Employee Moods and Workplace Proactivity

Topic(s): employee satisfaction, motivation
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2012)
Article: Fuel of the Self-Starter: How Mood Relates to Proactive Goal Regulation
Authors: U.K. Bindl, S.K. Parker, P. Totterdell, G. Hagger-Johnson
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

What could go wrong when you are in a really bad mood? According to new research (Bindl, Parker, Totterdell, & Hagger-Johnson, 2012), you may miss
out on opportunities to be proactive at work. The authors explain that workplace proactivity occurs when employees solve current problems and anticipate future problems. This process involves four different elements, envisioning, planning, enacting, and reflecting. Envisioning involves considering a different future and identifying things that must change to get there. Planning involves considering different ways that the change might occur, and enacting refers to the behavior that brings about the change. Finally, reflecting is looking back to evaluate the success or failure of the change and trying to understand what happened.


So how does mood relate to the elements of workplace proactivity? The authors conducted two different experiments and found that good moods were associated with higher levels of all four elements of proactivity. But not all good moods are the same. The authors explain that moods can involve different levels of activation. This refers to the extent to which a person is motivated and ready to act. Specifically, it was the good moods that involved high activation that were related to proactivity.

But what if you really are stuck in a bad mood? Don’t worry, there is a small consolation prize. The authors found that bad moods were related to higher levels of the envisioning element of proactivity, provided that the bad mood involved a low level of activation. These people, say the authors, use their bad moods to focus on the need for improvement, which is the first step of the proactivity process.


The implications of this study are clear. Good moods that are coupled with high levels of activation or motivation are good for the workplace. Not only do these moods lead to proactivity, but the authors note that proactivity has itself been directly related to work performance. This study is just another reason why it’s so important to keep your employees happy.

Bindl, U.K., Parker, S.K., Totterdell, P., & Hagger-Johnson, G. (2012). Fuel of the Self-Starter: How Mood Relates to Proactive Goal Regulation. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(1), 134-150.

Image credit: istockphoto/Liubomyr Vorona