Flow experiences at work: for high need achievers alone?
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    Flow experiences at work: for high need achievers alone? Flow experiences at work: for high need achievers alone? Document Transcript

    • Journal of Organizational BehaviorJ. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com). DOI: 10.1002/job.337 Flow experiences at work: for high need achievers alone? ROBERT EISENBERGER1*, JASON R. JONES1, FLORENCE STINGLHAMBER2, LINDA SHANOCK3 AND AMANDA T. RANDALL4 1 University of Delaware, Newark, Delaware, U.S.A. 2 Hautes Etudes Commerciales—Liege, Belgium 3 University at Albany, State University of New York, U.S.A. 4 Towers Perrin, Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A.Summary Applying Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) flow theory of optimal experience to the workplace, two studies examined the relationships of employees’ perceived skill and challenge at work and need for achievement with their positive mood, intrinsic task interest, and extra-role perfor- mance. Among achievement-oriented employees only, high skill and challenge was associated with greater positive mood, task interest, and performance than other skill/challenge combi- nations. Additionally, positive mood mediated the interactive relationship of skill/challenge and need for achievement with performance. Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.IntroductionHuman potential approaches to work emphasize the contributions of self-actualization, challenge, andgrowth opportunities to job satisfaction and motivation (Alderfer, 1969; Herzberg, 1966; Maslow,1965). Elaborating these accounts, Hackman and Oldham (1976) specified task characteristics of jobsthat might enhance motivation, including the opportunities to use a variety of skills and produce a com-plete piece of work, knowledge that one’s activities have an impact on the lives of others, choice indetermining how to carry out one’s work, and performance feedback. Numerous studies have foundpositive relationships of task characteristics with beneficial outcomes such as job satisfaction, goodhealth, and performance (e.g., Campion & McClelland, 1991; Fried & Ferris, 1987; Gerhart, 1987;Loher, Noe, Moeller, & Fitzgerald, 1985; Schaubroeck, Jones, & Xie, 2001; Steel & Rentsch, 1997;Tiegs, Tetrick, & Fried, 1992). For example, using a longitudinal design, Griffin (1991) found signifi-cant increases in bank tellers’ performance 24 and 48 months following a job redesign interventionaimed at improving employees’ perceptions of Hackman and Oldham’s (1976) task characteristics.* Correspondence to: Robert Eisenberger, Psychology Department, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, U.S.A.E-mail: eisenber@udel.edu Received 11 May 2004 Revised 19 November 2004Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Accepted 28 April 2005
    • 756 R. EISENBERGER ET AL. Skill utilization, involving equivalence between the challenge of one’s work and the ability to meetthat challenge, has been suggested as an additional task characteristic that might contribute to jobsatisfaction and motivation (Gavin & Axlerod, 1977; O’Brien & Dowling, 1980; O’Brien, 1983).Accordingly, O’Brien (1983) found that skill utilization accounted for a significant portion of the var-iance in job satisfaction beyond the job characteristics enumerated by Hackman and Oldham (1976).Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory of optimal experience similarly holds that an individual’s satisfactionand motivation depend on the match between his or her skill and the challenge inherent in the task(Csikszentmihalyi, 1975, 1990; Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1993). However, Csikszentmihalyiemphasizes the intrinsically rewarding and satisfying subjective state, termed flow, which results fromthe combination of high perceived skill and high perceived challenge. According to Csikszentmihalyi (1990, p. 4), the flow experience is a condition ‘‘in which people areso involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter at the time; the experience is so enjoyablethat people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.’’ Flow experiences are suggestedto be intrinsically rewarding because they allow one to become fully involved in a task and stretch hisor her skills and abilities to the limit (Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1993). Csikszentmihalyi (1999)assumed that in addition to increasing intrinsic task interest, the repeated experience of flow in a givencontext would have a pervasive incremental effect on positive mood. Consequently, a job, hobby, orsports activity that repeatedly provided high but manageable challenges would come to have a majorinfluence on positive mood. In contrast to the beneficial outcomes of the combination of high skill and challenge, other combina-tions of skill and challenge are suggested by Csikszentmihalyi to produce less favorable experiences.Activities in which the individual’s skill is perceived to be high relative to the challenge provided bythe task would lead to boredom. Low-perceived skill and high-perceived challenge would produce anxi-ety, while low-perceived skill and low-perceived challenge would result in apathy. Typical studies basedon the flow experience assess the prediction that perceived high skill and high challenge produces a morefavorable subjective experience than other combinations of skill and challenge. Among key findings isthat high skill and challenge was associated with greater positive mood (e.g., Csikszentmihalyi &LeFevre, 1989; Csikszentmihalyi, Rathunde, & Whalen, 1993) and task interest (e.g., Catley & Duda,1997; Csikszentmihalyi & Larson, 1986) than other skill-challenge combinations. Csikszentmihalyi’s theory provides one of the most widely cited explanations for pleasurableabsorption in leisure and sports activities. The association between enjoyable subjective experienceand high skill and challenge has been found in a variety of non-employment settings, such as schooling(Carli, Delle Fave, Massimini, & Carli, 1988; Clarke & Haworth, 1994; Moneta & Csikszentmihalyi,1996), computing (Chen, Wigand, & Nilan, 1999; Trevino & Webster, 1992; Webster, Trevino, &Ryan, 1993), family interaction (Rathunde, 1988), leisure (Csikszentmihalyi & LeFevre, 1989; Graef,Csikszentmihalyi, & McManama Gianinno, 1983; Mannell, Zuzanek, & Larson, 1988), occupationaltherapy (Emerson, 1998; Jacobs, 1994), and competitive and recreational sports (Catley & Duda, 1997;Jackson, 1992; Jackson & Roberts, 1992; Kowal & Fortier, 1999; Stein, Kimiecik, Daniels, & Jackson,1995). However, flow in work settings has received little attention. The opportunity to perform challenging tasks skillfully might have benefits for employees and theirorganizations. Csikszentmihalyi and Rathunde (1993, p. 73) suggested that intrinsic task interest ‘‘fol-lows from the realization that one is growing in complexity as a result of matching one’s skills to dif-ficult challenges.’’ In other words, engagement in high skill and challenge promotes task interestbecause it allows one to hone one’s skills. Employees should take an increased interest in challenging,yet manageable activities because they provide: a sense of achievement, the opportunity to sharpenone’s skills, and a favorable subjective experience (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). In addition toincreasing task interest, the combination of high skill and challenge at work might promote positivemood. George and Brief (1992, p. 320) suggested that the successful completion of work activitiesCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • HIGH SKILL AND CHALLENGE 757demonstrating competence, worth, or achievement, would enhance positive mood. Similarly, Isen,Daubman, and Nowicki (1987) maintained that perceptions of competence and self-worth wouldincrease positive mood. In one of the few studies involving flow at work, Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre (1989) reported thatthe combination of high skill and challenge occurred three times more often during work than leisure(see also Haworth & Hill, 1992), and was associated with greater positive mood than other combina-tions of skill and challenge. Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre’s (1989) initial findings highlight jobs as amajor source of flow for adults and raise basic issues, examined in the present studies, concerning theaffective and motivational consequences of different combinations of skill and challenge at work.Need for Achievement and FlowCsikszentmihalyi and LeFevre (1989) found marked individual differences among employees in theextent to which high skill and challenge was preferred to other combinations of skill and challenge atwork. Approximately half of the employees in the sample expressed greater motivation for work inwhich they had high skill and faced high challenge rather than low skill and low challenge. The otherhalf of the sample, in contrast, reported greater motivation under conditions of low skill and low chal-lenge. Perhaps dispositional differences among employees account for these findings. Csikszentmihalyi (Csikszentmihalyi & Csikszentmihalyi, 1988; Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde,1993) and Adlai-Gail (1994) suggested that some individuals might have an autotelic personality,which would lead them to be especially active in seeking out challenging tasks for which they perceivethemselves highly skillful. In addition, such individuals would work hard to create their ownchallenges in mundane tasks. However, theory and research have yet to clearly identify the character-istics of the autotelic personality or its relationship with high skill and challenge. In one such attempt,Csikszentmihalyi et al. (1993) found that talented teenage students who scored high on a constellationof personality characteristics involving achievement, endurance, inquisitiveness, and aestheticism(Jackson, 1984) reported experiencing high skill and challenge a greater proportion of the time overthe course of a week than their low scoring counterparts. However, Csikszentmihalyi et al. (1993) didnot isolate the relative contributions of these personality characteristics. Nor did they consider howpersonality might influence the degree to which high skill and challenge is associated with an elevatedsubjective experience relative to other skill-challenge combinations. Need for achievement might explain some of the individual differences in motivation for high skilland challenge versus other skill-challenge combinations, as found by Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre(1989). According to Atkinson (1964) and McClelland (1961, 1987), persons with a high need forachievement base their self-regard on the successful development and utilization of talents and skills.Fineman (1977, p. 2) described achievement-oriented individuals as ‘‘striving to do well, desiring tofully utilize one’s capacities to succeed and to be judged by oneself and others on this success.’’McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, and Lowell (1953) associated the achievement need with a desire to sur-pass personal standards of excellence. The combination of high perceived skill and challenge at work may often meet the achievement-oriented employee’s desires to surpass personal standards of excellence. Moreover, as suggested byCsikszentmihalyi (1990), high skill and challenge allows one to perform at the limits of one’s capa-cities and hone one’s skills, conditions that achievement-oriented individuals desire (Csikszentmihalyi& Rathunde, 1993; Fineman, 1977). Thus, achievement-oriented individuals should experienceenhanced interest and elevated positive mood in work activities that provide high skill and challenge.Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • 758 R. EISENBERGER ET AL.Achievement-oriented employees should find other skill-challenge combinations less inviting:low-skill/high-challenge should produce a low probability of success (deCharms & Carpenter,1968; Hamilton, 1974; Karabenick & Youssef, 1968; Raynor & Entin, 1982; Trope, 1975; Trope &Brickman, 1975), and low challenge paired with low or high skill should fail to provide exacting stan-dards of excellence. In contrast to achievement-oriented employees, employees having a low need for achievementshould be less interested in activities that provide high skill and challenge at work. Individuals lowin need for achievement experience greater anxiety in achievement settings and try to avoid compe-tence assessment (Atkinson, 1974; Trope, 1975). Employees with a low achievement need may thusfind the combination of high skill and challenge less satisfying than would achievement-orientedemployees, resulting in lesser degrees of positive mood and task interest. Hypothesis 1: High perceived task skill and challenge will be more strongly associated with positive mood and task interest among employees having a high need for achievement than among employ- ees having a low need for achievement.Need for Achievement, Mood, and Organizational SpontaneityOver the last decade, organizational researchers have become increasingly interested in the influenceof employees’ positive mood on organizational outcomes. Positive mood has been found to be asso-ciated with employees’ increased extra-role performance (Eisenberger, Armeli, Rexwinkel, Lynch, &Rhoades, 2001; George & Brief, 1992). George and Brief suggest that positive mood primes employ-ees to think about favorable characteristics of co-workers, leading to helping behavior. They also arguethat positive mood should promote creative thinking, leading to creative suggestions. Consistent withthese views, Eisenberger et al. (2001) found that positive mood enhanced a variety of extra-role activ-ities, including helping co-workers and making creative suggestions. Extra-role behaviors that are performed voluntarily and aid the organization, termed organizationalspontaneity (George & Brief, 1992), include making constructive suggestions, enhancing one’s ownknowledge and skills in ways that will help the organization, protecting the organization from potentialproblems, and helping co-workers. Employees who experience the combination of high skill and chal-lenge at work might go beyond specified job responsibilities to contribute to organizational success asa result of the enhanced positive mood produced by high skill and challenge on the job. As previously noted, the relationship of high skill and challenge with positive mood should be espe-cially strong for employees high in need for achievement because the skillful performance of difficulttasks allows those employees to meet and surpass personal standards of excellence. Consequently,positive mood might mediate the interactive influence of skill/challenge and achievement orientationon organizational spontaneity. Hypothesis 2: High perceived skill and challenge will be most strongly associated with organiza- tional spontaneity among achievement-oriented employees, as mediated by positive mood. The hypothesized relationships between all variables are summarized in Figure 1. Csikszentmihalyi has suggested several methods for assessing skill and challenge. To increase thegenerality of our findings, we used different methods in our two studies. In the first study, we comparedeach employee’s perceived skill and challenge in his or her major work activities with the medianlevels of skill and challenge experienced by co-workers (cf. Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1993).Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • HIGH SKILL AND CHALLENGE 759 Positive Org Need For Mood Spontaneity Achievement Skill/ Challenge Task Need For Interest Achievement Figure 1. Model of hypothesized relationships in Studies 1 and 2Note: The proposed relationship of skill/challenge with positive mood and organizational spontaneity, asmoderated by need for achievement was assessed in Study 1. The moderating influence of need for achievement inthe relationship between skill/challenge and intrinsic interest was examined in Study 2.The second study took into account the possibility raised by Csikszentmihalyi (1990) that the experi-ence of flow in a given activity may be influenced by the levels of skill and challenge experienced intheir other activities. This view supposes that people may compare their skill and challenge in a givendomain, such as work, to their overall experience of skill and challenge in daily life (Csikszentmihalyi& LeFevre, 1989; Massimini & Carli, 1988). Consequently, if an employee rated his skill and chal-lenge on the job as higher than the average skill and challenge experienced in all their daily activities(e.g., socializing with friends and family, cooking, reading), he would be predicted to experience flowat work. Therefore, the second study compared each employee’s skill and challenge at work with his orher overall skill and challenge.Study 1The first study examined the relationship of employees’ experience of skill/challenge with positivemood and organizational spontaneity, as moderated by need for achievement. Additionally, the studyinvestigated whether positive mood would mediate the interactive relationship of skill/challenge andneed for achievement with organizational spontaneity.Organizational Context The participating organization was a large discount electronics and appliance retailer located in the northeastern United States. Prices on most items were set to promote sales volume over profit per item sold. The data from Study 1 came from an employee questionnaire administered in 1996, while the data for Study 2 came from a questionnaire given to a different set of employees within the same organization in 1999. The organization’s emphasis on growth in number of outlets suffered aCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • 760 R. EISENBERGER ET AL. setback during this interval when business declined, expansion plans were put on hold, and the num- ber of employees was substantially reduced. However, in the year before the second survey, busi- ness had begun to increase again. We sampled sales employees as well as sales support employees. Sales employees were paid on the basis of a combination of salary and commission, whereas support employees were paid entirely on the basis of salary. Within these two types of jobs, employees differed substantially in the tasks they were required to carry out. Some salespeople were assigned to more challenging areas of the stores containing electronics products for which technological advances were introduced frequently (e.g., computers and televisions). In this environment, salespeople needed to continually upgrade their knowledge and skills in order to effectively operate and present the favorable features to cus- tomers. Other salespeople were assigned to less challenging store areas containing products in which the required technological understanding was more easily mastered, and changes in required knowledge occurred slowly (e.g., refrigerators and stoves). Similarly, challenge levels differed considerably among sales support staff. Book keepers, for instance, found themselves in a challenging environment as they were required to keep track of a large, rapidly changing inventory, and high cash flow. As another example, in order to answer queries by customers, cashiers were expected to keep current with the latest layout of merchandise. Other sales support employees were in charge of making deliveries from the central warehouse to the stores along well-established routes, a less challenging endeavor. The company was often under- staffed, resulting in wide variation in skill levels for the jobs to which employees were assigned. Thus, the four possible combinations of low- or high-employee skill with low- or high-task chal- lenge, needed to assess flow theory, were well represented in the organization.MethodSample and procedureThe sample consisted of 392 employees working at eight sites. Three hundred and sixty-five employ-ees (93%) returned completed questionnaires. The employees voluntarily completed the survey duringtheir regularly scheduled working hours in conference rooms at each site. To encourage candidness, wegave employees verbal and written assurances that their individual responses would not be revealed.Surveys were distributed and collected by the researchers in sealed envelopes. Supervisors completedperformance evaluations for each employee and were given similar assurances of confidentiality.Evaluations were available for 335 of the 365 respondents (92%).MeasuresTenureWe controlled for employee tenure, obtained from company records, which might be associated bothwith greater perceived skills and familiarity with supervisors, leading to higher performance ratings.Skill and challengeEmployees were asked to list the five work activities on which they spend the most time during theiraverage day at work. Employees then rated the degrees of skill they had in each activity and the chal-lenge posed by the activity on nine-point Likert-type scales (1 ¼ low, 9 ¼ high). The specific itemsCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • HIGH SKILL AND CHALLENGE 761used to assess skill and challenge were ‘‘What is your skill in the activity?’’ and ‘‘How challenging isthe activity?’’ respectively. The five ratings of skill and challenge were averaged for each employee inorder to create an overall job skill and challenge level for the employee. Following the between-persons approach described in the Introduction, each employee’s overall job skill and overall jobchallenge at work was compared to the median levels of skill and challenge for all employees(Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde, 1993). Then, the employee was placed in one of the following contextson the basis of Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) theory:1. Flow context: Employee’s skill and challenge were both above the group median skill and challenge levels.2. Anxiety context: Employee’s skill was below the median group skill level; employee’s challenge was above the median group challenge level.3. Boredom context: Employee’s skill was above the median group skill level; employee’s challenge was below the median group challenge level.4. Apathy context: Employee’s skill and challenge were both below the group median skill and chal- lenge levels.Need for achievementNeed for achievement was assessed by four of the five items from the need for achievement sub-scale of Steers and Braunstein’s (1976) Manifest Needs Questionnaire, plus five items constructedby the research team (see Table 1). We developed these items based upon the characteristics ofindividuals high in achievement orientation as outlined by McClelland (1961, 1987), such asworking to improve one’s skills and desiring frequent feedback. We added items because althoughthe need for achievement sub-scale has shown acceptable internal reliabilities in some studies(Mannheim, Baruch, & Tal, 1997; Orpen, 1985), it has fallen slightly below the 0.70 criteriasuggested by Nunnally (1967) in other studies (e.g., Schaubroeck, Ganster, & Jones, 1998; Slade& Rush, 1991; Turban & Keon, 1993). We omitted the Steers and Braunstein (1976) item ‘‘I try toperform better than my co-workers’’ from the measure because it appeared to apply more to atendency to be competitive than to the core attributes of the need for achievement. Respondentsrated their agreement with each statement using a seven-point Likert-type scale (1 ¼ stronglydisagree, 7 ¼ strongly agree).Table 1. Study 1: Factor loadings for need for achievement itemsStatement Factor loading1. I am pleased when I can take on added job responsibilities.a 0.782. I am always looking for opportunities to improve my skills on the job. 0.773. I like to set challenging goals for myself on the job. 0.634. I enjoy situations at work where I am personally responsible for finding 0.62 solutions to problems.5. I try very hard to improve on my past performance at work.a 0.616. I get the most satisfaction when completing job assignments that are fairly difficult. 