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Reciprocal Relationships Between Dispositional Optimism and Work Experiences: A Five-Wave Longitudinal Investigation

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Previous research on dispositional optimism has predominantly concentrated on the selection effect of dispositional optimism on predicting work outcomes. Recent research, however, has started to examine the socialization effect of life experiences on fostering dispositional optimism development. Extrapolating primarily from the TESSERA framework of personality development (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017) and the literature on dispositional optimism, the current study represents a first attempt to reconcile the two seemingly contrasting perspectives. We proposed and examined change-related reciprocal relationships between dispositional optimism and work experience variables including income, job insecurity, coworker support, and supervisor support. Latent change score modeling of data from a five-wave longitudinal study demonstrated that dispositional optimism resulted in decreases in job insecurity, and the decreased job insecurity in turn promoted further increases in dispositional optimism later on. Furthermore, income gave rise to increases in dispositional optimism at a later point in time, but not vice versa. No significant relationships were observed between dispositional optimism and coworker and supervisor support. The findings provide a cautionary note to the majority of previous research based on cross-sectional and lagged designs that assumes causal effects of dispositional optimism on work outcomes. They also showcase the importance of examining personality change in organizational research and enrich our understanding of a more nuanced dynamic interplay between the optimistic employee and the work environment.
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Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 1
Reciprocal Relationships between Dispositional Optimism and Work Experiences:
A Five Wave Longitudinal Investigation
Wen-Dong Li
Department of Management
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
No. 12 Chak Cheung Street, Shatin, NT, Hong Kong
E-mail: oceanbluepsy@gmail.com
Shuping Li
Department of Management and Marketing
The Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Li Ka Shing Tower, Hung Hom, Hong Kong
Doris Fay
Department of Psychology, University of Potsdam
14476 Potsdam OT Golm, Germany
E-mail: doris.fay@uni-potsdam.de
&
Michael Frese
Department of Management & Organization, National University of Singapore
Mochtar Riady Building, BIZ1 Storey 8, 15 Kent Ridge Drive, Singapore 119245
ACCEPTED BY JOURNAL OF APPLIED PSYCHOLOGY
© 2019, American Psychological Association. This paper is not the copy of record and may not exactly
replicate the final, authoritative version of the article. Please do not copy or cite without authors'
permission. The final article will be available, upon publication, via its DOI: 10.1037/apl0000417
Authors’ note: An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2017 Annual Conference for
Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. This study was supported by a research
grant from CUHK Business School, the Chinese University of Hong Kong awarded to the first
author. We are indebted to Kenny Law, Brent Roberts, Michael Scheier, Suzanne Segerstrom,
and Martin Seligman for insightful comments. We are also grateful for the able assistance from
Hong Zhang in crafting the paper.
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 2
Reciprocal Relationships between Dispositional Optimism and Work Experiences:
A Five Wave Longitudinal Investigation
Abstract
Previous research on dispositional optimism has predominantly concentrated on the
selection effect of dispositional optimism on predicting work outcomes. Recent research,
however, has started to examine the socialization effect of life experiences on fostering
dispositional optimism development. Extrapolating primarily from the TESSERA framework of
personality development (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017) and the literature on dispositional optimism,
the current study represents a first attempt to reconcile the two seemingly contrasting
perspectives. We proposed and examined change-related reciprocal relationships between
dispositional optimism and work experience variables including income, job insecurity,
coworker support, and supervisor support. Latent change score modeling of data from a five-
wave longitudinal study demonstrated that dispositional optimism resulted in decreases in job
insecurity, and the decreased job insecurity in turn promoted further increases in dispositional
optimism later on. Furthermore, income gave rise to increases in dispositional optimism at a later
point in time, but not vice versa. No significant relationships were observed between
dispositional optimism and coworker and supervisor support. The findings provide a cautionary
note to the majority of previous research based on cross-sectional and lagged designs that
assumes causal effects of dispositional optimism on work outcomes. They also showcase the
importance of examining personality change in organizational research and enrich our
understanding of a more nuanced dynamic interplay between the optimistic employee and the
work environment.
Keywords: optimism; work experience; career; personality change; reciprocal relationship
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 3
Popular thoughts and folk wisdom have accentuated the prominence of a positive
orientation to life. In parallel, scholars have devoted a great deal of research attention to
optimism, “a mood or attitude associated with an expectation about the social or material future--
one which the evaluator regards as socially desirable, to his [or her] advantage, or for his [or her]
pleasure (Tiger, 1979, p. 18). The burgeoning literature has demonstrated the benefits of
optimism in predicting employee job performance (Munyon, Hochwarter, Perrewé, & Ferris,
2010; Seligman & Schulman, 1986), leadership potentials (Chemers, Watson, & May, 2000),
well-being (Aryee, Srinivas, & Tan, 2005; Gould, Dieffenbach, & Moffett, 2002; Lee, Ashford,
& Jamieson, 1993), and even winners of Olympic games (Gould et al., 2002) and presidential
candidates (Zullow & Seligman, 1990).
The majority of the literature on optimism has adopted an individual difference approach
(Carver & Scheier, 2014; Forgeard & Seligman, 2012; Peterson, 2000). Thus in this study, we
focus on dispositional optimism, “an individual difference variable that reflects the extent to
which people hold generalized favorable expectancies for their future(Carver, Scheier, &
Segerstrom, 2010, p. 879). Previous research has mainly examined the selection effect of
dispositional optimism on predicting employee career success and social relationships (Carver &
Scheier, 2014; Forgeard & Seligman, 2012; Peterson, 2000). Selection effects are broadly defined
as the influences of individual characteristics on shaping the situations that individuals engage in
(e.g., through career choice or job crafting) (Schneider, 1983). Recently, scholars have started to
investigate the other direction of causality: The socialization effect of life experiences on the
development of dispositional optimism. For instance, Segerstrom (2007) reported that the size of
social network and number of subordinates one supervised were significantly related to the
change of dispositional optimism in a two wave longitudinal study.
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 4
The selection effect of dispositional optimism on modifying work outcomes and the
socialization effect of work experiences on optimism development represent two contrasting
views on the direction of causality in the relationship between dispositional optimism and work
variables. Selection effects have been featured prominently in research adopting the classic
dispositional perspective of personality (McCrae et al., 2000), such as the majority of
organizational research (Tasselli, Kilduff, & Landis, 2018). It assumes that personality traits
cause work outcomes, and negates the socialization effect, because personality traits are
“endogenous dispositions that follow intrinsic paths of development essentially independent of
environmental influences” (McCrae et al., 2000, p. 173). Hence, most organizational
“researchers have tended to render such [personality] change impossible by definition” (Tasselli
et al., 2018, p. 44). Likewise, dispositional optimism has been portrayed as “a relatively enduring
characteristic that changes little with the vagaries of life” (Scheier & Carver, 1993, p. 27).
Socialization effects are rooted in research adopting the radical contextualist perspective (e.g.,
Lewis, 2001), which highlights influences of contextual factors and often neglects influences of
personality traits. Thus, there is a need to reconcile the two contradictory perspectives.
Extrapolating from the TESSERA framework (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017) that recognizes
the coexistence of the selection and the socialization effect, we propose that the relationship
between employee dispositional optimism and work variables is reciprocal in nature:
Dispositional optimism likely changes one’s work experiences, and the changed work
experiences may in turn give rise to further changes in optimism later on. Such an integrated
perspective potentially reconciles the two seemingly conflicting views. It highlights that the
selection effect and the socialization effect likely coexist and further reinforce each other over
time. Essentially, this taps into a core question pertaining to a self-reinforcing cycle for
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 5
dispositional optimism, that is, whether the work experiences that can be altered by dispositional
optimism tend to prompt dispositional optimism development at a later point in time.
