Why you should care
Because even more than free snacks, cultivating a proactive workplace will feed a company’s bottom line — and employees’ satisfaction.
The age-old debate between nature and nurture has entered the workplace, and the bad news is that you can no longer blame your laziness on the genes your parents gave you. The good news? You might instead blame it on your boss.
New research from Kansas State University shows that employee proactivity is determined not by genetics or the environment alone, but rather by the interaction between the two. That means you may have innate tendencies when it comes to seizing the initiative, but your environment is also responsible for how eager you might be to tackle projects at work — giving employers a leading role in bringing out their team’s proactivity.
Wendong Li, assistant professor of psychological sciences at Kansas State University, discovered this by examining a nationwide database of identical and fraternal twins. Identical twins share 100 percent of their genes, while fraternal twins on average share only half their genes. By comparing sets of twins — both identical and fraternal — Li was able to compare the similarities and differences between them. Li found a 40/60 split:
of individuals’ differences were attributable to distinct genetics, while
were caused by environmental factors.
Li’s findings — still tentative until follow-up research is conducted — suggest that our work experiences can change how proactive we are on the job. And being proactive isn’t about being a brownnoser like Dwight Schrute. Proactive employees don’t sit around waiting to be told what to do, and taking the initiative can generate excitement to take something on, a sense of accomplishment and ultimately job satisfaction. In other words: exactly the type of employee every company needs.
But the message here is that proactivity isn’t simply rooted inside each person. Employers who wonder why certain employees aren’t stepping up need to take a look in the mirror. Workplace communication expert Skip Weisman says proactivity in the workplace comes down to motivation and the “inspiring purpose” for why the organization exists. That’s something leaders in the workplace have to effectively communicate to everyone. “When we know why we’re doing what we’re doing and we’re inspired … that’s inspirational, it’s motivational, internally,” said Weisman, who works with businesses to improve workplace communication.
Of course there are other ways for organizations to keep employees engaged in and excited about their work. Job perks like Ping-Pong tables and a steady supply of kale chips and kombucha contribute to a healthy company culture, but benefits like telecommuting flexibility, maternity/paternity leave, allowing smartphone breaks and even giving out chocolate could go further in keeping employees satisfied — and productive.
Moral of the story: We all need to be proactive to be proactive. Meta, isn’t it?