What Happens at Home May Affect Proactive Behavior at Work

Topic(s): motivation, work-life balance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, 2019
Article: Enjoy Your Evening, Be Proactive Tomorrow: How Off-Job Experiences Shape Daily Proactivity
Authors: K. Ouyang, B.H. Cheng, W. Lam, S.K. Parker
Reviewed by: Jacqueline Marhefka

Organizations have been searching for ways to increase proactive behavior in employees. Proactive behavior describes self-initiated engagement to take control of situations at work and create change, which is becoming even more important in today’s shifting and competitive work setting. Researchers know that proactive behavior in employees tends to vary over days. But why? What makes an employee more likely to show proactive behavior one day but not another? One answer may not depend on things that happen at work, but rather what happens once employees leave work. To address this idea, researchers (Ouyang, Cheng, Lam & Parker, 2019) examined a number of off-job experiences that may impact proactive behavior at work the following day.


The researchers considered five different after-work activities to see which were followed by more proactive behaviors the next day. These include off-job mastery (learning or challenge opportunities such as volunteering or sports), off-job agency (ability to schedule own leisure time), off-job relaxation (through meditation or listening to music to unwind), off-job detachment (avoiding thoughts about work-related problems and duties), and finally off-job hassles (extra stress such as chores). Although the first four “recovery” experiences listed are generally related to positive work outcomes, it is unclear which experiences specifically impact proactive behavior. The researchers expected the answer depends on the type of motivation state that stems from the off-job experience.


There are several motivation states considered in the study, one of which is positive affect (good mood). Whereas one form of positive affect called high-activation brings about an energizing, driving feeling, another form termed low-activation results in a more relaxed, peaceful feeling. The researchers anticipated that high-activation positive affect would relate to more proactive behavior due to the energy and drive, while low-activation would not. Other motivation states expected to benefit proactivity include desire for control at work and role breadth self-efficacy, meaning employees believing they are competent in taking initiative.


After tracking employee off-job experiences, motivation states, and proactive behavior for 10 workdays, the researchers found support that not all off-job experiences enabled proactive behavior. Off-job mastery related to role breadth self-efficacy and high-activated positive affect the next morning, and off-job agency related to role breadth self-efficacy and desire for control. These three motivation states were then followed by proactive behavior during the workday. In addition, off-job hassles brought about less high-activated positive affect, leading to less proactive behavior. However, off-job relaxation and off-job detachment experiences were followed by a low-activated positive affect motivation state, which did not result in later proactive behavior.


This research shows that organizations should not only consider elements of work that impact proactive behavior, but also off-job experiences. Not just any recovery off-job experience will be sufficient. Specifically, participation in off-job mastery (i.e., learning or challenge opportunities) and off-job agency experiences (i.e., ability to schedule one’s own leisure time) promote proactive behavior at work, but off-job relaxation and off-job detachment do not. Off-job hassles are also detrimental. The researchers note the importance of employees being aware that specific evening experiences make a difference in proactive behaviors at work the next day. Further, organizations can promote these experiences through workshops informing employees about the benefits of mastery and agency off-job experiences in regards to proactivity at work.


Ouyang, K., Cheng, B. H., Lam, W., & Parker, S. K. (2019, February 7). Enjoy your evening, be proactive tomorrow: How off-job experiences shape daily proactivity. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.