0.427. I want frequent feedback on how I am doing on the job. 0.408. I do my best work when my job assignments are fairly difficult.a 0.399. I believe in taking moderate risks to get ahead at work.a 0.34Note: n ¼ 365.a Item adapted from Steers and Braunstein’s Manifest Needs Questionnaire (1976).Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • 762 R. EISENBERGER ET AL.Positive moodThe employees rated their mood at work using four items from Brief, Burke, George, Robinson,and Webster’s (1988) Job Affect Scale (JAS). A series of confirmatory factor analyses on the JobAffect Scale (Burke, Brief, George, Roberson, & Webster, 1989) revealed that the positive mood itemsformed a unitary factor. In the present study, employees used five-point Likert-type scales (1 ¼ little,5 ¼ very much) to rate the extent to which they felt happy, active, enthusiastic, and energetic on anaverage day at work. We replaced the JAS items elated and peppy with the synonyms happy andenergetic to reflect the contemporary American vernacular.Organizational spontaneityWe used the five items reported by Lynch, Eisenberger, and Armeli (1999) to load highest on anorganizational spontaneity factor in two separate studies of supervisors’ evaluations of employees(Cronbach’s ¼ 0.91 and 0.90, respectively). These items were as follows: makes constructive sug-gestions to improve the overall functioning of his/her workgroup; encourages others to try new andmore effective ways of doing their job; keeps well informed where his/her opinion might benefitthe organization; continues to look for new ways to improve the effectiveness of his/her work; andtakes action to protect the organization from potential problems. Supervisors evaluated the employeeson five-point Likert-type scales (1 ¼ agree slightly or not at all, 5 ¼ very strongly agree).Results and DiscussionA principal components analysis and scree plot on the need for achievement items indicated that theitems formed a single factor, having an eigenvalue of 3.6 that accounted for 49% of the total variance(see Table 1). Eight of the nine items loaded acceptably on the factor and were included in the finalscale. Means, standard deviations, internal reliabilities, and intercorrelations among the variables arereported in Table 2. All measures showed acceptable internal reliabilities above the 0.70 threshold sug-gested by Nunnally (1967). To determine if differences existed among the company’s stores on our keyTable 2. Study 1 and Study 2: Means, standard deviations, alpha reliabilities, and intercorrelations amongvariablesVariable Ma SDa Mb SDb 1 2 3 4 5 6 71. Tenure 42.37 34.73 45.29 46.60 (—) 0.11 — — 0.05 0.07 0.17**2. Need for Ach 5.00 0.89 4.58 0.86 0.04 (0.79/0.88) — — 0.40*** 0.18** 0.21***3. Positive Mood 2.53 0.88 — — À0.00 0.30*** (0.84/—) — — — —4. Org Spontc 3.16 1.04 — — 0.22*** 0.12* 0.17** (0.91/—) — — —5. Interest — — 5.58 1.99 — — — — (—/0.89) 0.41*** 0.52***6. Skill 7.53 1.58 7.26 1.51 0.09 0.17** 0.10 0.09 — (—/—)d 0.28***7. Challenge 4.43 2.05 5.34 2.04 0.22*** 0.13* 0.20*** 0.14** — 0.14** (—/—)eNote: For Study 1, n ¼ 365; for Study 2, n ¼ 260. Correlations for Study 1 appear below the diagonal; correlations for Study 2appear above the diagonal. Cronbach’s alphas appear on the diagonal (Study 1/Study2). Tenure is measured in months.a Study 1.b Study 2.c n ¼ 335.d Cronbach’s alpha could not be calculated for the skill measure, because employees differed in the work tasks on which theyrated skill.e Cronbach’s alpha could not be calculated for the challenge measure, because employees differed in the work tasks on which theyrated challenge.*p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001.Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • HIGH SKILL AND CHALLENGE 763measures (skill, challenge, and need for achievement), we performed one-way ANOVAs. Store loca-tion was found to be unrelated to skill, challenge, and need for achievement (F(7, 357) ¼ 1.10, n.s.;F(7, 357) ¼ 1.62, n.s.; F(7, 357) ¼ 0.96, n.s., respectively). Positive mood was regressed on the skill/challenge combinations and need for achievement. Weused orthogonal helmert contrasts (see Judd & McClelland, 1989) to assess variation of positive moodacross the four combinations of skill and challenge.1 The first contrast tested the hypothesis that theflow context (high skill and high challenge) would produce a more positive mood than would the otherthree combinations of skill and challenge. For this contrast, employees in the flow context were codedas 1, while those in the apathy, boredom, and anxiety contexts were each coded À0.333. In order todetermine whether differences in positive mood experience existed among the three non-flow contexts,two additional orthogonal helmert contrasts were created. The second contrast compared employees inthe anxiety context to those in the boredom and apathy contexts. Employees in the anxiety contextwere assigned 1, while those in the boredom and apathy contexts were each assigned À0.5. Employeesin the flow context were excluded from this contrast. The third contrast compared employees in theboredom and apathy contexts by coding those in the boredom context as 1 and employees in the apathycontext as 1. Those in the flow and anxiety contexts were excluded from this contrast. A similar ana-lysis was carried out for organizational spontaneity. Employee tenure within the organization was entered in the first step of the regression analyses as acovariate. To reduce potential multicollinearity between the interaction terms and their componentvariables, the need for achievement measure was centered (Aiken & West, 1991). Considering positivemood first (see Table 3), employees in the flow context (high skill and high challenge) experiencedgreater positive mood than those in other combinations of skill and challenge. Differences in positivemood among the other combinations of skill and challenge were not statistically significant. Addition-ally, need for achievement was directly related to positive mood. These findings were qualified by thepredicted interaction between the need for achievement and flow versus other contexts. Simple effects tests (Aiken & West, 1991) were used to break down the interaction. As shown inFigure 2, among employees with the highest need for achievement, high skill and challenge producedgreater positive mood than did other combinations of skill and challenge (t(353) ¼ 3.47, p < 0.01).Among employees with the lowest need for achievement, high skill and challenge failed to producegreater positive mood than did the other combinations of skill and challenge (t(353) ¼ À1.20). Addi-tionally, simple slopes tests found that among employees who experienced high skill and challenge,need for achievement was incrementally related to positive mood (t(353) ¼ 3.24, p < 0.01). In contrast,among employees who experienced the other skill-challenge combinations, need for achievement wasnot reliably related to positive mood (t(353) ¼ 1.19). In sum, high skill and challenge was positivelyassociated with positive mood only among employees having a high need for achievement.1 While it is generally preferable to retain variables in their original continuous form when carrying out regression, therebyretaining full quantitative information, the median-splits of skill and challenge provided a more straightforward assessment of thepredictions of Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory. Our theory-based comparison of the high-skill, high-challenge condition with theaverage performance of the other three conditions does not assess a pure interactive effect of skill and challenge.Csikszentmihalyi’s theory assumes that high skill and high challenge (flow) is pleasant and that the other three combinations ofskill and challenge are unpleasant. This prediction is best captured by the first contrast which compares high skill and highchallenge with the mean of the other three combinations of skill and challenge. Technically, this contrast involves balancing highskill and high challenge (value ¼ 1) against values for the three remaining combinations of skill and challenge (À0.333). Our useof additional contrasts provided the supplementary benefit of assessing whether the other three combinations of skill andchallenge differed with respect to the outcomes. Were we to retain skill and challenge in their continuous form in a regressionanalysis, none of the outcomes, including the interaction with need for achievement, would directly assess our hypotheses. Thismay be seen by the fact that the contrast for a pure statistical interaction differs from that needed to assess flow theory. For thepure interaction, the contrasts would be: 1, À1, À1, and 1, respectively, for the following combinations of skill and challenge:high skill-high challenge; high skill-low challenge; low skill-high challenge; and low skill-low challenge.Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • 764 R. EISENBERGER ET AL.Table 3. Study 1: Hierarchical regression analysis for positive mood and organizational spontaneity Positive mood Organizational spontaneity B SE
    • ÁR2 B SE
    • ÁR2Step 1 0.00 0.05*** Tenure 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.01 0.00 0.23***Step 2 0.14*** 0.04* Tenure À0.00 0.00 À0.06 0.00 0.00 0.18** Flow vs. Non flow 0.34 0.08 0.22*** 0.26 0.10 0.14* Anxiety vs. Boredom and Apathy 0.13 0.07 0.09 0.14 0.09 0.08 Boredom vs. Apathy 0.02 0.06 0.02 0.07 0.08 0.05 Need for achievement 0.30 0.06 0.26*** 0.12 0.08 0.08Step 3 0.01 0.02 Tenure À0.00 0.00 À0.06 0.00 0.00 0.18** Flow vs. Non flow 0.30 0.08 0.19*** 0.22 0.11 0.12* Anxiety vs. Boredom and Apathy 0.14 0.07 0.10 0.17 0.09 0.10 Boredom vs. Apathy 0.03 0.07 0.03 0.11 0.09 0.07 Need for achievement 0.31 0.06 0.26*** 0.11 0.08 0.08 Flow vs. Non flow  Need for achievement 0.23 0.11 0.11* 0.34 0.14 0.13* Anxiety vs. Boredom and Apathy  Need for ach. 0.04 0.10 0.02 0.00 0.12 0.00 Boredom vs. Apathy  Need for ach. À0.02 0.09 À0.01 0.16 0.11 0.08Step 4 0.01* Tenure 0.00 0.00 0.19*** Flow vs. Non flow 0.17 0.11 0.09 Anxiety vs. Boredom and Apathy 0.15 0.09 0.09 Boredom vs. Apathy 0.10 0.09 0.06 Need for achievement 0.07 0.08 0.05 Flow vs. Non flow  Need for achievement 0.31 0.14 0.12* Anxiety vs. Boredom and Apathy  Need for ach. 0.00 0.12 0.00 Boredom vs. Apathy  Need for achievement 0.16 0.11 0.08 Positive mood 0.15 0.07 0.12*Note: For positive mood, final model: F(8, 356) ¼ 7.66, p < 0.001; total R2 ¼ 0.15, adj. R2 ¼ 0.13. For organizational spontaneity,final model: F(9, 320) ¼ 4.88, p < 0.001; total R2 ¼ 0.20, adj. R2 ¼ 0.18. B indicates unstandardized regression coefficient.
    • indicates standardized regression coefficient. *p < 0.05; **p < 0.01; ***p < 0.001. A regression analysis was also performed on organizational spontaneity (see Table 3). The resultswere comparable to the findings for positive mood. Employees in the flow context (high skill and highchallenge) showed greater organizational spontaneity than those in other combinations of skill andchallenge. As with positive mood, the predicted interaction between need for achievement and the flowversus other-contexts interaction was statistically significant. As shown in Figure 3, simple effects analyses revealed that among employees with the highest needfor achievement, the combination of high skill and challenge produced greater organizational sponta-neity than did other combinations of skill and challenge (t(323) ¼ 2.41, p < 0.05). Among employeeswith the lowest need for achievement, high skill and challenge produced no greater organizationalspontaneity than other skill-challenge combinations (t(323) ¼ À1.38). Further, simple slopes testsrevealed that among employees who experienced high skill and challenge, need for achievementwas incrementally related to organizational spontaneity (t(323) ¼ 2.12, p < 0.05), while no reliablerelationship between need for achievement and organizational spontaneity was found for employeesexperiencing the other combinations of skill and challenge (t(323) ¼ 0.34). Thus, as with positivemood, high skill and challenge were associated with organizational spontaneity only among employ-ees with a high need for achievement. We also predicted that positive mood would mediate the interactive relationship of skill/challengeand need for achievement with organizational spontaneity. Such an association has been termedCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • HIGH SKILL AND CHALLENGE 765 4 3 Positive Mood High skill - High 2 challenge Other skill- challenge combinations 1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Need for Achievement Figure 2. Interaction of need for achievement and flow versus other contexts on positive affect in Study 1 4 Organizational Spontaneity 3 High skill - High challenge 2 Other skill- challenge combinations 1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Need for AchievementFigure 3. Interaction of need for achievement and flow versus other contexts on organizational spontaneity in Study 1mediated moderation (Baron & Kenny, 1986). Technically, mediated moderation differs from tradi-tional mediation only in that the predictor variable is an interaction. In our analysis, the predictor vari-able is the interaction of the conditions of skill/challenge with need for achievement. The mediatedmoderation hypothesis was tested using the z-prime method, as recommended by MacKinnon,Lockwood, Hoffman, West, and Sheets (2002). MacKinnon et al. (2002) demonstrated that the classicCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • 766 R. EISENBERGER ET AL.mediational method suggested by Baron and Kenny (1986) has low statistical power, and that the z-prime method provides more power and a lesser Type 1 error rate than the Baron and Kenny approach. The z-prime method and Baron and Kenny’s (1986) procedure are similar, in that both calculate anindirect (mediated) effect of the independent variable on the outcome variable through the mediatorusing an identical formula. They differ in the statistical distribution used to determine whether theindirect effect is significant. Because the estimate of the indirect effect is not normally distributed,MacKinnon et al.’s (2002) z-prime method uses the modified critical value of 0.97 for the test of sig-nificance, as opposed to 1.96 for the Z distribution. Using the z-prime method to determine the indirect effect of the skill/challenge by need for achieve-ment interaction on organizational spontaneity through positive mood, it is necessary to calculate (a)the effect of the exogenous variable (the skill/challenge by need for achievement interaction) on themediator (positive mood) and (b) the effect of the mediator (positive mood) on the outcome variable(organizational spontaneity) controlling for the exogenous variable (the skill/challenge by need forachievement interaction). The effect of the skill/challenge by need for achievement interaction onpositive mood was significant (B ¼ 0.23, SE ¼ 0.11, p < 0.05; see Table 3). Moreover, positive moodsignificantly predicted organizational spontaneity when controlling for the skill/challenge by need forachievement interaction (B ¼ 0.15, SE ¼ 0.07, p < 0.05; see Table 3). Finally, the overall test of med-iation was statistically significant (z0 ¼ 1.51, p < 0.05), thereby demonstrating that positive moodpartially mediated the interaction of skill/challenge with need for achievement on organizationalspontaneity. In summary, need for achievement moderated the relationship between the experience of skill andchallenge at work and employees’ positive mood and organizational spontaneity. Achievement-oriented employees experiencing high skill and challenge showed greater positive mood and organiza-tional spontaneity than achievement-oriented employees experiencing other combinations of skill andchallenge. Employees with a low need for achievement experiencing high skill and challenge showedneither more