Adopting a latent change score approach (Ferrer & McArdle, 2010; McArdle, 2001, 2009)
with a five-wave longitudinal design, we examine change-related reciprocal relationships
between dispositional optimism and work variables including income, job insecurity, coworker
support, and supervisor support. Prior research has documented that pursuits of major life goals
driven by dispositional optimism are likely to be reflected in two major arenas: Work
achievements (Segerstrom, 2007; Seligman & Schulman, 1986), and social relationships (Assad,
Donnellan, & Conger, 2007). Accordingly, we operationalize work experiences by drawing on
the socioanalytic theory of personality and job performance (J. Hogan & Holland, 2003; R.
Hogan, 1982; R. Hogan & Blickle, in press). It postulates that people are motivated by two basic
needs: Getting ahead and getting along. “Getting along was defined as behavior that gains the
approval of others, enhances cooperation, and serves to build and maintain relationships. Getting
ahead was defined as behavior that produces results and advances an individual within the group
and the group within its competition.” (J. Hogan & Holland, 2003; p. 103). As such, we employ
the career success variables, income, and job insecurity to indicate getting ahead and social
support from coworker and supervisor for getting along. Income has been widely adopted as an
objective indicator of career success (Baruch & Bozionelos, 2010; Judge, Higgins, Thoresen, &
Barrick, 1999; Ng, Eby, Sorensen, & Feldman, 2005). Job insecurity is defined as “perceived
powerlessness to maintain desired continuity in a threatened job situation” (Greenhalgh &
Rosenblatt, 1984, p. 438). As today’s organizations are facing numerous threats, changes, and
challenges, employees are becoming increasingly vulnerable to job loss (Lee, Huang, & Ashford,
2018). Being able to maintain the stability and continuity of one’s job (i.e., low job insecurity)
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 6
becomes essential to employee career advancement and success (Lee et al., 2018; Shoss, 2017).
Coworker support and supervisor support refer to the amount of assistance that one receives
from coworker and supervisor respectively (Karasek & Theorell, 1990). They have been studied
as crucial forms of social relationships at work (Chiaburu & Harrison, 2008; Humphrey,
Nahrgang, & Morgeson, 2007; Tews, Michel, & Ellingson, 2013).
This investigation contributes to the scholarship on optimism in three ways. First,
examining change-related reciprocal relationships between dispositional optimism and work
experiences represents a first step to integrate the two seemingly conflicting perspectives on the
causal direction embedded in these linkages: Selection effect of dispositional optimism and
socialization effect of work experiences. In his review, Peterson (2000) lamented that “little
attention has been paid to the origins of this individual difference and in particular to the distinct
possibility that its putative outcomes are … its determinants” (p. 47). Fisher and Aguinis (2017)
pointed out that knowledge on such change-related reciprocal relationships enables scholars to
“improve the explanatory and predictive adequacy” of the theory on optimism (p. 449).
Second, this study sheds light on what and how work experiences change dispositional
optimism and contributes to the new endeavors to “better understand how optimism is formed”
(Forgeard & Seligman, 2012, p. 115). In doing so, this study challenges, and complements, the
view that dispositional optimism changes little over time (Scheier & Carver, 1993) and promotes
a developmental mindset (Yeager & Dweck, 2012). Examining lagged effects of work
experiences on optimism development also represents a more stringent test of the socialization
effect. Most recent research merely correlated change of optimism with concurrent change of life
experiences (e.g., Chopik, Kim, & Smith, 2015). Correlating two change variables captured at
the same time does not permit strong inferences for causality (Cook & Campbell, 1979).
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 7
Third, this study serves as a more rigorous examination of the dispositional perspective of
dispositional optimism by probing its effect on changing work variables with a longitudinal
design (Segerstrom, 2007). Put differently, we use dispositional optimism at Time n to predict
changes in work variables from Time n to Time n+1. The majority of prior research has adopted
cross-sectional or lagged designs (e.g., Aryee et al., 2005; Chemers et al., 2000; Gould et al.,
2002; Lee et al., 1993; Munyon et al., 2010; Seligman & Schulman, 1986), which limits the
examination of the causal effect of dispositional optimism (Cook & Campbell, 1979).
Theoretical Development and Hypotheses
Theory and Research on Personality Development
Personality traits are relatively stable patterns of behaviors, thoughts, and feelings
(Johnson, 1997). Such patterns are stable enough to represent dispositions, but also able to
change throughout adulthood (Bleidorn, 2015; Caspi, Roberts, & Shiner, 2005; Roberts &
Mroczek, 2008). Meta-analyses report significant changes in population rank-order consistency
and mean-level changes for the Big Five (Roberts & DelVecchio, 2000; Roberts, Walton, &
Viechtbauer, 2006). A major reason for personality change is that different people have distinct
life experiences, which lead to various forms of personality change (Roberts & Mroczek, 2008).
As such, individual differences in personality change are at the forefront of research on
personality development (Bleidorn, 2015; Specht et al., 2014).
Among the new theoretical developments (Fleeson, 2001; Fleeson & Jayawickreme, 2015;
Roberts & Jackson, 2008), the TESSERA framework (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017) outlines the
selection effect of personality traits by explaining that “individuals select or create personality-
congruent situations” (p. 258) and the socialization effect by explaining how life experiences
alter personality traits in the long-term “due to repeated short-term situational processes” (p.
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 8
253). In tandem, the framework suggests that personality traits change one’s life experiences,
and the altered life experiences in turn bring further changes in those personality traits.
In particular, in accounting for long-term personality development, the TESSERA
framework stipulates that triggering situations first influence expectancies about which states
(e.g., behaviors, thoughts, or feelings) are appropriate. State/States expression follows, which
then results in reactions from oneself or other people. The ensuing two processes serve as the
major mechanisms for personality change: reflection and learning from the reactions and
consequences, because they influence whether behaviors, thoughts, or feelings will be repeated,
generalized, and habituated in the future. Such repeated processes will change the patters of
behaviors, thoughts, or feelings, that is, by definition, personality traits (Johnson, 1997).
Applied to the current research, we expect the selection effect of dispositional optimism
to play out in two work arenas related to getting ahead and getting along. Chiefly, optimistic
individuals seek or create more challenging work tasks and exhibit greater persistence over time
(Carver & Scheier, 2014). Hence, they tend to enjoy higher income and lower job insecurity.
They also tend to experience increased coworker and supervisor support over time, because they
exhibit greater levels of positive affect (Chang & Sanna, 2001; Kaplan, Bradley, Luchman, &
Haynes, 2009), and are liked more by others (Carver, Kus, & Scheier, 1994).
The socialization effect of work experiences on development of optimism occurs when
optimists successfully achieve their work goals of getting ahead and getting along. Achieving
such goals provides ample opportunities to enhance optimistic individuals’ confidence and
growth. The positive reactions from others and themselves trigger reflection and learning, which
in turn reinforce the tendency to form more favorable expectations in the future. As a result,
optimists’ behavioral tendencies likely get generalized and habituated. Increases in dispositional
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 9
optimism ensue. In concert, a recursive cycle likely emerges: Optimistic employees are likely to
become more successful in achieving important work goals of getting ahead and getting along;
increased achievements in obtaining those goals may further strengthen dispositional optimism.
In what follows, we first formulate hypotheses on the selection effect of dispositional
optimism on changing work experiences. Then we delineate the rationale for the socialization
effect of work experiences on changing dispositional optimism. Last, we present hypotheses on
change-related reciprocal relationships between dispositional optimism and work experiences.
