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Cangiano, F., & Parker, S. K. (2016). Proactivity for Mental Health and Well-Being. In
S. Clarke, T. M. Probst, F. Guldenmund, & J. Passmore (Eds.), The Wiley
Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Occupational Safety and Workplace
Health (pp. 228-250). John Wiley & Sons.
The Wiley Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Occupational Safety and Workplace Health, First Edition.
Edited by Sharon Clarke, Tahira M. Probst, Frank Guldenmund, and Jonathan Passmore. © 2016 John
Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Published 2016 by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
Proactivity for Mental Health
Francesco Cangiano and Sharon K. Parker
Proactive behaviors are self‐initiated and future oriented actions that employees take to
change and improve themselves or their work environment (Parker, Williams, & Turner,
2006). Being proactive can occur in several domains: for example, by anticipating problems
and implementing ideas to prevent them from occurring (Crant, 2000; Frese & Fay, 2001),
or by actively seeking feedback from others about one’s performance (Ashford, 1986).
Recent developments in the context of work have heightened the importance of proactive
behavior (Grant, Parker, & Collins, 2009). First, the environment in which organizations
operate has become increasingly complex and uncertain. Therefore, employees and manag-
ers need to use their own initiative to determine what needs to be done in a given situation
(Grifn, Neal, & Parker, 2007). Second, high levels of competition require greater capac-
ity to innovate in order to create competitive advantage (Crant, 2000). Proactivity is an
important element of innovation (Unsworth & Parker, 2008). Third, career structures are
becoming more unpredictable and exible, requiring employees to be self‐directed and to
take charge of their careers (Parker & Collins, 2010). Proactivity is thus a driving force for
individual creativity, innovation, adaptability, and exibility, and hence is crucial for organi-
Because of its importance, research on proactivity at work has primarily focused on the
personal and environmental factors that facilitate the onset of proactive behavior. We will
briey review this literature in the current chapter. However, to date there has been little
attention given to how engaging in proactivity affects employees’ health and well‐being,
which is our core focus in this chapter. Specically, we consider how proactivity affects em-
ployee well‐being and mental health, as well as physical health via stress‐related processes.
Although proactive behavior might also affect individuals’ physical health directly via
Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being 229
inuencing occupational safety (Didla, Mearns, & Flin, 2009), our focus here is on well‐
being and health. For example, questions we consider include: Does being proactive help
to fulll psychological needs, eliciting feelings of competence and autonomy, and thereby
promoting well‐being? Do the obstacles and resistance faced when engaging in proac-
tivity create feelings of stress? Can proactivity be considered as a resource for employee
well‐being? Are there factors that mitigate the effect of proactivity on well‐being and
mental health? Ultimately we propose that proactivity is likely to affect mental health and
well‐being in multiple ways, and that moderating variables and mediating processes need
to be considered.
In the rst section of this chapter, we provide a brief overview of research on proactivity,
with a particular emphasis on its motivational underpinnings. As we elaborate later, under-
standing motivation is crucial for exploring the well‐being outcomes of proactive behavior.
In the second section of the chapter, we introduce our overall model of the effects that
proactivity might have on mental health and well‐being. In the subsequent sections, we
unpack this model. Drawing upon self‐determination theory, as well as the broaden‐and‐
build theory of emotions, in the third section we describe how being proactive at work
might invigorate employees’ well‐being and/or prevent stress in the workplace. As part
of this discussion, we review previous research that has looked at the interplay between
related positive work behaviors (such as contextual performance) and health and well‐being
(Greguras & Diefendorff, 2010). We also consider how self‐directed actions in the work-
place have the potential to fuel one’s self‐condence at work. However, factors beyond
the immediate control of the individual need to be considered when looking at the con-
sequences of proactive behavior.
In the fourth section we introduce the resource‐depletion pathway of proactivity, and
discuss when and how proactive behavior might be detrimental to employees’ mental
health and well‐being. In section ve, we examine the key role of feedback from peers and
supervisors in moderating the proactivity/well‐being relationship. Specically, we investi-
gate how receiving negative feedback can thwart needs satisfaction, undermine self‐efcacy,
and generate negative emotional reactions, thereby reducing the positive consequences of
proactivity for well‐being and mental health. In section six we discuss how motivations under
which proactivity is performed can moderate its effects of well‐being. For example, we sug-
gest that controlled forms of proactivity will be more consuming of personal resources and
hence might harm individuals’ well‐being.
In the nal section, we suggest practical implications for managers and practitioners of
this research, such as how to create a work environment that encourages proactive behav-
ior that is good for mental health, as well as key areas and theoretical issues that need to
be addressed in future research.
Proactive Behavior: A Brief Review
Although the term proactivity has been applied to a multitude of organizational behaviors
across different topic domains, research has identied two core aspects that dene any
particular behavior as proactive. First, proactive behavior is anticipatory: it involves think-
ing ahead about a future situation to prevent future problems or make the most of forth-
coming opportunities. The second dening element of proactivity is that it involves taking
control of a situation (or an anticipated situation) by initiating change. Thus, anticipating
thinking and taking control of the situation are key features of proactivity (Parker et al.,
2006). Inherent in both these elements is self‐initiation. That is, scholars tend to agree
that proactivity is self‐starting behavior in which the individual him or herself initiates
230 Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being
action, rather than being directed to act. For instance, following instructions to improve
a work procedure does not constitute proactivity, whereas self‐initiating the implementa-
tion of solutions to problems is proactive.
Proactivity has been distinguished from less future‐focused and change‐oriented behav-
iors such as core job performance, also referred to as job prociency, and even adaptiv-
ity, which is concerned with adapting to change, rather than initiating it (Grifn et al.,
2007). For example, from a performance perspective, employees are considered procient
on a given task based on the extent to which they are able to meet formalized require-
ments, implying clear standards against which performance can be assessed. Given its
self‐initiated nature, proactive behavior cannot be easily assessed against standards and
indicators (Parker & Collins, 2010). Similarly, proactive career behavior is distinct from
other forms of career behavior that are less self‐initiated. For example, proactive feedback
seeking is distinct from receiving feedback insofar as the former involves actively seeking
out feedback rather than waiting for feedback to be given by someone else (Ashford &
Importantly, in contrast to the idea that proactivity is a type of extra‐role behavior, the
perspective we adopt here is that all kinds of work behavior (e.g., task, extra‐role, citizen-
ship, safety) can be carried out more or less proactively (Grifn et al., 2007). For example,
an individual can help another individual in a way that is proactive (e.g., anticipating that
an individual might need help, and offering this support to them) or that is relatively
passive (e.g., an individual might help another when requested). From this perspective,
proactivity is a way of behaving, rather than a particular set of behaviors. Taking this
perspective further, some scholars (Parker et al., 2012) have argued that proactivity is a
process that includes the generation of a proactive goal (envisioning, planning) and then
striving for that goal (enacting, reection).
