The Recipe for Creating Proactive Employees

Topic(s): job satisfaction, personality
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (2015) 
Article: Building and sustaining proactive behaviors: The role of adaptivity and job satisfaction
Authors: K. Strauss, M.A. Griffin, S.K. Parker, C.M. Mason 
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 means adjusting and changing behavior in response to change. The authors of this study (Strauss, Griffin, Parker, & Mason, 2015) argue that adaptability is important for knowledge acquisition, increasing belief that one is capable of initiating change, 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.


Strauss, K., Griffin, M. A., Parker, S. K., & Mason, C. M. (2013). Building and Sustaining Proactive Behaviors: The Role of Adaptivity and Job Satisfaction. Journal of Business and Psychology, 30(1), 63-72.