenarios, such as when employee-employer relationships are poor, or when telecommuting is not considered the workplace norm, telecommuting may increase job performance even more. Overall, the specialness and freedom of telecommuting can motivate employees to be better workers.

Fathers in the Workplace: Can Men Really Do it All?

Publication: The Academy of Management Perspectives
Article: Updating the Organization MAN: An Examination of Involved Fathering in the Workplace
Reviewed by: Lia Engelsted


With more actively involved fathers in the workplace, the role of the working man is changing. The ideal worker, or an employee that is perpetually available and committed to work with minimal responsibilities outside of the job, clashes with men’s ability to be involved fathers, or men that are involved with and accessible to their children.

In order to investigate the changing expectations of fatherhood in the workplace and determine how involved fathering impacts work-related outcomes, the researchers (Ladge et al., 2015) conducted two studies. The first study involved interviews with 31 new fathers about their career and fatherhood, and the second study administered a survey to 970 fathers who worked in four different Fortune 500 organizations.



The researchers found clear evidence for the new identity of the involved father. For example, when asked, “What are the most important aspects of being a good father?”, the participants reported more nontraditional fathering tasks as most important. These include providing love and emotional support, being involved and present in their child’s life, and being a teacher, guide, and coach. This contrasts with the largely popular view of fatherhood from past generations, which tended to view the responsibilities of fatherhood as mostly built around breadwinning.



The researchers found that, in general, the fathers that spend more time with their children have more positive work outcomes. Involved fathers reported greater satisfaction, meaning, and commitment to their jobs, with lowered intention to quit their job. Contrary to the research on mothers in the workplace, fathers that spend more time with their children reported less work-family conflict and greater work-family enrichment. Perhaps spending time with one’s children allows fathers to put work into proper perspective.

The study also found that involved fathers tend to identify themselves with their career to a lesser extent. While a weaker career identity may reduce overall commitment to work, this effect can be counteracted through increased supervisor support. Therefore, offering a supportive work environment to fathers in the workplace can result in them more closely approximating the role of an ideal worker.



Given modern-day societal expectations for fathers to be involved in childcare responsibilities, working fathers face conflict and ambiguity with their role as a parent and societal expectations of being an ideal worker. While there has been an apparent shift from the traditional role of a working father as “distant breadwinner” or a provider of financial needs, to the more involved and emotionally caring father, the researchers found that many fathers are still defining themselves based on the traditional views of fathering in the context of work. It seems that gender and social norms of the workplace may still color the way men see themselves as fathers in the context of work. For example, in order to accommodate both the expectations of the workplace and of being a father, some fathers are employing a stealthy approach to workplace flexibility. Rather than formally negotiate arrangements through benefits provided by human resources, many working fathers informally create flexibility in their schedules. For example, they might simply leave work early to spend time with their children.



In conclusion, as men’s involvement in their children’s lives increases, the ideal worker is no longer a standard that fathers can live up to. While we have come a long way since the 70s in accepting involved fathers in the workplace, gender and organizational norms still inhibit a complete shift to full acceptance of involved fathers who also work.

Still, this study interestingly documents ways in which more involved fathers see workplace benefits, such as increased commitment and job satisfaction. In this light, organizations shouldn’t feel threatened at the prospects of fathers who are more involved in the workplace than may be traditionally expected. Learning about the ways that fatherhood benefits employees, as well as the ways that organizations can provide additional support to people during this stage of life, can help ensure that everyone benefits.

Aging Workforce: Employees Who Are Healthy and in Control Stay Working

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Individual and Work Factors Related to Perceived Work Ability and Labor Force Outcomes
Reviewed by: Lia Engelsted


In our currently aging workforce, one in five workers are now age 55 or older. Given this changing demographic, it is important to identify the factors that lead to early departure from the workforce. One of the critical factors is perceived work ability, or the balance between personal resources and work characteristics. In order to prevent premature departure of the workforce, this study (McGonagle, Fisher, Barnes-Farrell, & Grosch, 2015) identified what leads to perceived work ability, and what happens when employees experience it.



The authors explain that perceived work ability is when employees think that they have the ability to continue their jobs. One way to understand this is through the Job Demands-Resources model. According to this model, individuals must balance job demands with job resources. Job demands can include anything that requires physical or mental effort, such as time pressure. Job resources are factors that promote work engagement, such as autonomy or supportive supervisors. Individuals may also employ personal resources, such as personality characteristics or health, to combat the demands of work.