Distal Antecedents of Proactivity
Unsurprisingly, given the importance of proactive behavior in the workplace, efforts have
been made to understand what kind of environment encourages proactivity, and which
people are more likely to engage in such behavior (Parker et al., 2006). Among the en-
vironmental antecedents of proactivity, previous studies have reported autonomy and
coworker trust to be signicantly associated with proactivity at work. According to Parker
(1998), autonomy stimulates proactivity because it allows people to master new tasks
and to take on board greater responsibilities, thereby enhancing employees’ self‐efcacy,
which is an important motivational driver of proactivity (Parker, Bindl, & Strauss, 2010).
Job control also facilitates the development of more exible role orientations in which
individuals dene their responsibilities broadly, which is a further motivational driver of
proactive behavior (Parker, 2000; Parker, Wall, & Jackson, 1997). Research on leadership
as an antecedent of proactivity has to date yielded somewhat inconsistent results (Frese &
Fay, 2001; Parker & Wu, 2014), suggesting this is a complex relationship. In a recent
review, Parker and Wu (2014) proposed multiple pathways through which team‐oriented
(e.g., transformational leadership) and person‐oriented leadership inputs (leader–member
exchange) can foster proactivity. For instance, leaders can enhance followers’ self‐efcacy
by supplying them with opportunities to experience feelings of mastery at work (Bandura,
1982, 1986), and leaders can shape the work climate and the work design, which in turn
can affect employees’ likelihood of behaving proactively (e.g., see Parker et al., 2006).
Regarding personal differences, analyses suggest that some individuals are simply predis-
posed to be proactive. In this regard, the term proactive personality is generally referred to
Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being 231
as the tendency to take action in order to inuence one’s environment (Bateman & Crant,
1993). Empirical evidence reports that individuals high in proactive personality tend to
perform better (Thompson, 2005), have a successful career (Van Dyne & LePine, 1998),
and be more creative and innovative (Parker et al., 2006). Thus, it seems that proactive
personality, via its effect on proactive behavior, yields several individual and organizational
positive outcomes (Zhang, Wang, & Shi, 2012). Other individual differences that predict
proactive behavior include learning goal orientation (Sonnentag, 2003), consideration
of future consequences (Grant et al., 2009), and need for cognition (Wu, Parker, & de
Motivational Underpinnings of Proactive Behavior
Proactivity, with its focus on change, often involves challenging the status quo, so it can
be risky to one’s image. In addition, proactive behavior can consume a great deal of time,
effort, and resources (Bolino, Valcea, & Harvey, 2010). Why then do employees engage
in proactive behavior? This is an important question for the current chapter because, as we
elaborate shortly, understanding the motivational underpinnings of proactivity will help
to unpack its impact on well‐being. Parker et al. (2010) proposed a model of proactive
motivation in which three key motivational states that prompt and sustain proactivity were
identied: can do, reason to, and energized to.
“Can do” motivation
A “can do” motivational state includes self‐efcacy perceptions (e.g., can I do it?), feasibil-
ity appraisals and attributions (e.g., is it attainable?), and the perceived costs associated with
the proposed action (e.g., is it risky?). The concept of self‐efcacy, originally introduced by
Bandura in 1977, is commonly referred to as an individual’s condence about his or her
ability to engage in and successfully complete a particular task. Self‐efcacy is, therefore,
a self‐judgment about what one can do, regardless of one’s objective skills and abilities
Self‐efcacy perceptions are especially important because proactivity often entails poten-
tial psychological risk (Parker et al., 2010) and requires high levels of persistence (Frese &
Fay, 2001). Many studies support the importance of self‐efcacy perceptions for enhancing
proactivity (Frese & Fay, 2001; Parker, 1998; Parker et al., 2006).
“Reason to” motivation
A “reason to” motivation recognizes that people need a motive, or reason, to engage in
proactive behavior. Parker et al. (2010) underlined the importance of internalized (or
autonomous) motivation as stimulating proactivity, such as feelings of positive affect or
engagement, intrinsic motivation/ interest, meaningfulness, ow, and identied motiva-
tion. These authors also highlighted the importance of individuals having a personal sense
of responsibility. For example, a more exible role orientation, or feeling ownership for
issues and goals beyond one’s prescribed tasks (Parker, 2000; Parker et al., 1997), predicts
proactive work behavior (Parker et al., 2006).
One important motive for engaging in proactivity is to experience feelings of com-
petence, autonomy, and relatedness. This idea stems from self‐determination theory
232 Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being
(Ryan & Deci, 2000). According to self‐determination theory, there are three basic and
innate psychological needs that are the basis of intrinsically motivated behavior (Ryan
& Deci, 2000): the need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Deci and Ryan
maintain that fulllment of these needs is essential for human well‐being; an assertion
that is supported by many studies (2002). Fay and Sonnentag (2012) showed that
these basic psychological needs might be a driving force for proactivity. They argued
that “proactive behavior is a means to positively inuence one’s level of experienced
competence” (p. 77). This hypothesis was tested in an experience‐sampling study with
52 employees. An analysis of within‐subject uctuations in daily proactivity across ve
working days showed that low self‐reports of experienced competence during core tasks
predicted a subsequent increase in time spent on proactive behavior. As a result, Fay
and Sonnentag’s (2012) study seems to corroborate the idea that proactive goals are
often challenging, and thus serve to fulll employees’ need to experience competence
“Energized to” motivation
The “energized to” motivation is the most affect‐related motivational state of proactivity.
Parker et al. (2010) proposed that activated positive affect will stimulate proactivity inas-
much as positive affect and vitality help broaden action‐thought repertoires (Fredrickson,
2001) and activate approach‐action tendencies (Seo, Barrett, & Bartunek, 2004). Bindl,
Parker, Totterdell, and Hagger‐Johnson (2012) found evidence to support this prediction
that positive affect was important in predicting the “envisioning” of proactive goals, as
well as their implementation. Additionally, a diary study by Fritz and Sonnentag (2009)
showed that positive energized feelings promote taking charge behaviors, and a study by
Hahn, Frese, Binnewies, and Schmitt (2012) showed that vigor is an important predictor
of personal initiative among business owners.
Related to the “energized to” pathway is the role of engagement in stimulating proac-
tivity. Engagement refers to “a positive, fullling, work‐related state of mind that is char-
acterized by vigour, dedication and absorption” (Schaufeli, Salanova, González‐Romá,
& Bakker, 2002, p. 74). Salanova and Schaufeli (2008) showed that workers provided
with adequate resources (i.e., job control, feedback, and task variety) were more prone
to experience engagement and involvement in their job, which in turn translated into
higher levels of proactive behavior (for a review, see Bakker & Demerouti, 2008). In a
similar vein, scholars have investigated how positive well‐being might promote proactivity.
Sonnentag (2003) showed that day‐level recovery during off‐work time was associated
with increased engagement and proactive behavior in the following day. Consistent with
Hockey (2000), this suggests that employees are less inclined to invest extra effort when
they feel insufciently recovered. Conversely, when feeling recovered, people are more
likely to fully immerse in their job and be more engaged, which in turns increases their
likelihood to be proactive at work.