positive mood nor more organizational spontaneity than did low achievement-orientedemployees experiencing other skill-challenge combinations. Moreover, positive mood partiallymediated the stronger relationship between high skill and challenge and organizational spontaneityamong achievement-oriented employees. These findings support Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre’s (1989) suggestions that high skill andchallenge creates an optimal subjective experience relative to other combinations of skill and chal-lenge and that dispositional differences influence the degree to which high skill and challengeproduces an elevated subjective experience. Specifically, need for achievement appears to havean important influence on whether high skill and challenge influences positive mood andorganizational spontaneity at work. Positive mood appears to contribute to the associationbetween high skill and challenge, and organizational spontaneity for employees high in need forachievement.Study 2In Study 1, we found that the positive relationship of high skill and challenge with positive moodand organizational spontaneity depended on need for achievement. We assessed dispositionaldifferences in need for achievement through questionnaire items concerning employees’ desire todevelop and utilize talents and skills (Atkinson, 1964) and surpass personal standards of excellence(McClelland, 1987; McClelland et al., 1953) in the context of work. As a general dispositionalCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • HIGH SKILL AND CHALLENGE 767orientation, need for achievement applies to non-work as well as work situations. Our conclusion thatneed for achievement strongly influences employees’ positive reactions to the experience of high skilland challenge at work would be strengthened by a more general measure of need for achievement thatincluded items assessing need for achievement in non-work situations. Therefore, we broadened thequestionnaire measure of need for achievement to include both work and non-work situations. Study 2 also extended the findings of the first study to a second important outcome of high perceivedtask skill and challenge: task interest (Catley & Duda, 1997; Csikszentmihalyi & LeFevre, 1989;Haworth & Hill, 1992). Based on the rationale that high perceived skill and challenge at work wouldoften meet the achievement-oriented employee’s desire to surpass personal standards of excellence, wepredicted that the relationship of high skill and challenge with task interest would be greatest amongemployees with a high need for achievement. In Study 1, each employee’s skill and challenge was judged to be high or low based on the between-participants approach which involved comparing each employee’s skill and challenge at work with themedian levels of skill and challenge of a reference group of employees (Csikszentmihalyi & Rathunde,1993). To increase the generality of our finding that dispositional differences in need for achievementinfluence the degree to which high skill and challenge contributes to satisfaction and enjoyment; Study2 incorporated the within-participants methodology suggested by Csikszentmihalyi (1990; Csikszent-mihalyi et al., 1993). Specifically, we compared each employee’s skill and challenge at work with hisor her average level of skill and challenge for a variety of daily activities.MethodSample and procedureWe used an independent sample of 265 employees at eight sites of the same organization examined inStudy 1. Administration procedures were the same as in the first study. Of the 265 employees given thesurvey, 260 employees (98%) returned completed questionnaires. Twenty-eight percent of the partici-pants were female.MeasuresTenureEmployee tenure in the organization was obtained from company records.Skill and challengeAs in Study 1, employees listed the five-job activities on which they spent the most time during anaverage workday and rated their skill and challenge involved in each, using a 9-point Likert-typescale. The specific items used to assess skill and challenge were identical to those used in Study 1.Each employee was also administered a list of 21 activities designed by the investigators to repre-sent a full range of typical non-work activities, such as gardening, cooking, playing competitivesports, socializing with friends and family, surfing the internet, reading, watching television, shop-ping, exercising, and playing games. On a nine-point Likert-type scale (1 ¼ low, 9 ¼ high), employ-ees rated their perceived skill and challenge for each of the non-work activities in which theyparticipated. We averaged each participant’s skill and challenge levels across all the activities inwhich he or she participated, including work, to create baseline levels of skill and challenge. Eachemployee’s average skill and challenge at work was classified as high or low relative to his/herbaseline levels of skill and challenge.Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • 768 R. EISENBERGER ET AL.Table 4. Study 2: Factor loadings for need for achievement itemsStatement Factor loading 1. I am pleased when I can take on added job responsibilities. 0.77 2. I like to set challenging goals for myself on the job. 0.73 3. I do my best work when my job assignments are fairly difficult. 0.72 4. I enjoy situations at work where I am personally responsible for finding 0.70 solutions to problems. 5. I enjoy difficult tasks away from work. 0.66 6. I enjoy difficult work. 0.64 7. I get the most satisfaction when completing job assignments that are fairly difficult. 0.63 8. People should be more involved with their work. 0.61 9. I am always looking for opportunities to improve my skills away from work. 0.6110. I am always looking for opportunities to improve my skills on the job. 0.6011. I try very hard to improve on my past performance at work. 0.5612. I try very hard to improve on my past performance away from work. 0.5513. I often set goals away from work that are very difficult to reach. 0.5414. I often set goals at work that are very difficult to reach. 0.5415. I want frequent feedback on how I am doing on the job. 0.43Note: n ¼ 260.Need for achievementThe items used are presented in Table 4. We used the 8 need for achievement items used in Study 1,added items that explicitly asked about achievement motivation away from work (Items 5, 9, 12, and13), and also included three additional work items (Items 6, 8, and 14) so that each item assessing needfor achievement away from work would be accompanied by a similarly worded item assessing need forachievement at work. In this way, we could examine whether need for achievement in work settingswould form a single factor or distinct factor from need for achievement in non-work settings. Respon-dents used the same rating scale as in the prior study.Intrinsic task interestUsing the terms most commonly used to assess intrinsic task interest (interesting and enjoyable,Cameron & Pierce, 1994) employees were asked to use nine-point Likert-type scales (1 ¼ not atall, 9 ¼ very) to rate each of the 5 work activities on which they spent the most time during an averageworkday. Because the two items correlated highly (0.89), we combined them to form an overall mea-sure of intrinsic task interest.Results and DiscussionA principal components analysis and scree plot on the need for achievement items indicated that theitems formed a single factor, with an eigenvalue of 5.8 that accounted for 39% of the total variance. Asshown in Table 4, all fifteen items had factor loadings above a value of 0.40. Since the achievementitems related to work and non-work contributed to a common factor, a single need for achievementscore was obtained by averaging each respondent’s scores on all of the items. The resultant measureof need for achievement showed an acceptable level of internal reliability. Means, standard deviations,and internal reliabilities for all measures are reported in Table 2. As with Study 1, we performed ANOVAs to determine whether differences existed between-stores on our key measures (skill, challenge, and need for achievement). Store location was foundCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • HIGH SKILL AND CHALLENGE 769 9 8 Task Interest 7 6 High skill - High 5 challenge 4 Other skill-challenge combinations 3 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Need for Achievement Figure 4. Interaction of need for achievement and flow versus other contexts on task interest in Study 2to be unrelated to skill, challenge, and need for achievement (F(7, 252) ¼ 1.16, n.s.; F(7, 252) ¼ 1.89,n.s.; F(7, 252) ¼ 0.48, n.s., respectively). Hierarchical linear regression was used to examine the influences of skill, challenge, and need forachievement on interest at work. The same helmert contrasts used in Study 1 were used in the presentanalysis. Tenure was entered into the first step of the regression equation. The combination of high skilland challenge produced greater interest than the other three combinations of skill and challenge (