After weighing all of these pros and cons associated with the job, people decide if situations or events are threatening or harmless. If the situations or events are consistently threatening or straining, then the individual will be more likely to discontinue his or her job.



Workers considering retirement weigh “push” and “pull” factors. Push factors are the “negative aspects of the work environment that may push one out of the workforce (e.g. a stressful work environment, low levels of supervisor support)”. Pull factors are the positive aspects of the work environment that pull one towards remaining at work. Based on the individual’s perceived work ability, which is determined by job demands and resources, individuals will be pushed out of or pulled into work.



Using three different samples of data, the authors found evidence that workers’ personal resources, specifically self-reported health and sense of control, were the strongest precursors to perceived work ability in a range of occupations. In manufacturing organizations, the personal resources of health status and sense of control as well as the job demands of environmental conditions, physical demands, and working in difficult body positions were significant predictors of perceived work ability. After controlling for other variables, the researchers found that perceived work ability contributed to absenteeism, retirement, and disability leave. Interestingly, the authors did not find a relationship between age and work ability, whereas many other researchers have found that older workers report lower work ability.



The study found evidence that perceived work ability is an important psychological mechanism that can determine whether a worker will remain in or withdraw from the workforce. An individual’s personal resources, specifically health and sense of control, contribute to perceived work ability, which in turn can explain why some employees have increased absenteeism, increased disability leave, or choose to retire earlier. Therefore, organizations should promote healthy practices and try to boost personal psychological resources in order to keep aging workers in their jobs. This can include increasing employees’ sense of self-control, lowering job demands, and ensuring safe environmental conditions.

Caregivers in the Workplace: How to Improve Their Well-Being


Currently, one in five American families includes an individual with caregiving duties, and caregivers in the workplace are becoming much more common. Given the advent of the sandwich generation, or those people who care for both children and aging parents, this number is expected to rise. Even more, the increase of women in the workforce is leading to more working caregivers than ever before, because women tend to be the primary caregiver to both children and elderly parents.


Work can offer respite from caretaking and offer social and emotional support. However, caregiving can impact job performance due to increased absences, interruptions at work, and even unpaid leave. With the increased burden of working and caring for another, do working caretakers experience decreases in their psychological well-being? In this study, the authors (Li, Shaffer, & Bagger, 2015) found that working caregivers experience negative mental outcomes, and they also explain what to do about this growing problem.


Conservation of Resources

According to the conservation of resource theory, individuals balance the demands of work and caregiving by keeping a supply of resources, such as personal characteristics (self-esteem, confidence) or environmental conditions (social support, health). If these valued resources diminish, individuals may be vulnerable to decreases in well-being, as well as be unable to adjust to stressful situations. Those individuals with high resource demands, particularly caring for an individual with a severe disability, are especially susceptible to the loss of resources. This can eventually result in inability to cope with stress.


Family and Supervisor Support on Work and Life Outcomes

The authors found that working caregivers with supportive families had less conflict between family and work. In addition, when supervisors were perceived to accommodate their caregiving employees, it resulted in positive mental outcomes for the employee. Working caregivers who had a high level of conflict between work and life but perceived that their manager supported them, experienced decreased depression and higher life satisfaction. Therefore, other people do make a difference in improving the psychological well being of working caregivers.


Family Support

How can families with a disabled, elderly, or care needing individual support the demands of the caregiver in their family?


  1. Openly discuss the caregiving responsibilities and ways to reduce the demands.
  2. Negotiate the care arrangements with family members.
  3. Work with a family counselor to adjust to the caregiving role and to increase family support.


Supervisor Support

What can managers do to support caregivers under their supervision?


  1. Be open to offering accommodations (such as flextime) to employees that care for another individual.
  2. Listen to caregiving employees in order to identify fair and reasonable accommodations.
  3. Work with the organization’s policies to implement appropriate accommodations customized to the caregiver’s needs.
  4. Share the experience of managing caregiving employees with other managers and leaders in the organization.


The authors also recommend that organizations offer training to supervisors so that they are better able to support caregivers.


With the growing number of employees providing care to individuals with disabilities or elderly parents, it is necessary for employers to understand how to manage employees that are caretakers. This will prove helpful to the well-being of the caregivers, as well as the success of the organization.

What Type of Happy Employees Can Benefit Organizations?

Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior
Article: Putting Your Best “Face” Forward: The Role of Emotion-based Well-being in Organizational Research
Reviewed by: Winnie Jiang


We tend to think that organizations with happy employees are more likely to be successful. Happier employees tend to have better performance and are less likely to leave their companies. However, when asked what happy employees are like or what it means to be a happy employee, chances are people would not give consistent answers. Are happy employees those who receive higher salaries or those who enjoy higher job and life satisfaction? If both types of employees are considered happy, which type is actually beneficial to organizations?


