Opposing Affective and Cognitive Effects of Prevention Focus on Counterproductive Work Behavior

Abstract

Purpose

Regulatory focus is a crucial self-regulation variable that influences employee workplace behavior. However, research findings to date have been equivocal with respect to the relation of prevention focus with counterproductive work behavior (CWB). On the one hand, prevention focus sensitizes people to experience high activation negative emotions. Such emotions prompt aggressive behavior, suggesting a positive relation of prevention focus with CWB through this affective route. On the other hand, prevention focus also sensitizes people to fulfill obligations and abide by rules. Such obligations align employee behavior with organizational norms, suggesting a negative relation of prevention focus with CWB through this cognitive route. To better understand the nature of this prevention focus–CWB relationship, we examined these underlying affective and cognitive mechanisms simultaneously in two multi-wave studies.

Methodology and Findings

In study 1, data were collected from 151 full-time employees across two time points, and the results showed that prevention focus was positively related to both deviant behavior and withdrawal. In study 2, data were collected from 199 full-time employees across four time points, and we found that prevention focus has a significant negative indirect effect on withdrawal via felt obligation. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings for the regulatory focus and CWB literatures.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In study 2, we measured and controlled for promotion focus in order to verify that prevention focus has unique relations with CWB.

  2. 2.

    An independent t test revealed that prevention focus for those who did not complete survey 2 was not significantly different from prevention focus for those who completed 2 surveys, t(249) = .20, ns.

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Correspondence to Szu-Han (Joanna) Lin.

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Lin, S.(., Johnson, R.E. Opposing Affective and Cognitive Effects of Prevention Focus on Counterproductive Work Behavior. J Bus Psychol 33, 283–296 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-017-9493-x

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Keywords

  • Regulatory focus
  • Affect
  • Counterproductive workplace behavior