Selection Effect of Dispositional Optimism on Changes of Work Experiences
Dispositional optimism and changes of income and job insecurity. We expect
optimistic employees to reap the benefits of obtaining greater levels of career goals of getting
ahead (e.g., increases in income and decreases in job insecurity) for three reasons. First,
optimistic employees tend to craft work environments that allow them to set up higher career
goals and persevere more over time even in stressful situations (Carver & Scheier, 2014;
Forgeard & Seligman, 2012; Peterson, 2000). As they have achieved their goals, they tend to set
more challenging goals in the future (Bandura, 1999; Latham & Locke, 2007). Second, optimists
are increasingly able to disengage from intractable and unobtainable goals, because
disengagement from such goals liberates them to conserve resources and pursue more important
and obtainable goals (Aspinwall, Richter, & Hoffman, 2001). Third, optimistic employees are
able to attract more organizational sponsorship over time. Because optimists achieve higher
levels of job performance (Seligman & Schulman, 1986) and are perceived as more leader-like
(Chemers et al., 2000), they likely secure greater sponsorship from organizations over time.
Organizational sponsorship has been shown to be a critical catalyst to facilitate career success
(Ng et al., 2005). All the above reasoning suggests that optimistic employees likely achieve
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 10
greater success in terms of getting ahead, which may be reflected in earning higher income and
having lower job insecurity over time.
Previous research provides indirect support for this prediction. For example, Seligman
and Schulman (1986) found that optimistic sales agents outperformed their less optimistic
counterparts. Segerstrom (2007) reported that dispositional optimism was positively related to
income 10 years later. Cheng, Mauno, and Lee (2014) found a negative relationship between
dispositional optimism and job insecurity. We thus propose that:
Hypothesis 1: Employee dispositional optimism is positively related to increases in
income (H1a) and decreases in job insecurity (H1b) over time.
Dispositional optimism and increases in social support at work. We also predict
positive relationships of dispositional optimism with increases in important work goals related to
getting along: coworkers and supervisors support. Optimistic employees likely reach out to seek
more support from coworker and supervisor over time to aid achieving more challenging work
goals or dealing with stress. Social support from coworker and supervisor represents two
important forms of resources at work (Eisenberger, Stinglhamber, Vandenberghe, Sucharski, &
Rhoades, 2002; Humphrey et al., 2007; Karasek & Theorell, 1990). They are manifested in
instrumental support including providing crucial information and resource to complete work
tasks and emotional support providing assistance in dealing with stressors. As optimistic
employees seek more and more challenging work goals, the importance of coworker and
supervisor support tends to increasingly loom large. Furthermore, when facing relationship
challenges with significant others, optimists tend to engage in more cooperative problem solving
(Assad et al., 2007) and thus have long-term and successful relationships (Segerstrom, 2007).
Last, optimistic employees are likely to attract more and more support from coworkers and
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 11
supervisors over time. They often exhibit greater levels of positive affect (Chang & Sanna, 2001;
Tennen, Affleck, Urrows, Higgins, & Mendola, 1992) and confidence with their abilities in
achieving work goals. Interacting with such upbeat and confident employees tends to be
perceived as rewarding to coworkers and supervisors (Harker & Keltner, 2001).
Although there is lack of evidence in direct support for this prediction, research showed
that dispositional optimism predicted increases in emotional support from friends and family
(Brissette, Scheier, & Carver, 2002; Dougall, Hyman, Hayward, McFeeley, & Baum, 2001).
Dispositional optimism was also reported to be positively related to increases in romantic
relationship satisfaction (Assad et al., 2007). We thus hypothesize the following:
Hypothesis 2: Employee dispositional optimism is positively related to increases in
coworker support (H2a) and supervisor support (H2b) over time.
Socialization Effect of Work Experiences on Development of Dispositional Optimism
Income, job insecurity, and changes of dispositional optimism. We expect that having
achieved important work goals related to getting ahead and getting along will further spur
increases in dispositional optimism over time through employees’ reflecting upon and learning
from successful work experiences (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017). First, getting ahead successfully, as
reflected in earning high income (Baruch & Bozionelos, 2010; Judge et al., 1999; Ng et al., 2005)
and experiencing low job insecurity (Greenhalgh & Rosenblatt, 1984; Lee et al., 2018; Shoss,
2017), may strengthen one’s confidence in his or her abilities to pursue more challenging work
goals in the future (Bandura, 1999; Latham & Locke, 2007). Achieving such a success also
breeds more positive affect, which, in turn, broadens employees’ thought-action repertoires and
builds up more enduring intellectual and physical resources (Fredrickson, 2001). The gratifying
work experience tends to become easily remembered and readily accessible, which is conducive
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 12
to reflection. Overtime, the process of reflection results in an enhanced positive view of oneself
(Wrzus & Roberts, 2017). Given the salience of self enhancement, employees likely interpret the
enhanced positive self-perceptions in such positive trait level languages as becoming more
optimistic in the future (Kwan, John, Kenny, Bond, & Robins, 2004).
Second, jobs that grant high income and low job insecurity are typically complex and
mentally challenging to perform (Glomb, Rotundo, & Kammeyer-Mueller, 2004; Lee et al., 2018;
Shoss, 2017). Such jobs provide employees with important validation for their diligent work and
capabilities in meeting difficult job demands. Consequently, a process of learning occurs,
fostering more advanced work knowledge, and more sophisticated work methods and skills.
Over time, employees will enhance their capabilities to complete more challenging tasks and
work more diligently to meet future challenges (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017), a core behavioral
manifestation of dispositional optimism (Scheier & Carver, 1993). Such a process may be
generalized and habituated, which in turn gives rise to increases in dispositional optimism.
Prior research provides indirect support for this prediction. Sutin, Costa, Miech, and
Eaton (2009) found that income was positively related to decreases in neuroticism. Roberts et al.
(2003) reported that high occupational attainment (e.g., jobs with high levels of complexity and
high hourly wage) was also predictive of later decreases in negative emotionality. Kinnunen,
Feldt, and Mauno (2003) found that job insecurity was related to decreases in self-esteem.
Hypothesis 3: Employee income is positively (H3a), and job insecurity is negatively
(H3b), related to increases in dispositional optimism over time.
Social support at work and increases of dispositional optimism. It is reasonable to
expect that successfully getting along with others at work, as reflected via coworker and
supervisor support, provides an impetus for increases in dispositional optimism through the
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 13
processes of reflection and learning. With respect to the reflection process, emotional support
from coworker and supervisor satisfies employees’ needs for affiliation (Ryan & Deci, 2000),
which in turn will enhance their motivation and well-being at work (Tews et al., 2013). The
support from coworkers and supervisors, and consequently the reactions from oneself, represent
enjoyable work experiences. They facilitate forging more favorable expectations for future
relationship with coworkers and supervisors. Such positive work experiences tend to get
reflected upon, and are firmly encoded in one’s long-term memory systems and readily
accessible (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017). As a result, through repeated reflection upon the link
between coworker and supervisor support and more favorable expectations for future work
relationships, employees tend to generate more generalized and favorable expectations in all
domains of their lives, leading to increase in dispositional optimism (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017).
Coworker and supervisor support also likely enhances dispositional optimism through the
process of learning. Instrumental support from coworker and supervisor provides employees with
necessary information, useful suggestions, and valuable performance feedback (Eisenberger et
al., 2002; Karasek & Theorell, 1990; Tews et al., 2013). Such crucial resources are likely to
facilitate employees learning new task-related knowledge and even developing novel skills.
Indeed, theory and research suggest that coworker support and supervisor support are conducive
to skill development (Chiaburu & Harrison, 2008; Day, Harrison, & Halpin, 2009; DeRue &
Wellman, 2009). Enhanced skills further enable employees to successfully accomplish more
challenging future work tasks, which in turn breeds more favorable and generalized expectations
for the future over time (Scheier & Carver, 1993).
