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When Positives and Negatives Collide: Evidence for a Systematic Model of Employees’ Strategies for Coping with Ambivalence

Abstract

Although ambivalence is a common phenomenon in organizations, the scientific literature on this topic remains at a nascent stage. In particular, little is known about how employees cope with ambivalence. To address this gap, this paper examines a systematic model of employees’ strategies for coping with ambivalence. In study 1, using various samples, we develop a multidimensional scale of employees’ strategies for coping with ambivalence. The results reveal four distinct strategies, which fall into two categories: proactive strategies (i.e., holism and compromise) and reactive strategies (i.e., domination and avoidance). In study 2, we examine the potential antecedents and outcomes of these four strategies, building on the conservation of resources theory. The results show that, unlike domination and avoidance, holism and compromise strategies buffer the negative impacts of ambivalence on employees’ tasks and innovative performance. Moreover, employees are particularly likely to use holism and compromise approaches if their personality or job encourages proactivity. Taken together, these findings support a new coping-oriented perspective on ambivalence, reveal why some employees choose (in)effective ways to deal with ambivalence, and show how effective coping can be fostered.

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Acknowledgements

This manuscript is based primarily on the first author’s dissertation. We thank the first author’s dissertation committee for their comments. We are indebted to Blake Ashforth, Shelley Brickson, Mark Shanley, and Christina Li for insightful discussions on the manuscript. We also appreciate the invaluable feedback from the 2018 Southern Management Association. This research was partly supported by a grant from the Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, Program for Innovation Research, awarded to Yahua Cai (2020110927).

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Correspondence to Bingqing Wu.

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Wu, B., Schuh, S.C., Wei, H. et al. When Positives and Negatives Collide: Evidence for a Systematic Model of Employees’ Strategies for Coping with Ambivalence. J Bus Psychol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-022-09818-y

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Keywords

  • Responses to ambivalence
  • Ambivalence toward the organization
  • Coping
  • Proactive personality
  • Enriched job characteristics