Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Quitting a Workplace That Discourages Achievement Motivation: Do Individual Differences Matter?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

Quitting a Workplace That Discourages Achievement Motivation: Do Individual Differences Matter?

Article excerpt

Personal success at work can attract hostility from others, but does the achiever's own personality influence how well they cope with that hostility? In a first exploratory study of core individual differences, 114 work-experienced Aucklanders completed measures of self-efficacy (Sherer et al's General Self-Efficacy Scale), the big five (Goldberg's International Personality Item Pool), achievement motivation (Cassidy and Lynn's Achievement Motivation Questionnaire), and Rundle-Gardiner's (2003) Tolerance Threshold measure of what proportion of discouraging bosses, peers, and subordinates they would tolerate before deciding to quit a job. Tolerance thresholds for discouragement of achievement motivation, or negative 'motivational gravity', bore little relationship to the personality of the participants, who preferred instead to stress emotion- and problem-focused coping skills. This emphasis on skills is both consistent with motivational gravity theory and suggestive of a role in managing career development for personalised coaching.


Whether we are discussing performance management, boundary-less careers, learning organisations, or employers of choice, a central underlying concern, at work today, is the enhancement of personal achievement. Achievement motivation itself however has a long history of being studied within psychology in general, and I/O psychology in particular (e.g., Murray, 1938; to McClelland, 1987; to Cromie, 2000). In New Zealand, achievement motivation has been studied in regard to labour mobility (Hines, 1973), and is arguably relevant to the development of small to medium sized enterprises that characterise our economy (Friese, 2003). Of particular relevance locally, may be tall poppy syndrome, or a desire to chop achievers down to size (Harrington & Liu, 2002). Yet whilst attitudes against tall poppies have been studied extensively (Feather, 1994), their impact on the achiever herself; and especially individual differences in that impact, have been virtually ignored (Chidgey, 1998). This project addresses that imbalance, by exploring empirically whether reactions to discouragement of achievement motivation at work are linked to individual differences in personality. Tests of personal impact like this are important (see below), because of their inherent implications for performance management, career development, and organisational turnover (Rundle-Gardiner, 2003).

Motivational Gravity and Achievement Motivation

Discouraging achievement motivation at work can take multiple forms. A taxonomy of these forms has however been proposed in the literature, under the rubric of 'motivational gravity' (Carr & MacLachlan, 1997). According to Cart and MacLachlan, motivational gravity is a useful metaphor for understanding attitudes and intentions towards individual achievement in organisations. Just as gravity draws individuals toward bodies of greater mass than themselves, so too can tall poppy syndrome, and other attitudes towards individual achievement motivation, influence the behaviour of an achiever herself. Motivational gravity theory proposes that gravity at work will emanate from different directions in the organizational structure, and will range in the valence of their intention from negative through to positive. This multi-directionality and range are depicted in Figure 1.


From Figure 1, attitudes toward achievement motivation can emanate from bosses and supervisors, who can either push down on, or help to pull up, the promising high achiever--through discouragement or encouragement, respectively. Also from Figure 1, peers and subordinates, in the organisational structure, can choose to either push up (encourage) or pull down (discourage) their higher achieving colleagues. The Motivational Gravity, 'MG Grid' thereby envisages four key cultures of achievement motivation: Pull Up/Push Up (++); Push Down/Push Up (- +); Push Down/Pull Down (--); and Pull Up/Pull Down (+ -). …

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