How to Thrive At Work: Hannes Zacher

Author: Yendi McNeil

What does it mean to thrive at work and how do we achieve this goal? Thriving at work has been described as a positive psychological state accompanied by a sense of vitality and learning (Kleine, Rudolph, & Zacher, 2019), but understanding what leads to, and results from, thriving at work is a much more complex question. Work Science Center Network Member, and Professor of Work and Organizational Psychology at Leipzig University, Hannes Zacher, has tackled this question from a range of different angles including aging within the workforce, the use of selection, optimization, and compensation (SOC) strategies, and the relationship between wisdom and thriving at work.

Wisdom may be one tool that individuals can draw upon to help them thrive at work. Although there is no universally accepted definition, wisdom has been defined as a complex concept in which an unbiased and open attitude combined with self-reflection allows for reliable judgement and profound insight (Zacher & Kunzmann, 2019). Wisdom empowers employees to break from the status quo and well-known traditions and take on more personal risks. Results from a meta-analysis suggest wisdom to be a potential resource that helps address common problems faced in the modern workplace (i.e. job stress, incivility, abusive supervision, and lack of ethical, social and environmental corporate responsibility) (Zacher & Kunzmann, 2019). Gaining wisdom-related knowledge can lead to job crafting and better coping strategies (emotional and motivational) (Zacher & Kunzmann, 2019). Some strategies used to nurture wisdom in the workplace include openly conversing with respected others about life problems, engaging in mental travels while talking about wisdom tasks (intervention), and self-distancing from emotional situations and emphasizing self-focus (Zacher & Kunzmann, 2019). To implement these strategies, companies can provide interventions and mentorship to employees. For example, employees can be trained to be aware of the lifespan context of work problems, or to develop better understanding and perception of problems from different perspectives including those of co-workers. Lastly, individuals can work around uncertainty and gain an understanding of their own abilities. 

Just as wisdom can aid with the expansion of one’s perspective and problem solving, individuals’ self-regulation strategies can help maximize innovative performance, one method of thriving at work. Using SOC strategies actively manages one’s limited resources in taxing situations which can affect outcomes like job satisfaction, job engagement, and job performance (Breevaart & Zacher, 2019). Breevart and Zacher asked ninety-one German employees to complete a set of surveys every day for five workdays. Findings showed that employees make more use of SOC strategies when they are given more job autonomy, leading to more innovative performance. While using SOC strategies, employees develop a sense of agency which enables them to create and implement new innovative ideas. With this sense of agency, employees gain confidence in their ideas and are better able to persuade others to implement them. Time pressure can further enhance the effects of SOC strategies on innovative performance, but only if the time pressure is perceived as a challenge (not a threat). When implementing these findings, employees should be trained to ask for more autonomy in their job (job crafting), and organizations should provide autonomy for their employees to allow for increased use of SOC strategies.

Thriving at work is not just an outcome of our abilities (e.g., wisdom) or skills (e.g., SOC strategies); our age may influence how we thrive and are committed to our work and careers. To explore this, Zacher (2019) conducted a meta-analysis about the relationship between aging and career commitment. Overall, one’s motivation to continue their career increases with age, but conflictingly, more focus is also put on values outside of the individual’s career (e.g., family roles; leisure activities), thereby causing disengagement (Katz, Rudolph, Zacher, 2019). This change may cause a decrease in commitment to one’s career. The drop in commitment as one ages should be interpreted by the individual and employer as a signal for role transition rather than retirement. Moreover, continuance commitment (i.e., a perceived need to stay in an organization) has one of the strongest relationships with age. This may be because employees accumulate and invest resources in the organization over the course of their career. The loss in investments can affect one’s commitment to a career especially at an advanced age. Organizations can increase one’s career commitment by increasing employees’ job autonomy especially for older employees.

In a comprehensive meta-analysis, Anne-Kathrin Kleine and WSC Network Members Cort Rudolph and Hannes Zacher (2019) holistically examined what influences and results from thriving at work. Individual characteristics (Psychological capital, Core self-evaluations, Proactive personality, Positive affect, Work engagement, Negative affect, & Perceived stress), relational characteristics (Heedful relating, Supportive coworker behavior, Workplace civility, Supportive leadership behavior, Empowering leadership behavior, Transformational leadership, Leader-member exchange quality, Perceived organizational support, Trust, & Workplace incivility), and outcomes (Subjective health, Job satisfaction, Commitment, Positive attitudes toward self-development, Task performance, Organizational citizenship behavior, Creative performance, Burnout, & Turnover intentions) were analyzed as predictors of thriving. Overall, thriving at work had strong relationships with psychological capital, proactive personality, work engagement, heedful relating, LMX, and perceived organizational support. In terms of outcomes, thriving at work was a strong predictor of creative performance, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and predicted lower levels of burnout. Organizations should improve the work conditions in order to foster positive relationships between coworkers, supervisors, and ultimately the company. 

Taken together, the recent work of WSC Network Member, Hannes Zacher, provides a broad understanding of thriving at work. Specifically, to promote thriving at work, organizations should cultivate wisdom-related knowledge and behaviors, increase job autonomy for employees, and improve perceived organizational support and leader-member exchange quality. 

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