Workplace duties or opportunities? Challenge stressors, regulatory focus, and creativity

Workplace duties or opportunities? Challenge stressors, regulatory focus, and creativity

Motivation to achieve gains in the workplace is  beneficial for creativity when faced with challenge stressors. The “Workplace duties or opportunities? Challenge stressors, regulatory focus, and creativity” article examined when workplace demands and their appraisal either impair or lead to creativity.


Terms used…

Creativity: generation of of new and useful ideas (Amabile, 1988, 1996).

Regulatory focus theory (Higgins, 1997): Looks at the relationship between motivation and the nature one takes to achieve a goal. There are two types: promotion and prevention.

Motivation with a promotion focus: motivation to achieve gains.

Motivation with a prevention focus: motivation to ensure security and avoid losses

Stressors: workplace events that require an adaptive response (Kahn & Byosiere, 1992; Sonnentag & Frese, 2002).


Who conducted the study?

Claudia A. Sacramento, Doris Fay, and Michael A. West.

Claudia A. Sacramento is from Aston Business School, Work and Organisational Psychology in Birmingham, UK.

Doris Fay is from University of Potsdam, Department of Psychology, Work and Organizational Psychology in Potsdam, Germany.

Michael A. West is from Lancaster University Management School in Lancaster, UK.


What did they find?

In study 1a, the researchers found that when promotion focus increases, the relationship between work demands and creativity strengthens. When promotion focus was high, the relationship between work demands and creativity was positive. This wasn’t true for when promotion focus was low. There however wasn’t a significant effect of work demands or regulatory focus on creativity.

In study 2b, the researchers saw that creativity scores were higher when in high work demands and promotion focus conditions. Low scores were seen in those in high work demands and prevention focus conditions. Participants persuaded with a promotion focus had better results in the SMT and in the UUT. Work demands did not have a significant effect.

In study 2, the results showed that promotion focus and prevention focus mixed with job demands predicts creativity on the individual level. The results also indicated a negative relationship when promotion focus is low and a negative relationship between creativity and job demands when prevention focus is high. There was no significant effect of regulatory focus or job demands. On the team level, results indicated team job demands mixed with team promotion focus predicted creativity. This was not true for team prevention focus. An increased team promotion focus predicts a stronger relationship between job demands and creativity.


How did they find these results?

The researchers combined self-regulation theories into the challenge-hindrance stressors framework to see the effect of stressors on creativity. The researchers conducted two studies, with one experimental setting and one field setting.


Study 1, the experimental study, contained two experiments to see how trait and state regulatory focus affects the relationship between work demands, an induced challenge stressor, and creativity. A random sample of 75 UK students participated in the study. 58 of these participants were females. Every participant was randomly assigned to 1 of 4 conditions. These were Work Demands (high vs. low; used for 1a and 1b) x State Regulatory Focus (promotion vs. prevention; relevant for 1b). Study 1a (trait)  tested the role of regulatory focus on the effects of induced demands on creative insight. Study 1b (state) tested interactive effects of induced regulatory focus on demands and creativity.

In study 1a, participants were only introduced to work demands then were asked to do the Gestalt Completion Task (GCT), the first creativity task. After, participants did a questionnaire that included a work demands manipulation check.

In study 1b, the participants were introduced to the regulatory focus manipulation and repeated the work demands manipulation.  They then did the Snowy Pictures Test (SPT) and the Unusual Uses Test (UUT), which are creativity tasks. Then the participants answered a questionnaire that included manipulation checks and measures of potential mediating variables.


Study 2 was an attempt to replicate a field study to examine how the interaction between regulatory focus and stressors affects creativity of individuals and teams in a sample of R&D professionals. Regulatory focus theory was integrated into this study to examine significance in results of creativity. Participants came from 61 Portuguese organizations. The final sample included 18 organizations. This included 123 team members and 36 leaders.


Why are these findings important?

These findings are important because there are inconsistent findings on the effects challenge stressors have on individual and team creativity. By combining self-regulation theory the researchers outlined boundaries for when challenge stressors lead to greater creativity. Many organizations view creativity to be important for innovation (Amabile, 1988; Woodman, Sawyer, & Griffin, 1993). Creativity is important for survival and success. The world is a competitive place, therefore economic forces demand for creative thinking, creating work stressors like high demands on employees. This study shows when work stressors become more negative and positive for an individual’s creativity.


An individual’s view of his or her work environment determines their response to challenge stressors. This then determines if they view challenge stressors as opportunities for achievement or as something that involves avoidance of losses. If the individual sees challenge stressors as opportunities for achievement then they will have more creative responses. If the individual views challenge stressors as a situation that involves avoidance of losses, then that hinders creative responses.


Where can these results be applied?

These findings can be applied as keys to innovation and financial performance. These findings can be used to develop people management strategies that allow employees to respond creatively to work demands as opposed to being swamped by them.

With these results, employers can find ways to promote creativity in their employers. Companies such as Apple are reliant on employees to be creative under stressful or challenging circumstances. Apple had the right focus and were able to innovate effectively.

Sacramento, Claudia A., Doris Fay, and Michael A. West. “Workplace Duties or Opportunities? Challenge Stressors, Regulatory Focus, and Creativity.” Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes121.2 (2013): 141-57. Web.

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