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Career barriers and resources play a key role in procrastination on employment advancement, according to new Concordia research

Organizations share responsibility with employees for professional development
June 27, 2023
A woman walking by a brick wall holding an open book over her face
“Organizations have a major role to play in terms of removing the barriers in people’s paths so that whoever wants to advance, can.” | Image: Siora Photography, Unsplash

While it’s true that procrastinators will procrastinate and they tend to do so in all areas of their life, including career advancement, that’s only part of the story.

A new paper on the topic, based on the master’s thesis of Lin Zhu, MSc 19, was recently published in Human Resource Development Quarterly. As reported in the paper, researchers found that people are just as likely to procrastinate on moving their career forward based on personality traits — such as trait passive procrastination and trait active procrastination — as they are based on contextual factors.

Passive procrastination is most often associated with lack of confidence, fear of failure and poor time-management skills. Active procrastination has more to do with high levels of confidence, the thrill associated with getting something done at the last minute and good time-management skills — or anticipating how much time something is going to take and not wanting to devote a second more to it.

“Procrastination in a career advancement context happens when people postpone, delay or avoid the pursuit of promotions at work — whether it is active or passive,” Zhu explains.

“We looked at two questions about sources of procrastination in a career context: what are the things inside a person that might lead them to procrastinate, and what are the things outside of them, in their environment,” says paper co-author Tracy Hecht, associate professor of management and Zhu’s MSc thesis supervisor.

What’s significant about the research is that it means organizations can help decrease career advancement procrastination by eliminating the contextual barriers that affect it, including discrimination based on demographic characteristics such as gender, race, religion, sexual identity, age and so forth.

They can also mitigate procrastination by providing career resources that help build people’s confidence in their ability to achieve their career goals.

“Contextual factors are as important as personality traits when it comes to procrastination,” Hecht says. “This means that organizations have a major role to play in terms of removing the barriers in people’s paths so that whoever wants to advance, can.”

Other co-authors include Alex Lefter, associate professor, and Kathleen Boies, professor and Concordia University Research Chair in Leadership Development, both from the Department of Management.

Confidence and career goals

The researchers surveyed 201 employed people twice, with four weeks in between each survey.

They were building on an existing theory called the social cognitive model of career self-management. It talks about personality factors and contextual factors as elements that influence peoples’ career development, both of which flow through career self-efficacy, which is another way of referring to the confidence people have in achieving their career goals.

While the researchers weren’t surprised by the results, one finding did stand out: passive and active procrastination in a career context were positively related.

“This means that the more people engage in passive procrastination, the more they engage in active procrastination,” Hecht explains. “Regardless of the reasons, delays are delays, and they can limit people’s ability to respond to career advancement opportunities."

How to build confidence at work

Organizations can help build their employees’ confidence and decrease their career advancement procrastination by removing the barriers in their way and providing them with ample opportunities and training.

According to Zhu, “giving people more resources makes them feel confident that they can achieve their career goals, and it is this confidence that drives them to avoid procrastinating.”

“It may sound like common sense, but self-confidence is really powerful and it drives a lot of our behaviour,” Hecht adds. “When we feel confident that we can do things, we do them without delay.”

Equal opportunities

The research showed that developmental assignments, or temporary opportunities for employees to develop skills and knowledge that aren’t part of their regular duties, are another way to support employee career growth.

It is particularly important that organizations pay attention to how they give out these assignments because, as Hecht says, “Research has shown that women tend to get less challenging opportunities than men do.”

This research was funded by the
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Read the cited paper: “Personality and contextual predictors of career advancement procrastination: An application of the social cognitive model of career self-management.”

Learn more about Concordia’s Department of Management.


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