In indirect support for the importance of social relationship on change of optimism,
Segerstrom (2007) found that size of one’s social network in all arenas of the life predicted
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 14
increases in optimism across 10 years. We thus predict:
Hypothesis 4: Employee supervisor support (H4a) and coworker support (H4b) are
positively related to increases in dispositional optimism over time.
Change-Related Reciprocal Relationships between Dispositional Optimism and Work
Experiences
Integrating the selection effect of dispositional optimism on changing work experiences
(Hypotheses 1 to 2) and the socialization effect of work experiences on changing dispositional
optimism (Hypotheses 3 to 4), we expect a change-related reciprocal relationship: Dispositional
optimism will alter work variables, and the changed work variables in turn will prompt further
increases in dispositional optimism later on. The TESSERA framework (Wrzus & Roberts,
2017) proposes that a personality trait tends to be strengthened by life experiences through
“seeking or creating environments that reinforce the original personality trait” (p. 261; also see
the corresponsive principle, Roberts & Wood, 2006). Stated differently, work experiences tend to
strengthen the personality traits that lead individuals to those work experiences in the first place.
In the case of this study, the TESSERA framework (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017) suggests
that optimistic employees shape work environments that are conducive to getting ahead and
getting along, because they set up, and are able to achieve, more challenging work tasks
throughout their careers. They are also capable of forging more supportive social relationships at
work. Such a selection effect renders it likely for optimistic employees to enjoy higher income,
lower job insecurity, and more coworker and supervisor support over time. Furthermore, having
successfully achieved important life goals of getting ahead and getting along provides the
positive reinforcement to validate the approaches that optimistic employees adopt. According to
the TESSERA framework (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017), the gratifying affective reactions from
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 15
others and oneself render such successful experiences more likely to be reflected upon. At the
same time, successfully getting ahead and getting along provide the opportunities and resources
for optimistic employees’ skill development through a learning mechanism. The two processes
of reflection and learning enable optimistic employees to develop more generalized and
favorable expectations in all life domains for the future. Over time, dispositional optimism will
increase. Note that proposing a change-related reciprocal relationship does not mean that the two
effects are equal in strength. It provides an account for the notion that dispositional optimism is
both relatively stable, and open to change.
Examining reciprocal relationships in organizational research contributes to a more
nuanced understanding of the dynamic interplays between the person and the environment rooted
in interactional psychology (Schneider, 1983). Bandura’s reciprocal determinism (2001)
postulates that “people are producers as well as products of social systems” (p. 1). Among the
few studies, sociologists Kohn and Schooler (1978, 1982) examined reciprocal relationships of
work experiences with personality and intellectual flexibility. Personality psychologists (e.g.,
Roberts et al., 2003; Sutin & Costa, 2010) and organizational scholars (e.g., Frese, Garst, & Fay,
2007; Wu & Griffin, 2012) have also started to look into such issues. We thus propose that:
Hypothesis 5: There are change-related reciprocal relationships between dispositional
optimism with work variables over time, such that dispositional optimism is positively
related to increases in income, coworkers support, and supervisor support, and negatively
related to decreases in job insecurity; the changed work variables further strengthen
dispositional optimism later on.
Method
Participants and Procedures
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 16
Data used in this study were collected through a large research project conducted in East
Germany after the reunification of East and West Germany (Dormann, Fay, Zapf, & Frese, 2006;
Dormann & Zapf, 1999; Dormann & Zapf, 2001, 2002; Fay & Frese, 2000; Frese, Fay,
Hilburger, Leng, & Tag, 1997; Frese et al., 2007; Frese, Kring, Soose, & Zempel, 1996; Garst,
Frese, & Molenaar, 2000; Li, Fay, Frese, Harms, & Gao, 2014; Rybowiak, Garst, Frese, &
Batinic, 1999; Speier & Frese, 1997; Utsch, Rauch, Rothfufs, & Frese, 1999). The major purpose
of this project was to examine how changes in working condition during the transition period
affected employees’ work and life in East Germany. The quasi-natural experiment with societal
changes provided us with an appropriate setting to examine reciprocal relationships between
dispositional optimism and work variables. The Survey and Behavioral Research Ethics
Committee of CUHK Business School of the Chinese University of Hong Kong exempted an
IRB review because we used archival data for this study.
Researchers identified participants of the large longitudinal study in the following
manner. First, researchers randomly selected streets in Dresden, a large city in the south of East
Germany. Then they chose every third house in each selected street, and invited individuals from
every fourth apartment in each house. In smaller houses, individuals in every third apartment
were invited. Last, researchers invited full-time employees in the selected apartments from ages
of 18 to 65 to participate. Across the five waves of data used for the current research
1
, the same
665 working employees were invited for each wave. Among them, 530, 536, 497, 474, and 486
provided usable information on study variables for the five waves respectively, yielding response
rates of 79.7%, 80.6%, 74.7%, 71.2%, and 73.1%. To prevent participant attrition, after each data
collection the researchers sent participants reports with key findings. Furthermore, about two
1
The first wave of data was not used, because in the first wave the measure of dispositional
optimism missed one item due to a clerical error.
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 17
months prior to each data collection, participants received a letter announcing the upcoming visit
of a researcher. The procedures led to a representative sample in terms of age, gender, and social
class of working population in the city.
Researchers collected the five waves of data during the following time periods: October
to December, 1990, August to September, 1991, August to September, 1992, August to
September, 1993, and August to September, 1995. A major consideration for choosing such time
lags was that over time, the situation in East Germany became more stable and thus the
influences of reunification gradually decayed. In our analyses, we included participants with all
available information on study variables. Detailed information is reported in Table 1. The
practice of using all possible data available has been suggested previously (Newman, 2009). This
produced a maximum sample for analyses of 541 participants.
==== insert Table 1 about here ====
Measures
Dispositional optimism. We assessed dispositional optimism with the widely adopted
eight-item measure of the Life Orientation Test (LOT) (Scheier & Carver, 1985) on a response
scale from 1 (Strongly disagree) to 7 (Strongly agree). Research has shown that dispositional
optimism is distinct from other personality traits including the Big Five, trait anxiety, self-
mastery, hope, locus of control, self-esteem, and positive and negative affectivity (Chang &
Sanna, 2001; Scheier & Carver, 1985; Scheier, Carver, & Bridges, 1994). As such, LOT has
been the most widely adopted measure to assess dispositional optimism (Carver & Scheier, 2014;
Forgeard & Seligman, 2012; Peterson, 2000). This measure includes four positively and four
negative worded items. Sample items were “In uncertain times, I usually expect the best and “If
something can go wrong for me, it will” (negatively worded). Internal consistency coefficients
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 18
(Cronbach’s α) were .72, .74, .73, .72, and .73 respectively for the five waves.
Income. We captured respondents’ monthly income with one item asking them to
indicate the level of income from the following options in Deutsche Mark (In the years of data
collection 1 Deutsche Mark was approximately 0.65 U.S. dollar): 1) less than 600, 2) 600-800, 3)
800-1000, 4) 1000-1200, 5) 1200-1400, 6) 1400-1600, 7) 1600-1800, 8) 1800-2000, and 9) more
than 2000. Following previous research (Westerhof & Barrett, 2005), we utilized the middle
value of the range indicated by each option (e.g., 700 to indicate option 2) 600-800; 300 was
used for option 1) and 2000 was used for option 9)) and employed the natural logarithm
transformation of the values in the analyses (Judge, Cable, Boudreau, & Bretz, 1995).
Job insecurity. We gauged participants’ job insecurity with a three-item scale by Frese
and Hilligloh (1991), which has also been used previously (Garst et al., 2000) (α = .50, .55, .52,
.49 and .49 respectively for the five waves). Participants reported the extent to which they agreed
or disagreed to questions regarding their job insecurity on a five-point scale (1=Not true at all,
5=Completely true). A sample item is If you become unemployed, how good are your chances
of actually finding a job? Similar unidimensional measures of job insecurity have been adopted
in previous research (e.g. Oldham, Kulik, Stepina, & Ambrose, 1986).
