When do innovators flourish? The role of interpersonal goals in the relationship between innovative work behavior and flourishing

Published in Personality and Individual Differences

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Employees are expected to go beyond their “call of duty” at work to approach their role innovatively. This is because innovation is a crucial asset for organizational competitiveness. Indeed, it is not the case that employee creativity and innovation have been empirically recognized as beneficial for organizational performance.

However, we also know from organizational studies that being innovative can come at a price, namely the risk of impaired psychological health. When people engage in innovative activities, they face many stressful and energy-consuming tasks, such as searching for knowledge and information, “selling” new ideas in the work environment, dealing with others’ resistance to change, and overcoming unexpected obstacles to idea implementation. Organizational studies have empirically documented the threat of innovative behaviors to employee well-being.

However, stating that innovation is only a source of stress for innovators might be a premature implication because there is some evidence from other studies still suggesting that employee innovation can boost positive emotional states in the workplace.

So, is innovation beneficial or harmful to employee well-being?

Our research aimed to clarify this relationship by attempting to clarify the contingencies upon which engaging in innovative behaviors at work can lead to more or less well-being.

To address this issue, we adopted a perspective that considers the different types of goals that innovators have in mind when socially interacting with other people – which is relevant because innovation is inherently a social process requiring extensive social exchanges.

These types of goals are referred to as interpersonal goals and are twofold:

  • self-image goals, which refer to the desire to get others to validate one’s strengths and qualities to obtain benefits for ourselves;
  • compassionate goals, which refer to the desire to support others’ welfare and build mutually supportive relationships.


Results from our study on 477 employees from different companies in three countries (Brazil, Canada, and Portugal) supported our predictions.

Employees who were highly engaged in innovative behaviors reported higher levels of well-being only when they held strong compassionate goals and weak self-image goals. Why is this the case? In this condition, innovative employees are likely to be regarded as genuinely caring about other people’s welfare, thus having greater odds of cultivating mutually satisfying interpersonal relationships that nurture their well-being.

Conversely, when innovators held both strong compassionate and self-image goals, their well-being did not improve: their supportive intentions were not perceived as genuine within the work environment, thereby exposing innovators to the risk of developing unsatisfying work relationships that would stifle their well-being.

What are the implications of these findings for the management of innovators’ well-being?

Our study highlights the importance of training innovators to reframe working situations in more compassionate ways and bring compassionate intentions to their interpersonal relationships.

This can be done by implementing training programs focused on compassion meditation activities.

These programs can also be integrated with mindfulness interventions that, by developing nonjudgmental attention to the present moment, help prevent the formation of self-image goals.

Read the full article.

Authors at the Department of Management

Francesco Montani

Academic disciplines: Organization and Human Resource Management

Teaching areas: Human Resource Management, Organization, and Leadership

Research fields: Creativity, Innovation, Mindfulness, Compassion

Francesco Montani is a Senior Assistant Professor of Organization and Human Resource Management in the Department of Management at the University of Bologna. His current research interests embrace employee innovation, mindfulness, and compassion in organizational contexts. He is a member of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Editorial Review Board.