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Proactivity at Work: Applying Positive Psychology to Organizations

Sharon K. Parker, UWA Business School
Deanne N. Den Hartog, University of Amsterdam

Proactivity is about making things happen. It is an example of a positive psychology concept because it is concerned with people’s optimal functioning. When individuals are being proactive at work, they think ahead to take control of situations rather than passively enduring the situation or acting only when prompted. Examples of proactivity include making suggestions, using one’s initiative to improve work methods, taking charge to prevent problems, and scanning the environment to identify opportunities. However, although there is good evidence that behaving proactively enhances job performance, career success, and innovation, it is often not an easy option. Being proactive can be interpersonally “risky”—for example, trying to change the situation often engenders resistance from colleagues and even supervisors. How then does one motivate such behavior in the workplace? This seminar is designed to help I-O psychologists diagnose their own and others’ proactivity and then to design work contexts to promote proactivity. We identify job design, leadership practices, and team climate as factors that affect individuals’ proactivity by promoting “can do,” “reason to,” and “energized to” motivational pathways. We also describe the proactivity paradox that can occur when managers expect people to be proactive in the way that the managers themselves would be. We identify how organizations can promote proactivity that is mindful and effective.
This workshop is designed to help you:
•  Summarize basic positive psychology principles and their relevance to work
•  Describe proactivity and explain how it can be motivated
•  Diagnose your own and others’ level of proactivity
•  Design work environments (job designs, team climate, and leadership practices) that foster mindful and effective proactivity
•  Practice setting proactive goals
Sharon K. Parker (PhD, UWA Business School) is a professor of organizational psychology and currently at the UWA Business School. She is an associate editor for the Journal of Applied Psychology and a representative-at-large for the Academy of Management’s OB Division. Her research interests are focused on proactive behavior, work design, self-efficacy, and employee perspective taking. She has published 5 books, over 35 internationally refereed journal articles (including publications in journals such as the Journal of Applied Psychology and Academy of Management Journal), over 30 book chapters and encyclopedia entries, numerous articles in practitioner outlets, and more than 60 technical reports. Sharon has attracted over $1.5 million in research funding, has experience as a consultant and expert witness, and she has taught undergraduate, executive, and postgraduate students on numerous topics.
Deanne N. Den Hartog (PhD, Free University Amsterdam) is a professor of organizational behavior and chair of the HRM-OB group of the Amsterdam Business School of the University of Amsterdam. Her research interests include proactive behavior, leadership, and HRM, and she has taught undergraduate, executive, and postgraduate students in these areas. Her publications include many internationally refereed journal articles (including publications in journals such as the Journal of Applied Psychology) as well as international and Dutch book chapters, books, and research reports. Deanne is on the editorial board of journals such as The Leadership Quarterly, Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, and Applied Psychology: An International Review. Deanne is HR ambassador for the Netherlands for Academy of Management’s HR Division and is a member of the board of directors of the International Association of Applied Psychology.
Coordinator: Lance Ferris, Singapore Management University.