The uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly added stress and new challenges to work. However, new research suggests that individuals with proactive personality—people who actively scan for and create opportunities, demonstrate initiative, and persevere—do well in the face of challenging circumstances.
THE RESEARCH STUDY
Researchers (Chen et al., 2021) collected data from nurses and doctors in Wuhan, China at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. They surveyed 408 frontline workers (200 doctors and 208 nurses) on three separate occasions; participants were surveyed once in April 2020, again at the two week mark, and finally at the three week mark.
Results indicated that people higher in proactive personality were more likely to draw upon their strengths and best qualities to create opportunities for themselves (also called “strengths use”). The researchers argue that those higher in proactive personality are more likely to view stressful and ambiguous situations, such as a pandemic, as an opportunity for adapting and utilizing their personal strengths. Strengths use subsequently predicted two important behavioral outcomes (higher job performance and lower withdrawal from work) and two important well-being outcomes (higher resilience and thriving).
The researchers also examined contextual factors that may affect the associations between proactive personality and the previously mentioned outcomes. Results found that routine disruption and perceived organizational support were important variables to consider. When frontline workers higher in proactive personality perceived that the disruption to their daily routine was higher, the relationship between proactive personality and strengths use was stronger. However, this was true only when workers also perceived higher organizational support.
This study found that in times of uncertainty, individuals higher in proactive personality are less likely to withdraw from work, are more likely to be higher in resilience, are more likely to thrive, and are higher job performers.
The researchers suggest that management should help employees understand their own capacity to proactively influence their work, especially during times of crisis. Further, management should emphasize that employees have the autonomy to craft their positions in a way that fits their strengths. Finally, organizations can find ways to help employees identify their strengths and support employees who utilize them. These goals may be achieved through company-wide retreats, goal setting sessions, or training.
Yi-Feng Chen, N., Crant, J. M., Wang, N., Kou, Y., Qin, Y., Yu, J., & Sun, R. (2021). When there is a will there is a way: The role of proactive personality in combating COVID-19. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication.