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Organization Science

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Challenge stressors, Employee performance, Innovative work behavior, Job performance, Leader-member exchange


Employees with a proactive personality tend to show exceptional initiative and perseverance, suggesting that they are relatively impervious to stressors. Yet some evidence suggests that proactive personality may exacerbate the effect of stressors on strain. In this study, we clarify these conflicting ideas by systematically distinguishing between different types of chronic work stressors. Integrating the conservation-of-resources model and the challenge–hindrance stressor framework, we suggest that employees with more proactive personalities are especially sensitive to the extent to which chronic work stressors are amenable to their resource investments. Specifically, we hypothesize that, for more proactive employees, challenge stressors (opportunities more amenable to resource investment) lead to less strain (i.e., emotional exhaustion and turnover intentions) but also that hindrance stressors (demands less amenable to proactive expectations of achievement) lead to relatively more strain. We further propose perceived organizational support as a mediator of these interactive effects wherein challenging opportunities are interpreted by proactive employees as particularly indicative of high support and hindering demands as particularly indicative of low support, ultimately leading to lower and higher perceptions of strain, respectively. A three-wave survey of 256 architects generally supports these hypotheses: the effects of challenge stressors on emotional exhaustion and turnover intentions were significantly attenuated and the effects of hindrance stressors on these outcomes were significantly exacerbated for more proactive people. These effects were mediated (partially for exhaustion, fully for turnover intentions) by perceived support. Follow-up analysis demonstrates that this interactive effect extends to turnover behavior 2.5 years later, fully mediated by perceived support.


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