Social support from coworker and supervisor. We measured coworker and supervisor
support using scales adapted from Caplan, Cobb, French, van Harrison, and Pinneau (1975). The
two scales have been employed previously and demonstrated sufficient reliability and validity
(Frese, 1999). Participants rated on a four-point scale (1=Not at all, 4=Absolutely) three
questions with reference to supervisor and colleagues, respectively: “How much is … willing to
listen to your work-related problems?”, “How much is … helpful for you to get your job done?”,
and "How much can … be relied on when things get tough at work?". The two scales have
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 19
appreciable reliabilities for all the five waves (for supervisory support, α = .86, .88, .87, .86 and
.85 respectively; for coworker support, α = .84, .83, .82, .83 and .81).
Control variables. We included employees sex and age in the analyses because they are
related to both career success (Baruch & Bozionelos, 2010; Judge et al., 1999; Ng et al., 2005)
and personality development (Bleidorn, 2015; Caspi et al., 2005; Roberts & Mroczek, 2008;
Specht et al., 2014). We did not include education because optimistic people tend to have high
educational achievements, which in turn may boost their career success (Segerstrom, 2007).
Therefore, controlling education will eliminate one possible pathway for the effect of
dispositional optimism on work outcomes.
Analytical Strategy
We adopted the classic latent change score approach (Ferrer & McArdle, 2010; McArdle,
2001, 2009) to test our hypotheses. This approach explicitly models change as a latent variable
that can be derived from a construct of interest measured at two adjacent time points. Thus, it is
more flexible than latent growth curve modeling that typically requires at least three waves of
data to model a change variable (Bliese & Ployhart, 2002; Liu, Mo, Song, & Wang, 2016;
Preacher, Briggs, Wichman, & MacCallum, 2008). Because of its advantage in explicitly
modeling change in a flexible and straightforward manner, this approach has been recently
applied to examine change related issues not only in personality psychology (Jackson, Hill,
Payne, Roberts, & Stine-Morrow, 2012), but also in organizational research (e.g., Li et al., 2014;
Ritter, Matthews, Ford, & Henderson, 2016; S. G. Taylor, Bedeian, Cole, & Zhang, 2014; Toker
& Biron, 2012; Wu, Griffin, & Parker, 2015). Another unique advantage of this approach is that
it allows scholars to examine reciprocal relationships directly related to change that do not
restrict the form of change to be linear. This is because a change variable can be modeled by a
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 20
variable at two time points and thus change from Time n to Time n+1 does not have to bear a
linear relationship with change from Time n+1 to Time n+2. It has advantages over latent growth
curve modeling and cross-lagged analyses (McArdle, 2001, 2009). Latent growth curve
modeling typically models change as the slope or high-order terms across at least three time
points and it is typically not used to examining reciprocal relationships (Bliese & Ployhart, 2002;
Liu et al., 2016; Preacher et al., 2008). Cross-lagged analyses, although often used to test
reciprocal relationships, are not adopted in directly modeling changes in an explicit way. The
latent change score approach is regarded as a more generalized and flexible approach
incorporating the advantages of both latent growth curve modeling and cross-lagged analyses.
As depicted in Figure 1, following previous research (Ferrer & McArdle, 2010; McArdle,
2001, 2009), the classic bivariate latent change score model was utilized to examine a change-
related reciprocal relationship between a work variable and dispositional optimism. A latent
change variable (e.g., change of dispositional optimism from Time 1 to Time 2, Δ DO1) is
modeled as the change of the same construct between Time 1 and Time 2 (in total, four latent
change variables across the five time points were modeled). In addition, this model encompasses
two change parameters that are often examined in latent growth curve modeling: An intercept
and a slope, for each of the two constructs. The intercept (e.g., InterceptDO for dispositional
optimism) affects the starting point of a variable at Time 1 (e.g., DO1) and the slope (e.g.,
SlopeDO for dispositional optimism) affects all the latent change variables (e.g., Δ DO1 to Δ
DO4). The selection effect of dispositional optimism was examined through the influence of
optimism on the change in a work variable (γ1) and the socialization effect was tested via the
influence of a work variable on the change in dispositional optimism (γ2). If the two effects are
both significant, then a change-related reciprocal relationship is supported. Following previous
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 21
research (e.g., Lang, Bliese, Lang, & Adler, 2011; Meier & Spector, 2013), we used the
following indices to evaluate model fitness: Comparative fit index (CFI), TuckerLewis index
(TLI), and root mean square error of approximation (RMSEA) for the latent change score
models. Standardized root-mean-square residual (SRMR) was also used in confirmatory factor
analyses (CFAs). We performed the analyses using Mplus 8.0 (Muthen & Muthen, 1998-2017).
==== insert Figure 1 about here ====
Results
Previous research (McArdle, 2009; Ployhart & Vandenberg, 2010; Preacher et al., 2008)
suggests that in longitudinal research with multiple variables, it is important to demonstrate (a)
the independence of all variables at each measurement occasion and (b) measurement invariance
of the same variable across all the measurement occasions. Thus, we first conducted CFAs to
demonstrate the study variables were independent from each other at each time point. Error
terms of the negatively worded items for dispositional optimism were allowed to correlated with
each other; the same for the parallel items of supervisor support and coworker support (which
only differed in the reference, i.e., “supervisor” or “coworker”). Results showed that a four-
factor model (with dispositional optimism, job insecurity, coworker support, and supervisor
support) generated appreciable model fit indices for all the five waves of data (Table 2). Thus,
the measures used at each wave were independent from each other.
We then examined two types of measurement invariance, configural (i.e., form) and
metric (i.e., factor loading) equivalence (Vandenberg & Lance, 2000) across time. Error terms of
the same item were allowed to correlated with each other across the five waves (Finkel, 1995).
For each of the four variables (Table 2), setting the factor loadings of their items equal across the
five time points (i.e., testing metric invariance) did not significantly decrease model fitness
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 22
compared to models with configural equivalence (Chen, 2007; Cheung & Rensvold, 2002). The
results demonstrated sufficient measurement equivalence for the measures across time. We also
tested the independence of study variables and their measurement equivalence simultaneously in
one unified model, which fit the data satisfactorily (Table 2).
==== insert Table 2 about here ====
Tests of Hypotheses
The means, standard deviations, and correlations among study variables for the five
waves are displayed in Table 3. The correlations of dispositional optimism across the five
measurement occasions ranged from .53 to .75, indicating relative consistency across time. The
correlations of the work variables across time fell within the range from .18 to .68, which seems
to suggest less consistency. The mean levels of dispositional optimism for the whole sample did
not change significantly across the five waves. Participants’ mean level of income increased over
time across time from wave 1 to wave 5. While participants did not experience significant
change in supervisor support, they experienced significant increment in coworker support from
wave 3 to wave 4. We suspect that the significant changes in mean levels of those variables
might be related to the fact that after unification, there was a high necessity for former East
German companies to invest in new technology, adopt contemporary management styles, and
cope with the competition. Those changes might start to be manifested in in numerous
improvements in working conditions from wave 3 (Frese et al., 1996).
==== insert Table 3 about here ====
Hypotheses 1 and 2 predicted significant relationships between dispositional optimism
and changes in income, job insecurity, and coworker and supervisor support. The bivariate latent
change score models fit data well (Table 4). The results showed that the lagged effect of
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 23
optimism was only significant for job insecurity. Thus only Hypothesis 1b was supported. The
intercepts and the slopes for the four work variables were significant. Thus, the starting points of
the four variables were significant and over time they increased significantly.
==== insert Table 4 about here ====
Hypotheses 3 and 4 focused on the socialization effects of work variables on the
development of dispositional optimism. Findings supported Hypothesis 3 by showing significant
lagged effects of income and job insecurity on changing dispositional optimism, but not for
Hypothesis 4 regarding lagged effects of social support at work on change of optimism.
Hypothesis 5 dealt with change-related reciprocal relationships between optimism and
work variables. Overall, such a reciprocal relationship was observed for job insecurity.
Dispositional optimism over time decreased job insecurity and the decreased job insecurity in
turn fostered further increases in dispositional optimism. Hypothesis 5 was partially supported.
Discussion
In keeping with the majority of the previous research (Carver & Scheier, 2014; Forgeard
& Seligman, 2012; Peterson, 2000), the current research adopted an individual difference
approach in investigating change-related reciprocal relationships between dispositional optimism
and employee work experiences in a five-wave longitudinal study. Extrapolating from the
TESSERA framework of personality development (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017) and the literature on
dispositional optimism, this investigation served as a first attempt to integrate the selection effect
of dispositional optimism on changing work experiences and the socialization effect of work
experiences on modifying the development of dispositional optimism.
Implications for Theory and Research
This study represents a more stringent examination of the causal effect of dispositional
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 24
optimism by investigating its selection effect on changing work variables over time. Prior
research has examined the influences of optimism using either cross-sectional or lagged designs
without looking at changes of work outcomes (e.g., Aryee et al., 2005; Chemers et al., 2000;
Gould et al., 2002; Lee et al., 1993; Munyon et al., 2010; Seligman & Schulman, 1986). The
current investigation tested the causal effect of dispositional optimism more rigorously with a
prospective longitudinal design by probing the lagged effect of dispositional optimism at Time n
on change of work variables from Time n to Time n+1 (Cook & Campbell, 1979).
We found that dispositional optimism exerted significant effects on changes of job
insecurity, not on change of income or social support at work. Thus, the present investigation
serves as a cautionary note to previous research assuming that dispositional optimism is
beneficial. This assumption is understandable, because organizational research has been heavily
affected by the classic dispositional perspective of personality (McCrae & Costa Jr, 1999;
McCrae et al., 2000). Likewise, dispositional optimism has been portrayed as a personality trait
that changes little with life experiences (Scheier & Carver, 1993). As such, the observed
significant relationships between dispositional optimism and work outcomes have typically been
interpreted as suggesting the causal effect of dispositional optimism on work outcomes, not vice
versa. Yet, our findings show the necessity to examine this assumption more rigorously by
looking at whether dispositional optimism prompts changes in work variables longitudinally.
Such an approach allows us to strike one step closer to examining the causal influences of
dispositional optimism. From a temporal perspective, investigating the influence of dispositional
optimism on changing work variables over time represents a theoretically distinct approach than
examining their concurrent correlations in terms of time specification (Mitchell & James, 2001).
This partly explains the different findings between this research and previous cross-sectional
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 25
research on dispositional optimism and career success. In fact, this is also the case for other
personality traits. As one example, previous cross-sectional research found a significant
relationship between proactive personality and income (Seibert, Crant, & Krainer, 1999).
However, longitudinal research (Seibert, Kraimer, & Crant, 2001) reported that “proactive
personality was not significantly correlated with salary progression or promotions” (p. 863).
Similarly, Sutin et al. (2009) found that while a significant concurrent relationship between
neuroticism and income was recorded, when examined longitudinally, neuroticism did not lead
to changes in income over time. However, income significantly decreased neuroticism. Our
findings are in fact in keeping with those from recent longitudinal research. Segerstrom (2007)
found that dispositional optimism did not predict increases in social network size, satisfaction
with social support, nor number of supportive others. Future research should use longitudinal
designs including experience sampling methods (Beal, 2015) to reveal developmental patterns of
behaviors, thoughts, and feelings of optimistic people.
The findings of the current research have implications for intervention research on
changing optimism (Carver & Scheier, 2014). The assumption that dispositional optimism is
beneficial serves as the very theoretical foundation for recent research looking into interventions
that are able to promote optimism (e.g., Gillham, Reivich, Jaycox, & Seligman, 1995; Seligman,
2006). Otherwise, there will be no reason to change optimism. If dispositional optimism has little
substantial effect on changing life outcomes, it will cast doubt on the approach of changing
optimism as an avenue to promote performance and well-being. Our findings suggest that before
conducing intervention research, perhaps it is informative for researcher to consolidate evidence
to show that optimism indeed gives rise to changes in certain work variables of interest.
The current study investigated what and how work variables contribute to the
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 26
development of dispositional optimism over time (Forgeard & Seligman, 2012). While the
influences of coworkers support and supervisor support were not significant, employees with
high levels of income and low levels of job insecurity experienced increases in dispositional
optimism later on. Such findings pose a challenge to the traditional dispositional perspective that
assumes dispositional optimism changes little with life experiences (Scheier & Carver, 1993).
The findings suggest that the work variables related to getting ahead are more important in
driving changes in dispositional optimism than those related to getting along. Our reading of the
literature on socioanalytic theory of personality and job performance (J. Hogan & Holland, 2003;
R. Hogan, 1982; R. Hogan & Blickle, in press) suggests that this literature has yet to distinguish
the relative importance of the two important life goals of getting ahead and getting along. Thus,
we speculate possible reasons for the differences. Variables related to getting ahead as we
studied in this research reflect employees’ capabilities to maintain their stability of employment
and successfully advance their careers in an uncertain period (Baruch & Bozionelos, 2010;
Greenhalgh & Rosenblatt, 1984; Judge et al., 1999; Lee et al., 2018; Ng et al., 2005; Shoss,
2017). Achieving such goals has significance for survival and reproduction from an evolutionary
perspective (Bakan, 1966). As such, obtaining goals related to getting ahead seems more salient
to employee career development than those of getting along. It follows that high income and low
job insecurity may be more likely to promote the two processes underlying personality
development: reflection upon and learning from such successful experiences. Thus they are more
likely to prompt changes in dispositional optimism. Future research can build on our findings
and formally test such differences with longitudinal designs.
Perhaps the most important contribution of the current research lies in its investigation of
change-related reciprocal relationships between dispositional optimism and work variables. Such
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 27
an investigation recognizes that the causal direction in such relationships travels both ways and
provides a potential reconciliation for the two contrasting perspectives discussed previously. Our
findings revealed that such a reciprocal relationship occurred between dispositional optimism
and job insecurity: Being an optimistic employee prompted decreases in job insecurity and the
weakened job insecurity in turn strengthened one’s optimistic disposition later on. This finding is
consistent with previous research showing a reciprocal relationship between job insecurity and
self-esteem (Kinnunen et al., 2003). Such reciprocal relationships have already been hinted by
Peterson (2000) and suggested by Bandura (1997, 2001). Bell and Staw (1989) also argued that
people are both sculptors and sculpture of their career development. Organizational research has
demonstrated that such reciprocal relationships occurred between core self-evaluations and job
satisfaction (Wu & Griffin, 2012), and between proactive personality and job demands and job
control (Li et al., 2014). Our study extended this line of research to the literature on dispositional
optimism and provides a more nuanced understanding of the development of optimism.
The finding that job insecurity bore a change-related reciprocal relationship with
dispositional optimism raises the question how long such a virtuous cycle endures. Scholars (e.g.,
Keil & Cortina, 2001; Sonnentag & Frese, 2012; Sturman, 2007) suggest when optimistic
employees set up more challenging goals as a result of low job insecurity, their skills may not
develop fast enough to meet the new requirements. Such a situation will not generate lower job
insecurity later on. Put differently, an enduring virtuous cycle entails self-correction and self-
regulation, which ultimately results in asymptotes. Future research needs to examine this
challenging question related to the sustainability of self-reinforcing cycles in greater depth.
Study Limitations and Future Research
Study limitations. The results of this research should be interpreted in light of its
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 28
limitations. First, the unique changing economic and social environment in East Germany,
though providing a suitable context to test the hypotheses, limits the generalization of the
findings (Shin, Morgeson, & Campion, 2007; P. J. Taylor, Li, Shi, & Borman, 2008). Yet,
nowadays, many countries are experiencing political or economic changes in Latin America,
Europe, Africa, and Asia (United Nations Development Programme, 2016). Furthermore, the
increasing use of artificial intelligence and job automation has been changing not only the nature
of work, but also job requirements of the workforce (Frey & Osborne, 2017; Manyika et al.,
2017). Thus it seems premature to conclude that our findings have little implication for today’s
world. Future research needs to examine the reciprocal relationships in other economic and
cultural settings. Second, the latent change score approach typically requires equal time intervals
between adjacent measurement occasions. This ensures that the influences of study variables
between adjacent occasions are equal. As in previous research (e.g., Toker & Biron, 2012),
uneven time intervals were used in this research: The time intervals for the first four waves were
approximately 1 year and the time interval was 2 years between the fourth and fifth wave. This
concern may be alleviated, though, because the influences of reunification on people’s work and
life slowed down over time (Dormann & Zapf, 1999; Fay & Sonnentag, 2002). Third, time lag is
a thorny issue for longitudinal research (Dormann & Griffin, 2015). Although consistent with
previous research (Caspi et al., 2005; Roberts et al., 2003; Wu & Griffin, 2012; Wu et al., 2015),
the selection of time lag in this study might not be optimal. Choosing the optimal time lag entails
both empirical evidence and theoretical considerations (Dormann & Griffin, 2015). Fourth,
because positively and negatively worded items were used in the measure of job insecurity, the
internal reliability coefficients for this scale were relatively low (Weijters, Baumgartner, &
Schillewaert, 2013). However, this may reduce the chance to find significant findings and thus
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 29
our study represents a conservative test of relationships related to job insecurity. Additional
analyses with data using items of the job insecurity scale provided similar results. Fifth,
consistent with previous research (Bleidorn, 2015; Caspi et al., 2005; Roberts & Mroczek, 2008;
Tasselli et al., 2018), self-report questionnaires were used as the major way of data collection.
Thus common method bias might influence the findings. However, the latent change score
approach adopted in this study and the findings of this research suggest that this is not a serious
problem. With the latent change score approach, a change score is defined as “the part of the
score of Y[2] that is not identical to Y[1]” (McArdle, 2009, p. 583). If a variable at Time 1 is
affected by common method bias, the same variable at Time 2 will also be influenced to the
same extent (there is no theoretical reason to expect otherwise). As such, the change variable
between Time 1 and Time 2 should be free from common method bias. Given that our
hypotheses focused on change-related relationships, it seems unlikely that common method bias
led to spurious significant results. This is probably the reason why we did not observe significant
effect of dispositional optimism on changes of social support, nor vice versa.
Future research directions. Future research should explore change-related reciprocal
relationships with other work experiences such as challenging work experiences (DeRue &
Wellman, 2009), stressors, and leadership. For example, leader behaviors play a role because
they influence both dispositional optimism and social support at work. Given the relationship
between leadership behaviors and dispositional optimism also tends to be reciprocal, including
one more variable will to a great extent complicate the bivariate relationship examined in this
study. Future research should explore such trivariate relationships more thoroughly. In addition,
future research should examine mechanisms for personality development, which has been
understudied in personality psychology (Roberts & Nickel, 2017). Organizational scholars need
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 30
consider securing large research funds to launch large-scale longitudinal research in the future to
tackle such issues in greater depth. Last, recent research suggests that state optimism is a
component of psychological capital (Luthans, Avey, Avolio, & Peterson, 2010; Luthans, Avolio,
Avey, & Norman, 2007). While it is unknow whether dispositional optimism and the other three
constructs of psychological capital also represent a underlying dispositional construct, future
research can examine change-related reciprocal relationships for the other three components of
psychological capital to test whether this is true.
Practical Implications
Findings of this study offer important implications for organizations and employees to
enhance employee career development. Our findings that income and job insecurity changed
one’s disposition to be optimistic have important implications for employees to effectively
manage their careers. The findings suggest that employees should be mindful of the fundamental
influences of their work experiences on altering their personality traits. If they are interested in
maintaining or enhancing their dispositional optimism, they need to strategically create or seek
out work environments that provide them with more opportunities of getting ahead (e.g., high
levels of income and low job insecurity). Although great levels of career success are pursued by
most employees, the findings regarding their influences on changing dispositional optimism
provide employees with a more crucial reason to do so. In addition, our finding that the effect of
dispositional optimism on changing work variables received support only on job insecurity
serves a sobering note for both organizations and employees to introduce positive psychology
interventions to enhance individual optimism (Seligman, 2006). Dispositional optimism did not
have a significant impact on changing income, an objective indicator of career success. Thus,
interventions aiming at enhancing optimism may more likely have an effect on changing
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 31
subjective rather than objective work outcomes. The notion is echoed by the criticism from
Hackman (2009) who stated that the effect of positive psychological interventions should be
examined more rigorously beyond employee perceptions.
Conclusion
As an important indicator of positive thinking, dispositional optimism has garnered much
attention from both scholars and lay people. Drawing from the TESSERA framework (Wrzus &
Roberts, 2017) and the dispositional optimism literature, the current study served as a first
attempt to integrate the two seemingly contrasting perspectives in the literature on dispositional
optimism: The selection effect of optimism and the socialization effect of life experiences on
altering optimism. The findings provided support for the importance of getting ahead in
enhancing dispositional optimism and a reciprocal relationship between dispositional optimism
and job insecurity. Future research should examine personality development in longitudinal
research as “one of the most vital outcomes of organizational experience” (Tasselli et al., 2018;
p. 44). Future research also need to investigate change-related reciprocal relationships between
other personality traits and work experiences in order to unravel more intriguing interplays
between the agentic person and the work environment (Bandura, 2001)
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 32
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Table 1
Sample Characteristics Across Time
Sample characteristics
Wave 1
Wave 2
Wave 4
Wave 5
Gender (% male)
52.1
52.2
50.7
50.8
Average age
40.51
41.51
43.74
45.58
Sample size
530
536
474
486
Occupation (%)
Manufacturing and construction
14.8
---
---
6.6
White collar
17.2
---
---
13.0
Catering, cleaning, transportation
8.2
---
---
4.4
Trade
4.4
---
---
6.4
Education
7.8
---
---
6.8
Repair
4.9
---
---
3.5
Maintenance
4.9
---
---
2.7
Managerial work
5.7
---
---
4.7
Research
10.9
---
---
6.2
Security
1.5
---
---
0.5
Other
18.1
---
---
15.3
Missing
1.6
---
---
29.9
Note. Information on occupation from Wave 2 to Wave 4 were not available.
