The ability to be "proactive" on the job has become a de facto requirement in most job postings. In fact, 87 percent of companies look for this specific trait from their applicants.
According to a new study, however, you ought to be careful what you wish for--or at least a lot more specific in those job ads. Being proactive is important, but knowing the right moment at which to take action is much more valuable in the workplace. That's what makes the difference between employees acting intelligently on their own and those same employees coming off as simply too pushy and tone deaf.
Psychologists from the University of Bonn and Florida State University asked managers and supervisors about how their employees went about taking initiative and whether their actions were perceived positively. The study, published in the Journal of Management, found that proactivity was only rewarded if the employee had the social insight to seize only appropriate opportunities.
"Anyone taking personal initiative should first make certain that one's own activities are also actually desired," professor Gerhard Blickle from the Institute of Psychology at the University of Bonn said in a press statement.
Employees should be careful when tackling projects that do not fall directly into their line of work or expertise without carefully communicating their intentions first. Otherwise, the study warns, they risk being labeled as "isolated troublemakers."
"This consequently means that appropriate identification of favorable opportunities and the ability to adapt to the respective situation are important preconditions for skillfully putting personal initiative behaviors into place," Blickle said.
While personal initiative is a key trait for entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals, it's a little more complicated in a more corporate office environment. The extra effort, however, pays off. When done correctly, being consistently proactive can lead to a raise and a promotion.
"An atmosphere conducive to personal initiative led to additional positive economic results only if the person has a marked degree of social acumen," added Dr. Andreas Wihler, Blickle's colleague at the University of Bonn.