Just as motivation drives proactivity, motivation is also a potential outcome of proactivity,
in a dynamic and reciprocal relationship. For example, individuals engage in proactivity when
they have self‐efcacy, but being proactive might also build self‐efcacy. Likewise, while the
desire for ow (i.e., a mental state of full immersion, involvement, and enjoyment in the
activity) might prompt proactivity, being proactive might then promote ow experiences by
yielding a better match between personal skills and task challenges (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).
We discuss these ways in which motivation might be an outcome of proactivity in the next
Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being 233
Mental Health and Well‐being Outcomes of Proactivity
Many studies have highlighted the positive consequences of proactivity. In a eld study,
Van Dyne and LePine (1998) reported that employees engaging in voice behavior were
rated more favorably in terms of performance by supervisors six months later. In a similar
manner, Grant et al. (2009) indicated that individuals displaying high levels of proac-
tive behavior were given better performance ratings by their supervisors, especially when
employees had a high prosocial motivation and low negative affect. Thompson (2005)
conducted a study on 126 employee‐supervisor dyads and suggested that the relationship
between proactive personality and job performance might be mediated by proactive be-
haviors like personal initiative and network building. In a meta‐analysis, Fuller and Marler
(2009) found positive relationships between proactive personality and supervisor‐rated
job performance, and added that such an effect on performance “is stronger than that
reported for any of the Big Five factors or the Big Five collectively” (p. 329).
However, the benets of proactive behavior are not conned to superior performance
alone. Greenglass and Fiksenbaum (2009) reported that individuals engaging in proactive
coping were more likely to have lower absenteeism, and this relationship was mediated
by greater levels of positive affect. Research also suggests that proactive individuals are
more prone to feel satised about their jobs (Wanberg & Kammeyer‐Mueller, 2000) and
have a more successful career (Blickle, Witzki, & Schneider, 2009). There is thus some
evidence of personal benets from proactivity. Nevertheless, the health and well‐being
consequences of proactivity need more attention.
It is possible, for example, that an individual might be promoted more rapidly because
of their proactivity, but still experience higher levels of psychological strain as a result.
Over the past few years different perspectives are arising as to how proactivity may impact
on well‐being and mental health (Bolino et al., 2010). One crucial issue is whether proac-
tive behavior is benecial for health and well‐being (in a win‐win situation), or if its posi-
tive effects on organizational performance tend to backre on employees’ well‐being. The
few articles that have examined this question have held rather different (if not opposite)
views on this matter.
We seek to help move this literature forward by proposing a model of the effect of
proactivity on mental health and well‐being (see Figure 11.1). First, in understanding
Figure11.1 Hypothesized well‐being outcomes of proactive work behaviour.
• Work-related self-efficacy
• Basic needs satisfaction
• Activated positive affect
Negative mental health
• Job strain
• Role overload
• Regulatory depletion
• Autonomous vs. controlled motivation
• Self-efficacy perceptions
• Need for self-determination
• Activated positive affect
234 Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being
the effect of proactivity on well‐being and mental health, we suggest it is important to dis-
tinguish short‐term and more momentary effects from longer‐term consequences. While
long‐term consequences over several years might be hypothesized, our focus in this chapter
is to illustrate the shorter term well‐being outcomes of proactivity, such as those associ-
ated with a particular proactive episode. Second, we propose two potential pathways. The
motivation pathway identies desirable consequences of proactivity and the way in which
being proactive at work can boost self‐efcacy perceptions, a sense of self‐determination,
and activated positive affect (e.g., vitality), which in turn can fuel further proactivity. The
resource‐depletion pathway, in contrast, illustrates how proactive behaviors might in some
situations backre on employee well‐being by depleting resources, generating job strain,
and role overload (see also Taris & Schaufeli, Chapter 8, this volume). We argue that
whether proactivity enhances in a benecial way, or is detrimental to, well‐being is depend-
ent on two key moderators: the type of feedback resulting from proactive behaviors, and
one’s motivations to be proactive.
Well‐being and Mental Health Outcomes of Proactive
Behavior: Motivation Pathway
As previously discussed, activated positive affect is a powerful propellant for proactivity
(Bindl et al., 2012; Hahn et al., 2012). Scholars have further suggested that such a rela-
tionship might be mutual, creating a positive spiral wherein, for example, experiencing
vitality and positive affect fuels proactivity, which in turn generates more vitality (Strauss
& Parker, 2014a). Successful attempts to be proactive at work are likely to fuel employees’
condence in their ability to carry out work‐related tasks (self‐efcacy), as well as a broader
set of tasks that extends beyond their core duties (Parker, 2000). Hence, this condence
is crucial to determine whether or not an individual will behave proactively again in the
near future. Additionally, proactivity can enhance feelings of competence, autonomy and
relatedness, which in turn generate activated positive emotions (e.g., vitality) that facilitate
the engagement in more proactivity.
A Self‐determination Perspective: Satisfaction of
Basic Needs as a Mechanism
Drawing on self‐determination theory, Strauss and Parker (2014a) argued that proactivity,
as a self‐initiated and discretionary behavior, can substantially contribute to employees’
well‐being via the satisfaction of one’s basic psychological needs. First, given its self‐initiated
nature, proactive behavior is less likely to rely on effortful volition, as opposed to more
monotonous activities that require self‐control, such as repetitive routine tasks. This com-
ponent of self‐initiation has been previously associated with feelings of autonomy and
self‐direction (Koestner, Ryan, Bernieri, & Holt, 1984). Second, in light of its change‐
oriented focus, Parker et al. (2010) maintained that being proactive can increase chal-
lenging opportunities at work, thus facilitating the experience of competence and mastery
(Massimini & Carli, 1988, as cited in Strauss and Parker, 2014a). Finally, in spite of their
self‐initiated emphasis, engaging in proactive behavior is likely to contribute to meeting
the need of relatedness (Strauss & Parker, 2014b). Scholars have emphasized that proactive
people are more likely to seek feedback from peers and build social networks, which in
turn facilitates their career progression (Belschak & Den Hartog, 2010; Morrison, 2002).
Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being 235
In addition to this, proactivity is potentially a way to actively shape interpersonal rela-
tionships and social interactions (Grant & Ashford, 2008), thus raising people’s sense of
relatedness at work.
In sum, researchers suggest that people engage in proactive behavior motivated by the
desire to provide for their basic needs (a “reason to” pathway), and consequently, when
they are proactive, individuals are likely to experience greater need fulllment and, hence,
more intrinsic motivation at work. Although a logical prediction, there are no empirical
tests yet of the effect of proactivity on need satisfaction and well‐being.
Self‐efcacy as a Consequence of Proactivity:
A Condence Mechanism
As earlier discussed, self‐efcacy perceptions are a crucial antecedent of proactive behav-
iors in organizational settings (Parker, 2000; Parker et al., 2010). When employees are
condent in their ability to successfully complete tasks, they are more likely to engage in
proactive behavior. In this section, we propose and discuss why self‐efcacy, aside from
being a powerful determinant of proactivity, can also represent an important outcome of
Self‐efcacy is a rather malleable trait, subject to considerable intra‐individual varia-
tions, depending on people’s life experiences and emotions. According to Bandura
(1982), there are four key experiences that contribute to the development of self‐efcacy:
enactive mastery (repeated performance accomplishments), modeling (vicarious experi-
ences), verbal persuasion (convincing an individual of his or her ability to complete a
task), and emotional arousal (a person’s psychological state). The cognitive appraisal and
integration of these four cues eventually determines one’s self‐efcacy. For the purpose
of this chapter, we will focus on mastery, since not only it is the most important cue in
determining the self‐efcacy beliefs, but also the most relevant to our discussion around
Mastery is the most important cue in enhancing self‐efcacy (Bandura, 1977, 1982). As
Gist (1987) states: “mastery is facilitated when gradual accomplishments build the skills,
coping abilities, and exposure needed for task performance” (p. 473). This view of mas-
tery as key determinant of self‐efcacy is supported by a meta‐analysis, in which Sitzmann
and Yeo (2013) surveyed 38 studies looking at the self‐efcacy/performance relationship
and concluded that “past performance enlightens assessments of condence rather than
condence compelling higher performance” (p. 564). Accordingly, it seems that the impact
of past performance on self‐efcacy is even more pronounced than vice versa.
These considerations around the experience of mastery are particularly relevant to
proactive behavior. Even in favorable circumstances, some individuals may not expose
themselves to opportunities for mastery (Gist, 1987). For example, an employee with
high job autonomy may perceive that they can control most aspects of their work and
follow their initiative, but may hold back from doing so because of fear or incapacity.
We speculate that engaging in proactive behavior is to a large extent about mastery, and
should therefore enhance perceptions of work‐related self‐efcacy, above and beyond job
Being proactive at work could be particularly benecial for a specic subset of self‐efcacy
beliefs: role‐breadth self‐efcacy (RBSE). Parker (1998) denes RBSE as “the extent to
which employees feel condent that they are able to carry out a broader and more proactive
role” (p. 835). Again, RBSE has been described as a situation‐specic subset of self‐efcacy,
236 Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being
subject to considerable uctuations over time (Parker, 1998). Previous research has identi-
ed RBSE as a crucial precursor for proactive behavior (Parker, 2000; Parker et al., 2006).
Previous research has indicated that redesigning jobs can be an effective way to build
employees’ self‐efcacy. Indeed, a relationship exists between work characteristics and self‐
efcacy at work. However, to date this relationship primarily appears to apply to the role
of job autonomy. For example, Parker (1998) showed that work redesign practices like job
enrichment (involving autonomy) are associated with RBSE, highlighting the potentially
pivotal role of job redesign interventions in promoting RBSE. However, this author found
that job enlargement (i.e., the breadth of tasks and activities present in a job) was not pre-
dictive of RBSE. In a similar vein, a longitudinal study, Axtell and Parker (2003) reported a
negative impact of job enlargement on RBSE, and concluded that “expanding the breadth
of tasks employees carry out, without simultaneously increasing decision‐making inuence
and involvement (…) is unlikely to enhance RBSE and, indeed, could decrease it.” Both
sets of authors highlighted the importance of the decision‐making responsibility implicit
in autonomy for building mastery. Here, we suggest that being proactive is a necessary
step in translating greater decisional power and job control and autonomy into height-
ened feelings of self‐condence. This is because engaging in self‐initiated and self‐directed
actions can provide signicant opportunities to experience mastery at work, thus building
the belief in one’s ability to successfully complete work‐related tasks. Indeed Parker and
Sprigg (1999) made a similar argument when they showed an interaction between proac-
tive personality, job demands, and job control in predicting job strain. In line with their
hypotheses, proactive personality moderated the interaction between job demands, job
control, and strain. That is, people need to have some degree of proactivity to make use of
their job autonomy and successfully cope with demands at work.
Just as positive mastery experiences can fuel one’s self‐condence, negative ones (e.g.,
failures) can decrease it (Gist, 1987). We discuss the potentially detrimental effect of nega-
tive feedback in the link between proactivity and mastery later in this chapter.
A Broaden‐and‐Build Approach: Affect as a Mechanism
Scholars have further argued that proactivity might have a more dynamic interaction with
affect drawing on the Fredrickson’s broaden‐and‐build theory (2001) of positive emo-
tions (Grant & Ashford, 2008; Strauss & Parker, 2014a). This theory seeks to explain
how and why positive emotions promote human ourishing. According to Fredrickson,
experiencing feelings of positive affect encourages people to broaden their awareness and
engage in exploratory actions. As a result, this process helps to create skills and resources,
which, in turn, increase one’s psychological resilience and the ability to cope with stres-
sors. In a longitudinal study featuring 122 business owners, Hahn et al. (2012) found that
entrepreneurs’ vigor was positively associated with task and relationship‐oriented personal
initiative. The researchers argued that business success might explain such a relationship:
that is, proactive entrepreneurs are more likely to be successful, which in turn may gener-
ate greater psychological well‐being (Hahn et al., 2012). Likewise, experiencing positive
and activated feelings helps broaden people’s thought‐action repertoires, thus increasing
their likelihood to take personal initiative. However, it should be mentioned that Hahn
and colleagues’ study is correlational in nature and, therefore, requires cautious interpre-
tation when it comes to causal effects.
On a similar note, Fritz and Sonnentag (2009) maintain that people experiencing posi-
tive affective states are more likely to take charge and behave proactively. In turn, being
proactive at work can create opportunities to satisfy basic needs and thereby increase vitality
Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being 237
in what Strauss and Parker (2014a) call “positive upward spiral of (…) proactivity” (p. 29).
Along these lines, Salanova and Schaufeli (2008) have speculated that experiencing feel-
ings of enthusiasm, inspiration, and challenge at work could help broaden habitual ways
of thinking and acting, which in turn can facilitate proactive behavior at work.
In sum, scholars have argued that, just as positive emotions can stimulate proactive be-
havior, proactivity can also result in positive affect, which then has the benets of broad-
ened thinking and resource building, resulting in more engagement in proactivity. Such a
dynamic spiral has not yet been tested.
Empirically, there are very few articles on the potentially positive effects of proactivity
on well‐being (with the exception of Strauss & Parker, 2014b). However, there is some
research on related constructs, such as creativity, innovation and citizenship behaviors,
which we briey consider here.
Creativity refers to the “production of novel and useful ideas in any domain” (Amabile,
Conti, Coon, Lazenby, & Herron, 1996, p. 1155); this has some parallels with proactivity
(albeit tending to be more focused on generating, rather than implementing, new ideas).
The overwhelming majority of research tends to describe workers’ creativity as a win‐win:
not only do organizations that promote individual creativity benet in terms of effective-
ness, but also the very same employees report greater job satisfaction and psychological
well‐being. This is because creativity creates new challenges for workers, as well as oppor-
tunities for personal and professional growth (Amabile et al., 1996). In addition to this,
researchers have often associated creativity with the experience of positive energizing emo-
tions such as enthusiasm, optimism, and happiness (Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). According
to Belschak and Den Hartog (2010), proactive behavior is also to some extent related to
organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). Whilst OCB is distinct from proactivity in that
it is not necessarily anticipatory or future‐focused, it does share a discretionary emphasis.
Meta‐analyses have shown a consistent association of OCBs with reduced turnover and
job satisfaction (Podsakoff, Whiting, Podsakoff, & Blume, 2009).
The research on creativity, OCBs and well‐being suggests largely positive well‐being
consequences, but there are some major limitations that should be considered. First, it
should be noted that, although proactivity shares some common ground with OCBs and
creativity, it is distinct. Some of the features of proactivity that make proactivity psycho-
logically risky, and hence potentially threatening to well‐being, such as the emphasis of
proactivity on self‐initiated change, do not apply to creativity or OCBs. Second, research
looking at the well‐being outcomes of creativity and OCBs is primarily correlational, thus
not allowing for causal interpretations. It is quite plausible that more satised individuals
with greater enthusiasm, for example, will be more likely to engage in these behaviors.
Third, little is known about the underlying mechanisms that regulate the effects of inno-
vation and creativity on well‐being.
Negative Outcomes of Proactivity: A
One criticism of the literature on proactivity concerns its overwhelming focus on its posi-
tive aspects (in terms of organizational effectiveness and career success), with insufcient
attention to the potential costs associated with proactivity (Bolino et al., 2010), or the
“dark side.” In this section, we elaborate on the potentially negative consequences of
proactive behavior from a well‐being perspective, and discuss the key moderating role of
motivation in this process.
238 Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being
Drawing upon conservation of resources theory (COR theory; Hobfoll, 1989), Bolino
et al. (2010) identied proactive behaviors as a potential source of employee stress. Pre-
vious research has indicated that proactive behavior is likely to necessitate the exertion
of energy and resources (Grant & Ashford, 2008). For instance, an employee trying to
implement a new administrative procedure, which could result in greater organizational
prots, will likely have to undertake extra work to design and test this initiative. The more
proactive behaviors require resources, the more they will be stressful. Consequently, some
types of voice might be less resource‐demanding, and less stressful, compared with behav-
iors like personal initiative, idea implementation and proactive problem solving.
Empirical evidence for these speculations about the importance of resources has been
provided by Parker, Johnson, Collins, and Nguyen (2012) in a quasi‐experimental study:
in line with COR theory, hospital doctors who did not experience negative affect (sug-
gesting sufcient resources) made use of structural support to engage in greater proactive
care and voice. In contrast, doctors who reported high levels of negative affect (suggest-
ing insufcient resources) were more inclined to use the supplied support as a means to
protect existing resources, thus resulting in lowered role overload. These ndings imply
that having a reasonable level of resources is necessary before engaging in proactivity.
Proactivity as a Goal Regulation Process
The above considerations are consistent with the view of proactivity as a goal‐regulation
process requiring regulatory resources. Bindl et al. (2012) proposed a goal‐regulatory mod-
el of proactivity at work. Within this framework, the researchers recognized four different
core elements of proactive behavior: envisioning, planning, enacting, and reecting. First,
people identify that something can be done to actively change the situation (envisioning);
prepare a plan for action (planning); then engage in proactive behavior (enacting); and
nally reect upon the implications of their proactive behavior (reecting). As a result,
proactive behavior is not just about simply acting in a proactive manner, but rather involves
a goal‐regulation process made of different phases, each of which is vital to yield the positive
outcomes of proactive behavior. Conceivably, some of these stages are more resource‐
demanding than others.
In this regard, an increasing body of research has started to look at self‐regulation as
a limited resource that, just like a battery, becomes depleted over use. That is, when we
exert self‐regulation in a task, our performance is likely to be poorer in a subsequent,
unrelated task that also requires self‐control. The term ego depletion is frequently used
to refer to a loss of regulatory resources, which results in subsequent impaired perform-
ance in tasks that require the exertion of self‐regulation. When people experience this
state of depletion, they are more likely to fail to self‐regulate afterwards. Accordingly,
rather than being solely a matter of trait‐like individual differences in personal resources,
the ability to regulate one’s behaviors, emotions, and impulses largely depends on the
regulatory capacity that we can avail of at a certain moment. For example, an experiment
by Muraven, Tice, and Baumeister (1998) indicated that controlling emotions impairs
subsequent self‐regulation. Participants watched an emotionally distressing video clip.
Participants who were asked to either show no emotion or exaggerate their emotions
performed poorer on a following handgrip exercise compared with participants who
spontaneously expressed their natural emotions. This approach, known as the strength
model of self‐control, has received a considerable amount of empirical support (Hagger,
Wood, Stiff, & Chatzisarantis, 2010). Research in this eld suggests that this ego deple-
tion effect occurs across various domains; for example, controlling thoughts (Muraven,
Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being 239
regulating emotions (Muraven et al., 1998), making decisions (Vohs et al., 2008), help-
ing other people (DeWall, Baumeister, Gailliot, & Maner, 2008), and resisting persua-
sion (Wheeler, Briñol, & Hermann, 2007). Consistent with COR theory, a considerable
amount of research has linked chronic exertion of regulatory depletion (e.g., emotional
labor) with outcomes detrimental for well‐being and mental health such as burnout
and emotional exhaustion (Hülsheger & Schewe, 2011; Schmidt, Neubach, & Heuer,
2007). In fact, burnout is a long‐term outcome of stress, resulting from a constant loss of
resources without the ability to replenish them successfully (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner,
& Schaufeli, 2001).
One question that needs to be asked is whether proactive behavior depletes regula-
tory resources and, if so, under what conditions. As a matter of fact, self‐control often
involves an intra‐motivational conict: we restrain our instincts and impulses in order to
maximize our long‐term goals. By way of illustration, a person dieting restrains his or her
temporary food cravings to achieve the goal of losing weight. In terms of goal‐regulation,
self‐control refers to the ability to guide one’s own actions by setting performance stand-
ards and monitoring the progression toward these standards (Vohs & Baumeister, 2004).
An implication of this is that the amount of goal regulation involved may affect the extent
to which proactivity is perceived as demanding by employees. For example, voicing out a
concern in a weekly meeting is conceivably a type of proactive behavior that involves less
goal regulation compared with longer‐sustained activities requiring effortful daily striving,
such as implementing a new work procedure. To summarize, when analyzing the potential
impact of proactive behavior on well‐being, it is important to consider the amount of goal
regulation involved in the proactive process.
Although to date, no empirical research has really looked at whether proactivity
can deplete resources, the idea that positive organizational behaviors may backre on
employees’ well‐being has been already been discussed in previous research on similar
constructs. For example, Bolino and Turnley (2005) have examined the costs associ-
ated with organizational citizenship behaviors (OCBs), showing a positive association
between ratings of citizenship behavior at work and role overload, job stress, and work–
family conict. Additionally, individual innovation has been previously considered as
an additional demand on employees: innovating may entail challenging the status quo,
thus encountering resistance to change from coworkers and supervisors. Along similar
lines, taking innovative initiatives has previously been found to be associated with con-
ict and frustration at work (Janssen, 2003). A plausible explanation of this relation-
ship has been sought in an increased demand of resources: engaging in innovative work
often requires complex problem solving, increased workload, and resource investment
(Janssen, Van de Vliert, & West, 2004). Fairness in procedures is also a crucial aspect
to consider when examining the well‐being outcomes of positive organizational behav-
iors. In 2004, Janssen carried out a study among rst‐line managers from six organi-
zations which explored the link between innovative behavior on stress and burnout.
Consistent with Janssen’s predictions, analyses showed that perceptions of distributive
fairness moderate the impact of demanding innovative behaviors on stress reactions.
Namely, employees perceiving their efforts and investments as “under‐appreciated”
and “under‐rewarded” were more likely to experience high levels of stress, as opposed
to innovators perceiving a fair balance between efforts and rewards (Janssen et al.,
2004). Bolino and Turnley (2005) examined the costs associated with OCBs, showing
a positive association between ratings of citizenship behavior at work and role overload,
job stress and work–family conict.
Although OCBs and personal initiative are different from proactive behavior, there is
indeed some theoretical overlap. Research considering the potentially negative effects of
240 Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being
OCBs and personal initiative is mostly correlational and does not allow drawing rm
conclusions. However, previous research on the “dark side” of positive organizational be-
haviors seems to give some support to our model of the effects of proactivity on well‐being.
The Moderating Role of Feedback
Feedback is considered a crucial managerial tool that not only provides employees with
valuable information about their performance, but can also increase their work motiva-
tion (Earley, Northcraft, Lee, & Lituchy, 1990). Feedback is given to notify workers
regarding the effectiveness and accuracy of their behaviors at work (Hackman & Oldham,
1976). In relation to motivation, Deci and Ryan (2002) argued that providing positive
feedback (i.e., verbal rewards, praise) can support needs satisfaction and infuse a sense of
accomplishment in employees that can increase intrinsic motivation at work. In support
of these considerations, a meta‐analysis of 128 experiments conrmed that while provid-
ing extrinsic rewards when achieving goals tends to decrease intrinsic motivation, verbal
rewards and praises appear to enhance it (Deci, Koestner, & Ryan, 1999).
Previously we described how being proactive at work can fuel one’s self‐efcacy per-
ceptions, increase self‐determination, and generate positive activate feelings like vigor and
vitality. Now, we consider the moderating role of feedback in relation to the motivation
and resource‐depletion pathways of proactivity. Specically, we argue that receiving nega-
tive feedback can interfere with the development of self‐efcacy (or even decrease it),
disrupt the self‐determination process and needs fulllment, and potentially elicit nega-
tive emotional reactions such as anxiety and depression. Consequently we propose that
feedback will moderate the effects of proactivity on self‐efcacy, positive affect, need full-
lment, and hence proactivity. In addition to this, we draw upon COR theory to explain
why negative feedback can render proactivity more resource‐depleting.
How Negative Feedback can Thwart Needs
Satisfaction and Undermine Self‐Efcacy
Being proactive may expose individuals to criticism, complaints and blaming, which can
surely harm the incumbents’ well‐being. By way of illustration, an employee may suggest
a new method for carrying out work that, despite the efforts to be implemented, turns
out to be under‐appreciated by peers and supervisors. Ironically, even if the outcome of
a proactive action was extremely positive for the organization, the way other members or
supervisors perceive this type of behavior might be opposite. In fact, the meaning people
assign to human behaviors is, to a large extent, socially constructed (Berger & Luckmann,
1966). As a consequence, the way others react and interpret our actions, attitudes, and be-
liefs is determined by social interactions, and cannot rely on objective evaluations. On this
note, Stobbeleir, Ashford, and Luque (2010) maintain that “proactive behaviors are par-
ticularly susceptible to social‐construction processes” (p. 348). This is indeed due to their
discretionary and non‐prescribed nature. Along these lines, Grant et al. (2009) found that
supervisors’ rating of proactive behavior largely depends upon employees’ values and level
of positive affect.
Although the effects of positive feedback have been widely documented and explored
in empirical research, less attention has been devoted to the motivational and well‐being
effects of negative feedback (Ryan & Deci, 2002). Across three studies, Baron (1988)
Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being 241
explored the impact of criticism on task performance and self‐efcacy. Consistent with
his hypotheses, destructive criticism lowered participants’ self‐efcacy and hampered their
subsequent task performance. From a motivational perspective, Vallerand and Reid (1984)
found that providing college students with positive and negative feedback had a differen-
tial effect on their intrinsic motivation: as expected, receiving positive feedback increased
intrinsic motivation, while negative feedback had a deleterious impact on it. These causal
relationships were both mediated by students’ perceived competence. Namely, when peo-
ple receive negative feedback about their performance, this can impair their sense of com-
petence, which in turn decreases intrinsic motivation.
It is important to note that the above mentioned studies on the effects of feedback
were mainly focused on task‐specic or job performance feedback. In our view, negative
feedback is a key moderator in undermining the motivation effects of proactivity and in
increasing feelings of resource depletion. We argue that the impact of feedback resulting
from proactivity is likely to be more signicant than feedback on job prociency owing
to the greater role played by psychological ownership in self‐initiated and self‐directed
behaviors. Adopting self‐determination theory as a theoretical framework, Shepherd and
Cardon (2009) hypothesized that the intensity of negative emotions triggered by project
failure might vary as a function of the previously experienced feelings of self‐determina-
tion carrying out the project. Namely, dedicating time, effort and energy in pursuit of a
project that fuels feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness may have intense
negative emotional reactions on the individual in case the project failed.
One issue that emerges from this consideration is that feelings of self‐determination as
a result of proactive actions may actually have a double‐edged sword effect on employees’
emotional reactions: on one hand, successful attempts of proactive behavior can generate
feelings of vitality; on the other hand, when proactivity results in unexpected negative
feedback from peers and supervisors, it may generate intense negative emotional reactions,
thwart needs satisfaction, and undermine self‐efcacy. On the contrary, receiving positive
feedback and appreciation from others should elicit positive affect, and provide opportu-
nities to accumulate resources (e.g., work‐related self‐efcacy). In fact, past research has
shown that receiving positive feedback at work can indeed affect motivation and vitality
(Mouratidis, Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Sideridis, 2008).
Previously we discussed how being proactive at work can fuel one’s condence at work.
However, receiving unfavorable feedback from others after proactivity can interfere with
this process. In two experimental studies, Baron (1988) examined how destructive criti-
cism impacts on conict, self‐efcacy perceptions, and task performance. In the rst study,
in line with his hypotheses, participants who received destructive criticism regarding their
task performance reported negative feelings such as tension and anger. In the second
experiment, subjects who received destructive criticism indicated lower self‐efcacy and
were more likely to set lower goals in subsequent tasks, compared with those who received
constructive feedback or no feedback at all.
