When employees experience psychological ownership over the various aspects of their jobs, it is thought to foster positive outcomes, such as increased work motivation. However, new research (Chen et al., 2022) suggests there may be a double-edged effect. It says that psychological ownership can lead to territorial behaviors that either help or hinder an employee’s willingness to exchange information at work, which ultimately impacts job performance.
THE EFFECTS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL OWNERSHIP
The studies revealed that employees who have a tendency to seek growth and advancement (i.e. a promotion focus) experienced the positive benefits of psychological ownership, while employees who were more risk-averse or conservative (i.e. a prevention focus) experienced mostly negative outcomes.
Specifically, the researchers found that when employees were prevention-focused, psychological ownership was more strongly related to territorial defending, which means preventing one’s resources from being infringed upon. This decreased the exchange of information and job performance.
On the other hand, when employees were promotion-focused, psychological ownership was more strongly related to territorial expanding, which refers to acquiring more resources. This increased the exchange of information and ultimately job performance.
PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS
This research offers practical insight into how to elicit the more positive effects of psychological ownership at work. First, organizations should be careful when implementing training that is aimed at increasing employees’ attachment to their jobs, as it could have negative outcomes if employees are more prevention-focused.
Further, managers should try to foster a promotion-focus at work. For instance, managers could encourage employees to expand their current job boundaries and seek out opportunities for new resources. Lastly, employee training could focus on developing a sense of shared ownership with colleagues, by setting joint objectives or highlighting community interests. This could encourage employees to exchange more information, the positive offshoot of psychological ownership.
Chen, X., Lee, C., Hui, C., Lin, W., Brown, G., & Liu, J. (2023). Feeling possessive, performing well? Effects of job-based psychological ownership on territoriality, information exchange, and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 108(3), 403–424.
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