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 41
Table 2
Model Fit Indices for Testing Measurement Invariance and CFAs
Model
χ2 (df)
CFI
TLI
RMSEA
SRMR
ΔCFI
ΔRMSEA
ΔSRMR
Dispositional optimism
Configural
equivalence
1398.46*** (662)
.920
.906
.045
.087
----
----
----
Metric equivalence
1437.73*** (690)
.919
.909
.045
.089
-.001
.000
.002
Job insecurity
Configural
equivalence
297.70** (77)
.896
.859
.074
.181
----
----
----
Metric equivalence
160.74** (85)
.964
.956
.041
.058
.068
-.027
-.123
Coworker support
Configural
equivalence
118.72** (77)
.985
.979
.032
.034
----
----
----
Metric equivalence
125.03** (85)
.986
.982
.030
.037
.001
-.002
.003
Supervisor support
Configural
equivalence
94.04 (77)
.995
.993
.021
.038
----
----
----
Metric equivalence
102.09 (85)
.995
.993
.020
.044
.000
-.001
.006
CFA, first wave
152.27*** (98)
.979
.971
.032
.043
----
----
----
CFA, second wave
168.80*** (98)
.972
.962
.037
.044
----
----
----
CFA, third wave
157.00** (98)
.974
.963
.035
.050
----
----
----
CFA, fourth wave
171.00*** (98)
.964
.950
.040
.043
----
----
----
CFA, fifth wave
113.77 (98)
.992
.989
.018
.037
----
----
----
Unified model: CFA
and measurement
equivalence
4001.44***
(2955)
.945
.933
.025
.056
----
----
----
Note. N = 276-536. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.
CFI = Comparative Fit Index, TLI = TuckerLewis Index, RMSEA = Root Mean Square
Error of Approximation, SRMR = Standardized Root Mean Square Residual.
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 42
42
Table 3
Means, SDs, and Correlations for the Study Variables
M
SD
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
1. Dispositional optimism T1
4.80
.85
---
2. Income a T1
6.95
.47
.04
---
3. Job insecurity T1
2.90
.77
-.24**
.01
---
4. Coworker support T1
2.97
.63
.10*
.02
-.10*
---
5. Supervisor support T1
2.72
.72
.15**
.12*
-.13**
.41**
---
6. Dispositional optimism T2
4.75
.84
.65**
.05
-.20**
.09
.06
---
7. Income a T2
7.12
.58
.05
.61**
-.11*
-.06
.09
.04
---
8. Job insecurity T2
2.60
.72
-.25**
-.02
.59**
-.12*
-.09
-.31**
-.20**
---
9. Coworker support T2
3.02
.62
.07
-.01
-.05
.54**
.25**
.02
-.01
-.09
---
10. Supervisor support T2
2.86
.75
.09
.12*
-.09
.30**
.52**
.10
.14**
-.12*
.44**
---
11. Dispositional optimism T3
4.73
.85
.65**
-.03
-.21**
.10*
.06
.70**
-.02
-.30**
.05
.06
---
12. Income a T3
7.34
.53
.03
.50**
-.15**
.01
.14**
.02
.59**
-.14**
-.06
.08
-.01
13. Job insecurity T3
2.50
.74
-.28**
-.11*
.44**
-.04
-.08
-.29**
-.22**
.62**
-.11*
-.15**
-.35**
14. Coworker support T3
3.00
.56
.12*
-.07
-.02
.39**
.25**
.06
-.11*
-.01
.49**
.26**
.10
15. Supervisor support T3
2.85
.71
.10
.05
-.08
.27**
.35**
.03
.06
-.11
.30**
.41**
.10
16. Dispositional optimism T4
4.76
.83
.58**
.04
-.18**
.09
.09
.67**
.04
-.23**
.04
.09
.75**
17. Income a T4
7.48
.54
.01
.47**
-.11*
.06
.10
.05
.54**
-.20**
-.02
.12*
.02
18. Job insecurity T4
2.47
.67
-.21**
-.05
.47**
-.04
-.10
-.23**
-.15**
.62**
-.05
-.01
-.27**
19. Coworker support T4
3.05
.58
.03
-.15**
-.06
.38**
.21**
.00
-.02
-.06
.41**
.18**
.05
20. Supervisor support T4
2.92
.68
.09
-.01
-.13*
.23**
.28**
.07
.05
-.21**
.15*
.30**
.08
21. Dispositional optimism T5
4.81
.83
.53**
.05
-.15**
.10*
.10
.60**
.04
-.24**
.08
.08
.66**
22. Income a T5
7.58
.55
.05
.36**
-.04
.02
.12*
.04
.45**
-.10
-.04
.13*
.01
23. Job insecurity T5
2.51
.66
-.18**
-.10
.39**
-.13*
-.08
-.19**
-.16**
.53**
-.19**
-.13*
-.24**
24. Coworker support T5
3.09
.56
.03
-.15**
-.15**
.32**
.15**
.10
-.14**
-.13*
.34**
.18**
.07
25. Supervisor support T5
2.93
.67
.06
-.02
-.06
.17**
.18**
.06
-.01
-.08
.19**
.20**
.04
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 43
43
Table 3, Continued
Means, SDs, and Correlations for the Study Variables
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
13. Job insecurity T3
-.27**
---
14. Coworker support T3
-.08
-.15**
---
15. Supervisor support T3
.06
-.24**
.44**
---
16. Dispositional optimism T4
.05
-.27**
.07
.08
---
17. Income a T4
.80**
-.25**
-.09
.05
.04
---
18. Job insecurity T4
-.16**
.67**
-.07
-.16**
-.33**
-.16**
---
19. Coworker support T4
-.05
-.13*
.59**
.16**
.06
-.01
-.15**
---
20. Supervisor support T4
.03
-.15**
.21**
.52**
.10
.07
-.27**
.37**
---
21. Dispositional optimism T5
.01
-.26**
.11*
.07
.70**
.11*
-.35**
.10
.12*
---
22. Income a T5
.65**
-.26**
-.01
.04
.02
.68**
-.13*
.03
.06
.04
---
23. Job insecurity T5
-.12*
.56**
-.12*
-.20**
-.26**
-.11*
.68**
-.18**
-.26**
-.29**
-.11*
---
24. Coworker support T5
-.10
-.09
.42**
.21**
.13*
-.06
-.11
.48**
.26**
.13*
-.09
-.15**
---
25. Supervisor support T5
-.06
-.05
.28**
.39**
.11
-.01
-.15**
.26**
.48**
.13*
-.01
-.23**
.41**
Note. N = 276-537, respectively. * p < .05; ** p < .01. a indicates that natural logarithm transformation of income was used.
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 44
44
Table 4
Fitness and Parameter Estimates for Bivariate Latent Change Score Models with Dispositional Optimism and Work Experience
Variables
Bivariate LCS Model
Model fit indices
Parameter estimates (S.E.)
Dispositional optimism
with
χ2 (df)
CFI
TLI
RMSEA
Lagged effect
of optimism,
γ1
Lagged effect of
work experience,
γ2
Mean of Slope 2,
linear trajectory for
work experience
Mean of Intercept 2,
starting point for
work experience
Income,
Model 1
220.70*** (58)
.94
.93
.072
.01 (.01)
.09* (.04)
1.37*** (.27)
7.08*** (.10)
Job insecurity
Model 2
103.51*** (58)
.98
.98
.038
-.21*** (.04)
-.12* (.05)
1.99*** (.24)
1.77*** (.16)
Coworker support,
Model 3
83.59* (58)
.99
.99
.029
.01 (.02)
.07 (.06)
.97* (.42)
3.34*** (.13)
Supervisor support,
Model 4
92.58** (58)
.98
.98
.034
.01 (.03)
.06 (.05)
.52 (.30)
2.76*** (.16)
Note. N = 276-536. * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001. Age and gender were controlled. Parameters are unstandardized. CFI =
Comparative Fit Index, TLI = TuckerLewis Index, RMSEA=Root Mean Square Error of Approximation.
Optimism, Work Experiences, & Reciprocal Relationship 45
45
Figure 1: Bivariate Latent Change Score Model for Dispositional Optimism and One Work Experience Variable.
This is a simplified representation of a bivariate latent change score model for ease of presentation. See McArdle (2001; 2009) for
more details. DO = dispositional optimism; WE = work experience; ΔDO = change in dispositional optimism; ΔWE = change in work
experience.
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