Unintended consequences of being proactive? Linking proactive personality to coworker envy, helping, and undermining, and the moderating role of prosocial motivation

Jiaqing Sun, Wen-Dong Li, Yuhui Li, Robert C. Liden, Shuping Li, Xin Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Drawing upon social comparison theory, we developed and tested a model to examine potential negative coworker reactions toward proactive employees. We theorized that a focal employee's proactive personality is positively related with his or her high relative standing in the group, which in turn exposes him or her to being the target of coworker envy. This may then reduce the focal employee's received help from coworkers and give rise to coworker undermining. We further reasoned that employee prosocial motivation moderates the serial mediated relationships. Our hypotheses were generally supported in 3 field studies involving a total of 1,069 employees from 223 groups. Proactive personality was negatively and indirectly related to received help from coworkers, via relative leader-member exchange (RLMX) and relative job performance, and then via being envied by coworkers (Study 1). Results also generally supported the positive and indirect effect of proactive personality on coworker undermining via the same set of sequential mediators (e.g., RLMX and then being envied, Study 2). The indirect effects of proactive personality on coworker helping and undermining (e.g., via relative job performance and coworker envy) were only significant when employees' prosocial motivation was low (Study 3). This research contributes to a more complete and balanced theorization of the influences of proactive personality in organizations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)250-267
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Envy
  • Helping and social undermining
  • Leader-member exchange
  • Proactive personality
  • Prosocial motivation

Cite this