Wealth? It Comes Not Just from the Job

Do genetic factors or environmental factors influence employee proactivity?

A scientist recently studied identical twins to find out, according to newswise.com. And he found that it's a little of both.

I've always been a very hard worker, frequently if not always getting writing assignments done before deadline.  However, in my haste I often make small mistakes.  I go looking for work when I'm not busy (and managed to really tee off a boss who thought it made him look bad, at a top Fortune 500 companies, who proceeded to make my life miserable for a year, until I got away from him).

But that's another story -- though it didn't help my self confidence any, which I'd always had a problem with, at work, never feeling quite good enough.  Actually, that very impression permeated my life, and maybe that's another reason I've always been desperate to seek, and do, work. 

"It's more like nature and nurture rather than nature versus nurture," says study author Wendong Li, who's an assistant professor of psychological sciences in the College of Arts & Sciences at Kansas State University. "It is the reciprocal relationship between people's dispositions and their work experiences that can make them more or less proactive. In addition to genetic endowments, they also are affected by co-workers, supervisors and the type of organization and culture of the company where they work."

Now my dad, a lawyer, worked hard (even though he hated what he did), so maybe that's where I got it from.  I was always trying to be the best, which made me very competitive.  Sometimes I worked with writers who were better than me and I really hated that, especially when you don't feel that great about yourself, or your talents. It's taken me a long time to accept that that's just the way it is.  What's helped is figuring out I'm better than some writers, too.

Anyway. . .

Here's an even more astounding fact.  Li found that environmental factors more likely determine how much money proactive employees earn, while genetics more likely determine a proactive employee's job satisfaction.

That's always been true of me.  My husband rues the fact that I'd much rather do something I like (writing about parenting, or for a food blog, or for this blog, which I adore), where I make next to nothing, rather than slaving away at some huge corporation making six figures but hating every minute (done that, too).

But here's where it gets really good, for me.

Proactive employees are valuable because they do not wait for change to come to them, but rather make long-term plans, strive to achieve goals and make things happen, Li said. They persevere through obstacles and barriers until they achieve these goals.

I'd been out of work for three years, not really actively pursuing it, having interviews, but no job offers, and feeling pretty crummy about it all.  I had one interview at a regional hospital for a writing position that paid really well.  But I wasn't crazy about the commute to Westchester and the job didn't involve much writing.  I didn't get it, but I wouldn't have taken it even if I did.

Instead, a week later, I was approached by a small company in Stamford with a really interesting job (writing for a company that creates software for pharmaceutical companies' clinical trials and regulatory requirements) and though the pay is less, I really enjoy it because I like the people and I find it very satisfying.  I'm helping the company do things that make lives better for people.

Li says that proactive employees are valuable because they do not wait for change to come to them, but rather make long-term plans, strive to achieve goals and make things happen. They persevere through obstacles and barriers until they achieve these goals.

(My all-time favorite memory of working for The Advocate as a cub reporter fresh out of college was following a story about two boys lost at a reservoir in Stamford on a cold night and as the darkness closed in, everyone panicked and was out looking.  I was there when they found them, and chased after the ambulance to the hospital.  Maybe because I looked not much older than them -- and there was so much hubbub in the ER around them -- I was able to rush into the cubicle along with the boys and start interviewing them (they were fine), until the head nurse saw me, grabbed my notebook, and threw me out, prompting the newspaper to make threatening noises about suing on the grounds of freedom of the press.)

Proactive people also are more likely to be leaders, Li said. Leadership positions give proactive people more control and the ability to change and make their work environments better.

"For proactive people, their jobs become their crafts — they craft the job demands, job control and the relationships with their co-workers and supervisors," Li says. "As agents of the environment, proactive people often become leaders in high-level positions in the company. As a result, they often earn more money, which can make them happier."

That part hasn't happened for me yet. But this job makes me happy.  I'm learning new things, it's a huge challenge.  I'm excited to get assignments.  And yes, I go looking for them here, too.  So far, no punishment!

I may not get rich, but I've learned, wealth comes in other ways, too.

Deborah DiSesa Hirsch



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