A recent review by Wright (2014) uses existing research to provide insight on the definition of happiness and on which type of happy employee benefits organizations. The article reviews four dimensions of happiness and suggests that the emotion-based dimension plays the most important role in predicting favorable organizational variables such as job performance and employee retention.


The author adopted the happiness model from Cropanzano and Wright (2014), which says that there are at least four dimensions of happiness. The first one is objective life conditions. This dimension suggests that happiness is based on objective facts regarding quality of life, including wealth, health, clean and safe living environment, and so on.

The second is called eudaimonic well-being. This dimension originates from Aristotle’s view of happiness and it suggests that happiness comes from whether a person sees meaning and a sense of purpose in life.

The third dimension is life satisfaction. Happiness of this dimension is based on a person’s overall satisfaction about life or satisfaction about a specific domain such as a job or relationship.



According to the author, despite the increasing interest in employees’ happiness, there has been limited research examining the effects of the first three dimensions of happiness on organizational outcomes. Therefore, the question of whether there are direct relationships between the first three categories of happiness and organizational outcomes such as performance and retention rates is still unclear.

However, the fourth dimension – emotion-based happiness – has been found by many studies to positively affect favorable individual and organizational outcomes. At the individual level, these outcomes include being more outgoing, having higher self-esteem, higher motivation, better job performance, less likely to be depressed or pessimistic, less likely to turnover, and less likely to suffer from drug or alcohol addiction. At the organizational level, these outcomes include higher performance and retention rate.



So what type of happy employees benefit organizations? This article answers that employees who are emotionally happy or those with more positive than negative feelings are the ones who can benefit organizations. Because, as the author suggests, results from existing research have shown that emotionally happy employees have a direct positive effect on organizations, it is organizations’ best bet to focus on enhancing employees’ positive feelings and emotions and trying to lower their negative feelings and emotions. Possible ways to foster employees’ positive feelings and emotions at work include promoting smiling and praising, having regular happy hours, and encouraging managers to care about each employee on a personal level.

How a Sense of Calling Can Affect Career Decisions


What helps determine whether people pursue their sense of “calling”? The advice I always got was, “Work hard, get a respectable job in a stable industry and then pursue your passion on the side.” This shaped my extrinsic motivation, or the type of motivation that comes from outside a person, when pursuing a career. Others take to heart advice from notable public figures like the late Steve Jobs who said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” This kind of advice fosters intrinsic motivation, or the type that comes from within a person, when pursuing a career. The pursuit of a career that meets at the intersection of these two approaches would be ideal, but often economic realities deter many. Recently, two researchers sought to understand what influences career decisions when these approaches clash.



Career theory posits that intrinsic and extrinsic values are both important in understanding career choice and development. Extrinsic values are more objective and measurable, and relate to wanting higher pay, prestige, and job security. For this paper, researchers were interested in intrinsic characteristics, which are more subjective and can be summed up as a calling, meaning, “a consuming, meaningful passion people experience toward a domain.” This is an interesting concept because it is linked to positive work outcomes such as work engagement, job satisfaction and clarity of professional identity. However, little is known about how people pursue careers when these aspects are misaligned within an individual.



This study was longitudinal in nature, meaning it was done over a lengthy time period, and examined people with varying degrees of a sense of calling (strong vs. weak) within the music domain. The study also noted the extent to which an individual’s perceived ability (what they thought of their own ability) and actual ability (measured as recognition from others) affected their pursuit of their calling in music.

The results suggest that a sense of calling early in life (intrinsic motivation) is a particularly important factor in helping resolve career decisions later on, and in determining the trajectory of one’s career pursuits. A strong and early calling made it more likely that a person would get a degree in that area and be professionally involved. They also showed that participants with stronger early callings were likely to perceive their ability more favorably, which made them more likely to pursue music professionally. The implication is that actual ability was not as strong a determinant in pursuing a passion as one would expect.



Apart from the numerous applications for individuals, from an organizational perspective, it may be worthwhile for managers to investigate how to harness the passion of those who may feel a strong sense of calling, yet have chosen to pursue more extrinsic values. For example, some companies allow employees to start small side projects, whether social or technical, and are reaping the benefits of this approach. This could have an impact on positive organizational outcomes, such as improving work engagement and job satisfaction.

