They Can’t Help Themselves: Selfless Motivation Predicts Lower Impact of Teacher Job Performance Through Task Proactivity

Grant, A. M. (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania), Rebele, R. W. (University of Melbourne, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania)

Concern for others is an important source of moral motivation to help others, including through our work. When it becomes selfless, however, it can reduce impact. Drawing on theories of unmitigated communion and resource allocation, we propose that by being overly reactive to help requests, selfless employees are less proactive on their core job tasks, inadvertently undermining their effectiveness at helping others through their work. In a study of over 400 U.S. teachers, we developed a situational judgment test (SJT) to assess teacher selfless motivation, obtained coaches’ ratings of teacher task proactivity, and measured the impact of teachers’ job performance with lagged data on students’ standardised achievement scores. At the end of the school year, after controlling for the previous year’s performance, selfless teachers had lower-achieving students than their peers, mediated by lower observer ratings of task proactivity.  We also report data from a separate sample of working adults examining associations between our SJT and measures of Big 5 personality traits, unmitigated communion, and proactive personality. Our research contributes new insights about the costs of selfless motivation to the impact of job performance and highlights the role of selfless motivation in shaping the moral consequences of an otherwise prosocial disposition.

Event Timeslots (1)

Personality and Personality Development