According to Bandura (1977) failures can have a more pronounced impact on self‐
efcacy beliefs when their causes are attributed to internal factors (e.g., ability), rather
than situational factors. Because proactive behavior is by nature self‐initiated and self‐
directed, we speculate that receiving negative feedback as a result of proactive efforts
may be perceived more ego threatening than feedback on task performance. As a con-
sequence, an individual’s self‐efcacy is more likely to be decreased when negative
feedback results from self‐initiated actions.
Lowering employees’ self‐efcacy with negative feedback can also undermine future at-
tempts to be proactive. Self‐efcacy perceptions are, in fact, a key motivational antecedent
of proactivity at work (can do motivation). As an example, if an employee’s efforts to be
242 Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being
proactive are reciprocated with blaming, reprimands, and destructive criticism, then his or
her condence to be proactive again at a later time is likely to be undermined. Arguably,
this effect might be more conspicuous for role‐breadth self‐efcacy, rather than work‐related
Feedback and Proactivity: A Conservation
of Resources Perspective
Being proactive at work often entails going beyond what is technically prescribed for
employees. Proactivity, in fact, may well require careful planning, future‐oriented think-
ing, and striving to achieve one’s goals. While briey voicing out a concern during a
weekly meeting is still considered proactivity, other behaviors like creating, developing,
and implementing a new work procedure may indeed require considerably more time and
energy. Such efforts can be an additional burden on employees on top of their core tasks.
In other words, proactivity can consume resources. COR theory posits that individuals
have an innate drive to create, retain, protect, and foster personal resources (Gorgievski &
Hobfoll, 2008; Hobfoll, 1989). Resources can either have an intrinsic value (e.g., support,
status, self‐esteem, autonomy) or an instrumental value (e.g., money, shelter). According
to COR theory, stress ensues when these resources are threatened with loss, lost, or when
signicant resource investments do not translate into resource gains.
From a conservation of resources perspective, receiving negative feedback or poor appre-
ciation from coworkers and supervisors should trigger a protection of resources mecha-
nism (Hobfoll, 1989). In fact, human beings have an innate desire to retain and protect
resources. Within this framework, stress occurs when there is a perceived loss of resources
or a lack of substantial gain after resource investments. In light of this, proactive behavior
that results in negative feedback from others might be detrimental to their well‐being. On
the other hand, however, being praised with positive comments and appreciation for one’s
proactive actions may indeed diminish feelings of depletion and signal the individual that
energy and effort have been well invested.
Another crucial aspect to consider is the outcome of proactive behavior. Proactive efforts,
in fact, do not always turn out to be successful. For instance, research on individual innova-
tion suggests that experiencing failure may undermine employees’ condence to engage in
innovative behavior in the future (Guzzo & Shea, 1992), but also it may cause subsequent
reprimands or blaming from peers and supervisors for the unfortunate endeavour. On the
other hand, it should be mentioned that successful innovation provides opportunities for
recognition and accomplishment at work, which were found to be positively associated
with individual well‐being (Janssen, Van de Vliert, & West, 2004). Although the research
evidence is mainly correlational and necessitates cautious interpretation, it seems plausible
that the outcome of one’s proactive behavior is likely to determine whether they will do so
again in the future.
Autonomous vs. Controlled Proactivity
In the previous section we discussed the moderating role of feedback in relation to
the well‐being outcomes of proactive behavior. We now turn our attention to another
potentially crucial moderator: the motivations under which proactivity is performed.
We suggest that the extent to which proactivity drains resources is closely related to
Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being 243
the motivations that prompt people to engage in this type of behavior. By denition,
proactive behavior is a self‐initiated and self‐directed action to cause change. Therefore,
from a “reason to” perspective, proactivity should be located closer to the autonomous
anchor on the autonomous‐controlled motivation continuum. That is, proactive actions
should be motivated by an innate interest or enjoyment in the task itself (intrinsic moti-
vation) or because the proactivity helps to achieve goals that are extremely important to
the self (identied and integrated regulation) (Parker et al., 2010; Ryan & Deci, 2008).
For example, an employee constantly seeking feedback from peers and supervisors may
not necessarily enjoy the feedback process itself, but would perceive his or her proac-
tive efforts as a means to become more competent at work. It has then been argued
that such autonomously motivated proactivity should increase employees’ vitality and
enhance their well‐being at work (Strauss & Parker, 2014a).
However, not all that glitters is gold. Scholars have recognized that organizations
sometimes expect proactivity and seek to control it, suggesting this behavior is not always
autonomously motivated. Consequently, being consuming of physical and mental energy,
proactivity could cause stress, especially when organizations expect individuals to engage
in proactive behavior (Bolino et al., 2010) thereby resulting in externally (rather than
internally) regulated, or controlled, proactivity (Strauss & Parker, 2014a). For instance,
a recently hired employee on probation may engage in proactive behavior with the aim
of increasing the likelihood to retain his or her new job. Under this scenario, proactivity
is self‐initiated, but the goal is to achieve or retain an extrinsic end, which is a more con-
trolled form of proactivity. Such a scenario is arguably becoming increasingly common in
organizations, particularly after the economic crisis in 2008 (Heyes, 2011). In a similar
manner, restructuring and downsizing may also prompt people to pursue externally moti-
vated actions (Meyer, Becker, & Vandenberghe, 2004). Additionally, proactive behavior
may be performed as part of impression management strategies in order to gain promotions
and monetary rewards.
According to self‐determination theory, controlled behaviors can be extremely mo-
tivating. However, there is a differential impact of such motivation on well‐being and
subjective vitality: the more motivation lays at the intrinsic or autonomous end of the
continuum, the greater its ability to generate energy and vitality (Ryan & Deci, 2000,
2008). Consequently, to understand the impact of proactivity on well‐being it is necessary
to differentiate proactive behavior into two different categories (although not mutually
exclusive): controlled proactivity and autonomous proactivity. Autonomously regulated
proactive behavior is motivated by intrinsic needs and/or performed for its own sake.
Conversely, controlled proactivity is self‐serving behavior performed effortfully for ex-
trinsic reasons (e.g., impression management, social inuence, job promotions). Under
these circumstances, proactivity is more likely to rely on effortful regulation and volition,
thus depleting resources and reducing psychological vitality. Even in the case of integrated
and identied regulation, proactive behavior may involve self‐control and willpower. As
Bindl et al. (2012) suggested, some stages of proactivity (e.g., striving) are naturally more
effortful and require regulatory mechanisms to achieve the proactive goal. Preliminary
evidence for these considerations has been sought by Strauss and Parker (2014b), who
investigated how motivation moderates the impact of proactive work behavior on job
strain. Specically, they indicated that, when controlled motivation is high and autono-
mous motivation is low, proactivity tends to be associated with greater job strain, both in
the short (two weeks) and long term (eight months).
