Network Research Highlight: Motivation, Exhaustion, and Behavior

By: Keaton Fletcher

In a recent paper, WSC Network Member, Mo Wang, along with a team of researchers led by Jaclyn Koopmann studied the relationship between what typically motivates us and our behavior at work. Specifically, using a sample of Chinese nurses, the research team found that people who have more of a promotion focus (motivated by potential gains, rewards, and aspirations) are less likely to feel emotionally exhausted and therefore more likely to help others at work but less likely to share their ideas and opinions. On the other hand, workers who have more of a prevention focus (motivated by potential losses, punishments, and responsibilities) are more likely to feel emotionally exhausted, and thus less likely to help others and more likely to share their ideas and opinions. However, the relationship between prevention focus and emotional exhaustion is not as straightforward as that of promotion focus. This relationship is weaker for people who engage in a lot of self-regulation, specifically reappraisal. In other words, people who change the way they think about situations in order to change their emotions, do not experience as much emotional exhaustion as a result of their high levels of prevention focus. This finding, in particular, is promising because self-regulation and reappraisal are skills that can be trained and changed over time. So, for employees who are typically motivated by their fears of loss/punishment and perceived responsibilities, it may be helpful to provide resources or trainings on how to reappraise situations. This training, however, may not be effective for people who are high in promotion focus, and low in prevention focus, given that reappraisal did not change the relationship between promotion focus and emotional exhaustion.

In the fast-paced, modern workforce, where job insecurity abounds, and failures may seem insurmountable, these findings provide hope that, at least for some outcomes, changing the way you think about the situation, may help make your (work) life a little better. Further, because the behavioral outcomes of this study focused on those citizenship behaviors that are directed at coworkers, reappraisal may actually impact those around you, not just yourself.

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