Self-Determination Theory and Employee Proactivity (Proactive Behavior)






Self-Determination Theory and Employee Proactivity (Proactive Behavior)

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Self-Determination Theory and Employee Proactivity (Proactive Behavior)

The Self-Determination theory has become popular among many managers and academics as it articulates the core principles underlying sustainable motivation in organizations (Stone, Deci & Ryan, 2009). Researchers have increasingly acknowledged that employees in organizations play an active role in shaping their work environments, roles, careers, organizations and even social contexts (Strauss & Parker, 2014). The concept of proactivity emphasizes this view of organizations as human agency environments where it specifically involves challenging the current situations and creating ‘own visualized futures.’Proactivity is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes, which includes career success, job satisfaction, job performance among others, but there are also potential downsides associated with it.

Researchers have linked the Self-Determination Theory with employee proactivity, arguing that it forms the basis for developing current conceptualizations on how employee proactivity is formed,which implies that the theory provides a fruitful theoretical lens for explaining how employee proactivity is motivated in an organization (Strauss & Parker, 2014). Parker Bindl, and Strauss (2010) identified three different proximal motivational states through which proactivity is influenced. They include reason to motivation, where employees have a compelling reason to engage in a proactive behavior (Vroom, 1964); ‘can do’ motivation, where employees believe that they can significantly influence outcomes (Frese& Fay, 2001), and their success is pegged on their being proactive (Parker, 2000); and the energized to motivation, where employees feel energized through the experience of the effect of high-activation (Strauss & Parker, 2014). The self-determination theory promotes the understanding the aforementioned state, thus offering significant insights into how proactivity can be motivated.

Self-determination theory has established that autonomous motivation as contrasted with controlled motivation, is closely associated with various many desirable outcomes. Deci and Ryan (2010) argue that self-determination theory is relevant in explaining proactive behavior because by definition, proactive behavior is autonomous (self-initiated), rather than regulated externally by other contingencies beyond a person’s control, and according to Parker, Bindl, and Strauss (2010), the model stipulates that different types of autonomous motivation can drive an individual, team and organizational goal processes. For instance, individuals are more likely to strive for more proactive goals if they find their tasks intrinsically interesting and generally enjoyable. Based on a self-determination theory, people are encouraged to maintain an optimum level of stimulation in order to acquire basic needs for competence, relatedness and autonomy (Parker, Bindl, & Strauss, 2010). Proactivity can increase a challenge, which in turn enhance an individual’s basic needs for competence and autonomy. Sometimes, individuals pursue proactive goals even when they are not enjoyable or intrinsically motivating. Here, the self-determination theory is said to use a process of integration or internalization where a person takes in a contingency, value or regulation through a process of called ‘internalization,’ transforms the regulation into their own, such that it consequently emanates from the self (Parker, Bindl, & Strauss, 2010).

As organizations seek to respond to flexibility associated with the rapidly shifting market conditions, it has become increasingly necessary to articulate the organization’s vision and empower the increasingly self-reliant workforce to pursue the organizational standards, rather than ensuring that clearly cut out job descriptions are followed by the enforcement of the rules and also using controls (Strauss & Parker, 2014). The job roles have become less predictable and scholars have noted that it is necessary to move from the traditional theories of work motivation, and explore creative ways through which employees can deliberately plan and act to influence their ‘visualized futures’. As such, it is important to study employee proactivity from the self-determination theory perspective.


Strauss, K., & Parker, S. K. (2014). Effective and sustained proactivity in the workplace: A self-determination theory perspective. The Oxford handbook of work engagement, motivation, and self-determination theory, 50-71.Available at:

Stone, D. N., Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Beyond talk: Creating autonomous motivation through self-determination theory. Journal of General Management34(3), 75. Available at:

Parker, S. K., Bindl, U. K., & Strauss, K. (2010). Making things happen: A model of proactive motivation. Journal of management. 36 (4). pp. 827-856. ISSN 0149-2063. Available at:

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2010). Selfdetermination. John Wiley & Sons, Inc..

Vroom, V. H. (1964). Work and Motivation. New York: Wiley.

Frese, M., & Fay, D. (2001). 4. Personal initiative: An active performance concept for work in the 21st century. Research in organizational behavior,23, 133-187. Available at:

Parker, S. (2000). From passive to proactive motivation: The importance of flexible role orientations and role breadth self‐efficacy. Applied Psychology,49(3), 447-469. Available at:


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