Moreover, Fay and Sonnentag (2012) showed that employees engage in proactivity
as a means to address their need for competence when their experienced competence in
244 Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being
core tasks is low. Arguably, when employees carry out repetitive, tedious and/or boring
tasks, they pursue proactive goals to counteract such feelings and experience competence
at work. On the other hand, when they feel competent at work, they are less likely to
behave proactively. Additionally, Sonnentag (2003) found that day‐level recovery was sig-
nicantly associated with proactive work behavior: rested and refreshed workers are more
prone to engage in proactive behavior.
Hence, it appears that a careful consideration of motivational underpinnings is essential
to predict whether proactive behavior is bound to have a positive vs. negative effect on
an individual’s well‐being and subjective vitality. Namely, the motivations under which
proactive behaviors are performed should moderate the impact of proactivity on well‐
being and mental health. This is also in line with COR theory, insofar as people perceiving
a resource loss (e.g., job stress) have a tendency to preserve existing resources, rather than
investing effort in discretionary behavior (Parker et al., 2012).
The present chapter offers several implications to practitioners. First, our review suggests
that there can be many positive effects of proactivity on well‐being, and these should be
harnessed for positive spirals. Being proactive at work can serve as a powerful means to
build one’s condence at work and provide opportunities to feel competent, autono-
mous, and related to others in the workplace, thus increasing intrinsic motivation. These
motivational effects can be particularly important in jobs whose core tasks do not pro-
vide many chances to feel self‐determined at work (Fay & Sonnentag, 2012). However,
taking charge and making things happen at work is a process that requires substantial
goal‐regulation to be carried out. Past research has indicated that “going the extra mile”
and/or using one’s personal initiative can often entail further demands on top of core
duties (Bolino & Turnley, 2005; Bolino et al., 2010). To prevent role stressors from
arising and causing strain, managers should provide structural and emotional support to
It is also essential to acknowledge the potentially pivotal role of feedback in determining
the well‐being outcomes of proactivity. As we discussed, feedback can interfere consider-
ably with the positive outcomes of proactive behavior. As discussed previously, providing
negative feedback to outcomes resulting from proactive behaviors may trigger a conserva-
tion of resources mechanism, which may discourage further attempts to be proactive in
the future. Feedback, therefore, should be contingent and behavior‐oriented, rather than
outcome‐oriented. Positive reinforcement is also crucially important: employees’ proactive
actions should be praised by supervisors in order to encourage more proactivity. Given its
self‐initiated and self‐directed nature, supervisors’ feedback to proactive behavior should
be focused on propelling the subordinates’ need for competence, autonomy, and related-
ness, as these are key motivators to be proactive in the workplace (Fay & Sonnentag, 2012;
Strauss & Parker, 2014a).
Given its goal‐regulatory nature, controlled forms of proactive behavior can be detrimen-
tal for employees (Strauss & Parker, 2014b). Indeed, organizations should indeed strive
to create an environment that facilitates self‐directed behaviors and encourages personal
initiative. However, it is important to avoid implementing reward systems using incentives
that can trigger extrinsic motivations. By way of illustration, formally assessing frequency
and valence of proactive behaviors in performance appraisals may give the impression that
proactivity is “expected” from employees.
Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being 245
The issue regarding the consequences of proactivity on well‐being is an intriguing one,
which could be usefully explored in future research. The model we proposed in this chapter
provides an obvious starting point. From a methodological viewpoint, research looking at
the outcomes of proactive behavior from a well‐being perspective is scarce and inadequate
(mostly correlational). Particularly, we advocate the use of longitudinal studies to unveil
the mechanisms through which proactivity may enhance or undermine employees’ mental
health. Intensive longitudinal methods, such as experience sampling studies (Bolger &
Laurenceau, 2013; Larson & Csikszentmihalyi, 1983) are specically useful to look closely
at consequences of proactive work behavior from an episodic type of approach. For in-
stance, scholars should investigate whether, and under what conditions, being proactive at
work can increase employees’ self‐efcacy.
From a theoretical perspective, future research should aim to reveal the role of feedback
in relation to well‐being and proactivity. As we discussed, feedback is likely to moderate the
motivational and resource‐depleting effects of proactivity. Understanding how feedback
interacts with proactivity can offer particularly useful managerial implications. Research
needs to be conducted to establish whether, and under what circumstances, proactivity
can deplete regulatory resources. We recommend testing this effect using experimental
procedures such as the dual‐task paradigm (see Hagger et al., 2010). Although laboratory
testing may sound problematic to study self‐initiated and self‐directed behavior, previous
research has attempted to objectively assess proactive behavior in a controlled environ-
ment. For instance, Grant and Rothbard (2013) measured proactive behavior in terms of
initiatives taken to correct errors in a draft glossary of business terms for high school stu-
dents. While using experimental procedures may indeed cause external/ecological validity
issues, it can be extremely important to investigate the regulatory nature of proactivity.
Understanding when and how behaving proactively can cause resource depletion can give
useful indications to practitioners as to how they should encourage proactivity at work.
In future investigations, it might be also useful to look at the interplay between feedback
and motivation. By way of illustration, providing positive feedback and intrinsic rewards
on controlled proactivity may ultimately change motivations to be proactive, without
generating resource depletion and stress.
Finally, it would be interesting to assess the effects of job insecurity on the motivations to
be proactive. In an ever‐increasingly globalized world, job insecurity and work intensica-
tion are on the rise (Guillén, 2001). Proactive behaviors are crucial for organizations to sur-
vive in today’s dynamic work contexts. However, a lack of job security may create extrinsic
incentives to be proactive at work to impress supervisors, thus increasing the likelihood to
retain a job. Feeling compelled to be proactive in order to preserve one’s job may well place
an additional burden on employees, increasing stressors associated with their role. From
a different viewpoint, taking charge and voice behaviors challenging the status quo may
threaten one’s job security, particularly if the wrong action is taken (Parker et al., 2010).
Taking charge and making things happen at work is an increasingly important behavior
for organizations willing to succeed and thrive in complex and dynamic environments.
Unsurprisingly, proactivity has generated considerable interest among researchers and
practitioners. Yet, over two decades of research on proactive behavior have largely ne-
glected to consider the outcomes of this crucially important behavior from a well‐being
246 Proactivity for Mental Health and Well‐Being
perspective. In this chapter, we rst summarized key research ndings on proactivity to
identify its distal antecedents and motivational underpinnings. Furthermore, we drew
upon key well‐being theories and research evidence to suggest pathways through which
proactivity can enhance or undermine employees’ well‐being and mental health.
As we discussed, it is important to distinguish between positive and desirable conse-
quences of proactivity (e.g., self‐determination, self‐efcacy, and vitality) and potentially
negative outcomes (e.g., role overload). We believe it is crucial to understand the variables
that determine whether proactive behaviors will energize employees or cause strain. In this
chapter, we identied feedback and motivations to be proactive as key moderators in our
model. We suggest practitioners design or revise feedback systems and rewards in order to
maximise the mental health benets of proactivity while minimizing its drawbacks. Overall,
we recommend that scholars begin to consider the well‐being outcomes of proactivity, and
advocate the use of longitudinal studies to assess intra‐individual change and development
in relation to proactive behavior and personal resources.
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