The Secret Recipe for Good Workplace Conflict

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Can Conflict Be Energizing? A Study of Task Conflict, Positive Emotions, and Job Satisfaction
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


The term “Workplace Conflict” sounds ominous. It conjures up images of yelling, screaming, finger pointing and, in rare cases, hunkering down under makeshift table forts and lobbing used Styrofoam cups at rival camps.

But can workplace conflict occasionally be good? New research by Todorova, Bear, and Weingart (2014) has found that, under the right circumstances, frequent workplace conflict can lead to an exchange of valuable information and, eventually, to higher job satisfaction.



Employees who express differing opinions about how work should be done are engaging in “task conflict.”

There are two different ways they can do this. When intense conflict occurs, employees “clash and argue,” and typically spend more time defending their own opinions than listening to the other side. Naturally, this doesn’t often lead to any good outcomes.

But employees can also engage in mild conflict, which is characterized by “debating and expressing.” In this scenario, employees are still arguing, but they are also listening to the other side in an honest attempt to solve the problem. This type of conflict can lead to more positive results.



The current study found that frequent mild task conflict provides employees with new information that will ultimately help them succeed at their jobs. For example, after debating about the best way to file records, a secretary may learn a more efficient way of doing his or her job.

And what happens when people get better at their jobs? The researchers found that they are more likely to feel active, energized, interested and excited. These positive emotions about work lead to higher overall job satisfaction.



The positive effects of frequent mild task conflict are stronger in two different circumstances.

The first is when conflict occurs in an active learning environment, which is when employees experiment, reflect and use feedback in an attempt to discuss results and improve work processes. This learning environment communicates to employees that conflict is meant to be constructive, helping them learn to improve at their jobs. Accordingly, employees respond well and feel good about learning new information.

Secondly, when mild task conflict occurs between people who work in different functions, more novel information is shared and employees respond better. The study found that, when task conflict occurs between people who work in the same job, there is simply not as much new information to be gained.



This article helps leaders understand how to use workplace conflict to the benefit of both their employees and the workplace. Here’s a simple guide to having more productive workplace conflict:

  • Conflict should be task-related and about how to do work, and not interpersonal.
  • Conflict should be kept to mild expressions of debate, and not intense arguing.
  • Conflict works best in a learning environment, which is when employees are actively engaged in discussing and improving work processes.
  • Conflict provides best results when it is between people who have very different organizational functions.

Tell Me Again: How Retelling Stories in the Workplace Builds Culture

Publication: Academy of Management Review
Article: Retelling stories in organizations: Understanding the functions of narrative repetition
Reviewed by: Anjali Banerjee

The little stories that tend to get passed around an office on a daily basis can have a profound impact on life in the workplace. “Did you hear about Susie? She was fired just for fixing the boss’ coffee wrong. Right on the spot, just like that!”

A new study on retelling stories in organizations by Stephanie L. Dailey and Larry Browning seeks to understand the functions this sort of narrative repetition can have. Ultimately, the authors found storytelling in the workplace builds the foundation for a unique organizational culture.


Workplace stories, such as the example above, function as a form of folklore within the company. As they spread through each retelling, these tales provide insight into the complexity of an organization.

The individual, the context, and the audience each inform the process of retelling the story, though the essence of the narrative always remains basically the same. Used as a way to process social information, storytelling reflects a more dynamic and fluid perception of the organization.

These stories ultimately have the potential to influence employees’ perception of reality, and have moral and behavioral implications as well.


Dailey and Browning identified several forms and functions of these retold stories:

  • To control behavior: These forms of stories serve as lessons, and indoctrination to the behaviors that are either encouraged or discouraged by the moral. Themes of punishment or reward are common.
  • Oppositional stories: These stories provide an outlet for expressing frustration with the company. Researchers suggested that even these types of stories can be used strategically, if key leaders in the organization are aware of them.
  • Differentiation/integration: This type of story serves to answer the question, “Who are we as a group?” These stories establish the unique identity of the company, and make a distinction between the organization and its competitors. These tales shape impressions of the organization, and the employees’ place within it.
  • Preparation for the future and change: These stories can be used to provide stability and a road map during times of difficulty or change by setting examples for solving problems.


By focusing on the process and implication of retelling stories in the workplace, researchers found that sharing stories generally establishes a sense of unity among employees. The key take-away of these findings is that it’s important for organizational leaders to be good listeners. Keep an ear out for the kinds of stories that pass through the halls of your organization, and be very selective about which ones you pass on.

Ultimately, these stories not only establish organizational culture, but inform employees’ perception of the company as well as their own behavior within its structure.