    • ¼ 0.29,SE ¼ 0.17, p < 0.001). As in Study 1, differences among these latter skill/challenge combinations did notreach statistical significance. Need for achievement was also positively related to interest at work(
    • ¼ 0.29, SE ¼ 0.16, p < 0.001). The predicted interaction between the need for achievement and flowversus other contexts was also statistically significant (
    • ¼ 0.14, SE ¼ 0.20, p < 0.05). As shown in Figure 4, simple effects tests indicated that among employees with the highest need forachievement, high skill and challenge produced greater interest than did other combinations of skilland challenge (t(248) ¼ 4.43, p < 0.001). Among employees with the lowest need for achievement,high skill and challenge produced no greater interest than did the other combinations of skill and chal-lenge (t(248) ¼ À1.32). Also, simple slopes tests revealed that among employees who experiencedhigh skill and challenge, need for achievement was incrementally related to interest (t(248) ¼ 6.15,p < 0.001). In contrast, among employees who experienced the other skill-challenge combinations,need for achievement was not reliably related to interest (t(248) ¼ 1.37). Study 2 found that among employees with a high need for achievement, the combination of highskill and challenge resulted in a greater task interest than other combinations of skill and challenge.This finding complements the Study 1 finding that high skill and challenge was associated withenhanced positive mood only for employees with high need for achievement. Whether need forachievement was assessed regarding work-related activities (Study 1) or more generally to includenon-work activities (Study 2), the combination of high skill and high challenge resulted in an enhancedsubjective experience relative to other combinations of skill and challenge only for achievementoriented employees.General DiscussionWe found that among achievement-oriented employees, the experience of high skill andchallenge was related to a greater positive mood, task interest, and organizational spontaneity thanother combinations of skill and challenge. In contrast, among employees with a low needCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • 770 R. EISENBERGER ET AL.for achievement, high skill and challenge were not associated with increased positivemood, task interest, or organizational spontaneity. The findings are generally consistent withCsikszentmihalyi’s (1990) flow theory, which suggests that the combination of high skill andchallenge should increase employees’ task interest and elevate their mood. Our findings that theserelationships occurred among achievement-oriented employees, but not among those having a lowneed for achievement, extend flow theory by demonstrating that personality influences the degree towhich high skill and challenge at work is associated with an elevated subjective experience relativeto other skill-challenge combinations. Our research is also the first to show that high skill and challenge is related to employee perfor-mance. Specifically, high perceived skill and challenge was most strongly associated with organiza-tional spontaneity among achievement-oriented employees. These activities included the extent towhich employees looked for ways to improve the effectiveness of their work, made constructive sug-gestions to improve the overall functioning of their workgroups, and encouraged other employees totry new and more effective ways of carrying out their jobs. Moreover, our findings suggest that positivemood partially mediates this association. These results are consistent with prior research indicatingthat positive mood led to increased organizational spontaneity and creativity (Eisenberger et al.,2001; Eisenberger & Rhoades, 2001; George & Brief, 1992). George and Brief suggested that positivemood primes employees to think of positive characteristics of their co-workers and organization,thereby promoting helping behavior (George & Brief, 1992). Positive mood has also been argued topromote creative thinking, leading to creative suggestions that help the organization fulfill itsobjectives (Eisenberger et al., 2001; George & Brief, 1992). Overall, the results suggest thatCsikszentmihalyi’s (1990) flow theory, when supplemented by considerations of personality, providesimportant insights into employees’ optimal experience at work. In our studies, low achievement-oriented employees did not show greater positive mood, task inter-est, or organizational spontaneity when they experienced high skill and challenge than when theyexperienced other skill–challenge combinations. For these employees, successful accomplishmentat work may hold little intrinsic interest. They might be more likely to experience satisfaction fromjob factors such as autonomy, pay or benefits, supportiveness of co-workers and supervisors, or theamount of free time their jobs allow. Our results involving need for achievement provide support for Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre’s(1989) suggestion that dispositional differences might affect the likelihood that tasks involving highskill and challenge are experienced more positively than other skill and challenge combinations. Inboth of our studies, the subjective experience related to high skill and challenge was most favorablefor achievement-oriented employees, whereas employees low in need for achievement failed to experi-ence high skill and challenge more favorably than other skill-challenge combinations. Individual dif-ferences in need for achievement may have been responsible for Csikszentmihalyi and LeFevre’s(1989) findings of large individual differences in employee motivation produced by high skill and chal-lenge at work. The enhanced positive mood and task interest experienced by achievement-oriented individualsunder conditions of high skill and challenge are consistent with Atkinson’s (1964) andMcClelland’s (1961, 1987) view that individuals high in need for achievement strive to meet stan-dards of excellence and derive satisfaction from doing so. The perception that one is fully exercis-ing one’s capacities would be especially motivating and satisfying to achievement-orientedemployees. Conversely, other combinations of skill and challenge have features that would be lessmotivating for achievement-oriented employees. Tasks involving a combination of low skill andchallenge have a low probability of success, which achievement-oriented individuals attempt toavoid (deCharms & Carpenter, 1968; Hamilton, 1974; Trope, 1975; Karabenick & Youssef,1968; Raynor & Entin, 1982; Trope & Brickman, 1975). Tasks characterized by low challenge lackCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • HIGH SKILL AND CHALLENGE 771opportunities for employees to meet standards of excellence and thus have little value for achieve-ment-oriented individuals. We found in Study 2 that items assessing need for achievement in both work and non-work settingsformed a single factor. Evidently, we were assessing employees’ general need for achievement ratherthan simply their valuation of achievement solely at work. However, it would be premature to concludethat individuals low in need for achievement would not prefer high skill and challenge to other com-binations of skill and challenge away from work. Possibly, low achievement oriented individuals aretroubled by the evaluation apprehension in work settings and are able to enjoy less evaluative high skilland challenge activities away from work. For example, individuals low in need for achievement mayfind pleasure and enjoyment in high skill and challenge activities such as reading a difficult book, pre-paring an intricate meal, or engaging in adventurous endeavors such as rock climbing. This suggestionis consistent with Moneta and Csikszentmihalyi’s (1996) finding that talented high school studentsdiffered from one another significantly at school in the magnitude of their aversive reactions to mis-matches in skill and challenge, perhaps reflecting disparities in need for achievement. Away fromschool, in less evaluative settings, the students showed more uniform aversive reactions to imbalancesin skill and challenge. Also of interest for future research are the possible generalized effects of favorable experiences ofhigh skill and challenge at work. Csikszentmihalyi (1988, p. 369) maintained that the favorable sub-jective experience associated with repeated instances of flow in a particular context should influencegeneral subjective well-being. Thus, employees who respond favorably to high skill and challenge atwork might show greater overall happiness. Flow theory assumes that a pleasurable state of task absorption results from individuals’ comparisonof their perceived skill with the difficulty or challenge posed by the task; when both are high, the indi-vidual should experience considerable task enjoyment (Moneta & Csikszentmihalyi, 1996). The the-ory would need to be modified if these perceptions were mutually dependent to a strong degree. Forexample, a person who felt unskilled in a task might inflate its perceived challenge leading to a nega-tive correlation between perceived skill and challenge. In our studies the relationship between skill andchallenge was modest and in the positive direction (r ¼ 0.14 and r ¼ 0.28 in Studies 1 and 2, respec-tively), suggesting that employees had little difficulty discriminating between their own skill and taskchallenge. The reliable positive relationship that we found is nonetheless interesting in its own rightand a subject for future research. Perhaps employees who succeed at high challenge tasks attributetheir success to skill competence (Taylor, 1981). As an alternative to the present interpretation that the perception of high skill and challenge led topositive mood, task interest, and organizational spontaneity, as moderated by need for achievement,the reverse direction of causality could be argued. For example, engagement in organizationalspontaneity may lead employees to feel more efficacious on the job, producing a positive mood,and altering their perceptions of skill and challenge. These effects might be stronger amongachievement-oriented individuals than among those with a low need for achievement. While thesealternative interpretations are possible, the pattern of findings, and especially the interaction betweenneed for achievement and high skill and challenge, was well predicted by theory. The present research has practical implications for employee motivation and satisfaction. Providingemployees high in need for achievement with opportunities to fully exercise their skills in challengingtasks at work may bring enhanced positive mood, increased task interest, and increased organizationalspontaneity. Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) approach suggests that in order to maintain the interest ofachievement-oriented employees, it is important that tasks be challenging and that employees possessskills appropriate to those tasks. The present findings suggest that to maintain motivation, care shouldbe taken not to overwhelm achievement-oriented employees with tasks for which their skills are ill-equipped or to bore them with extremely simple tasks. In contrast, employees with a low need forCopyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
    • 772 R. EISENBERGER ET AL.achievement showed low positive mood and task interest, relative to employees high in need forachievement, regardless of the levels of skill and challenge. For these individuals, it is an open questionwhether other job enrichment techniques would be effective in increasing task interest or whether theextrinsic motivation provided by rewards is necessary to enhance motivation. In summary, the present findings suggest that employees’ perceived degrees of skill andchallenge are related to their positive mood, task interest, and organizational spontaneity. Amongachievement-oriented employees, a balance of high skill and challenge had positive consequencesfor themselves and the organization. Individuals having a disposition to meet high standards of excel-lence found high skill and challenge in the workplace to be a satisfying experience. Moreover, amongthese individuals, high skill and challenge on the job was associated with enhanced organizationalspontaneity.Author biographiesRobert Eisenberger is Professor of Psychology at the University of Delaware. His research interestsinclude employee motivation, intrinsic motivation and creativity, and learned industriousness. He isauthor of more than sixty publications in such journals as Psychological Review, Psychological Bul-letin, American Psychologist, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psy-chology, and Journal of Organizational Behavior. Two special reports of his research have been carriedout on National Public Radio, and reports have also appeared in the American Psychological Associa-tion Monitor, Encyclopedia Britannica Science and the Future Yearbook, Science News, and Report onEducation Research. Dr. Eisenberger’s research has been funded by grants from the National Instituteof Mental Health.Jason R. Jones is a graduate student at the University of Delaware under the direction of Dr. RobertEisenberger. His research interests include the attributional processes that contribute to the develop-ment of perceived organizational support, the role that explanations and apologies by managementplay in tempering the negative effects of unfavorable treatment on POS, and factors of the personand the work environment that contribute to the flow experience on the job.Florence Stinglhamber obtained her Ph.D. from the Catholic University of Louvain (Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium). She is currently a researcher at Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC—Liege, `Belgium). Her research interests include perceived organizational support, perceived supervisor sup-port, employee commitment in the workplace, and social justice.Linda Shanock is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology department at the University at Albany,State University of New York. Her main research areas include work motivation, employee attitudes,and employee-employer relationships. Specifically, Dr. Shanock has conducted work on the relation-ship between rewards and intrinsic motivation, predictors and outcomes of the engrossing and pleasur-able subjective state called flow, and the development and refinement of organizational support theory.Amanda T. Randall obtained her Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Delaware. She iscurrently employed by Towers Perrin, Chicago where she is a Senior Consultant in the Change Imple-mentation Practice Division.ReferencesAdlai-Gail, W. S. (1994). Exploring the autotelic personality. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Chicago: Chicago, IL.Copyright # 2005 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. J. Organiz. Behav. 26, 755–775 (2005)
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