Past research has focused on job characteristics that impact both positive and negative work-related outcomes. For instance, demanding aspects of one’s job such as work pressure, emotional demands, and role ambiguity were found to relate significantly with job burnout [1
] and psychological health symptoms [2
]. In contrast, positive job-related aspects, e.g., perceived organizational support and transformational leadership, showed significant associations with positive outcomes, e.g., job performance [3
] and job satisfaction [4
]. Overall, perceived job characteristics have been conceived as antecedents of employees’ attitudes and behaviors. For instance, the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model [5
] identified two broad categories of job characteristics as major antecedents of employees’ strain (e.g., job burnout) and motivation (e.g., work engagement), these categories refer to job demands and resources. The JD-R model has been applied extensively to the study of the influence of job demands and resources on a wide range of organizational and individual outcomes. Although the original version of the JD-R model only included job characteristics, it has been subsequently extended by integrating individual characteristics in terms of personal resources [6
]. Empirical evidence suggests that individual dispositions may significantly impact on work engagement and workaholism, which represent two opposite kinds of heavy work investment [7
]. In contrast, research on the role played by personal dispositions in predicting different perceptions of job characteristics is far from being exhausted [9
The present research aims at exploring individual characteristics that may explain differences in perceptions of job demands and control among employees working in the same environment—which in the current study is a healthcare setting. This work setting is widely recognized as particularly demanding and physicians have long been considered to be at an occupation at risk for the development of burnout and distress symptoms, such as anxiety and depression [13
]. In particular, physicians have to deal with job demands, such as time pressure, role ambiguity, and conflicting relationships with colleagues and patients' families [14
]. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, physicians’ perception of their job demands and resources has shown to affect not only their health and well-being, but also the quality of medical care they provide [15
1.1. The Influence of Trait Affectivity on Opposite Kinds of Working Hard
The influence of dispositional traits on individual perceptions and attitudes has been well-established by a large amount of empirical results [16
]. Among these traits, affective dispositions have been shown to be stable over time and across situations [17
]. For the most part, research on affectivity was driven by the seminal paper of Watson and colleagues [12
], that identified positive and negative affectivity as basic dimensions of the affective experience: individuals with high positive affectivity are characterized by energy, enthusiasm and optimism, whereas those with high negative affectivity are characterized by distress, nervousness and pessimism. In line with this description, positive trait affectivity has been explored in empirical investigations assessing the individual antecedents of the positive affective-motivational state identified as work engagement.
To be specific, work engagement is defined as a work-related state of fulfillment that consists of three interrelated dimensions: vigor, dedication, and absorption [18
]. According to this definition, vigor entails high levels of energy and mental resilience while working, the willingness to invest effort in one’s work, and perseverance in the face of difficulties; dedication is defined as being involved in one’s work, and experiencing a sense of enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge; and absorption is described as being happily engrossed in one’s work, so that time passes quickly and one has difficulties detaching from work. The positive nature of work engagement is substantiated by its association with several positive outcomes: for instance, engaged employees show greater organizational commitment and enhanced job performance [2
], are more satisfied with their jobs [19
], and exhibit higher levels of proactivity [20
] and extra-role behavior [21
]. A large body of empirical evidence points out that engaged employees are primarily driven by a so-called autonomous motivation [22
]. This type of motivation promotes intrinsically motivated behavior, whereby activities are carried out for their own sake [23
]. Accordingly, engaged employees invest an extraordinary amount of time in their work because they truly enjoy this activity and are happily engrossed in it.
Work engagement has been described as a psychological state specific of the work domain that is strongly affected by positive affectivity, since this dispositional trait predicts general affective tendencies across different life domains [24
]. Indeed, positive affectivity markers such as attentive, alert, enthusiastic, inspired, proud, determined, energized, strong, and active are included in the Positive Affectivity scale of the PANAS [12
]. These descriptors implicate affective states that are highly compatible to the aforementioned dimensions of engagement. Thus, employees characterized by positive affectivity are dispositionally more prone to experience a positive form of involvement in their work, so they are more engaged in this activity [25
]. Langelaan and colleagues [26
] provided empirical support to this assumption by showing a positive association between work engagement and extraversion, an indicator of positive affectivity entailing an individual disposition towards cheerfulness, sociability, and high activity [27
]. Work engagement has been shown to relate significantly not only to dispositional positive affectivity, but also to a pattern of affect regulation that allow engaged employees to also shift promptly to a positive mood after having encountered tricky situations at work [28
]. In addition, positive affectivity is also strongly related to engagement through the improvement of employees’ capability to translate an intention into action and to identify suitable goals, thus supporting the process of goal-directed action [29
]. Overall, these findings reveal that individual disposition toward the occurrence of positive affective states plays a significant role in experiencing a work-related state of fulfillment that underlies work engagement. Accordingly, the following hypothesis was tested:
Positive affectivity is associated to higher levels of work engagement.
The tendency to work hard and display a great level of dedication to one’s job represents a significant point of overlap between engagement and a negative type of working hard, i.e.
, workaholism. Workaholism represents a negative psychological state characterized by working excessively and in a compulsive manner [30
]. According to this definition, working excessively represents the behavioral dimension of the construct and implies that the amount of time and energy that workaholic employees devote to their work exceeds any request what would be indispensable to fulfill organizational or economic requirements. Working compulsively, on the other hand, constitutes the cognitive component of workaholism and indicates that these employees are obsessed with their work and persistently think about activity, even when they are not working. Previous studies have consistently suggested that workaholism leads to detrimental effects on different life domains. With reference to one’s work, workaholic employees have been shown to display an impaired work performance [31
], and to report conflicting relationships with their colleagues [32
]. Given the extraordinary amount of time dedicate to work-related activities, workaholic employees have insufficient time for recovery and impaired social relationship outside work [33
], and a higher incidence of marital problems [34
]. In addition, workaholism may negatively affect employees’ health and well-being. Indeed, this negative form of working hard has been found to predict mental distress and health complaints [35
] and it is associated to higher levels of exhaustion [37
]. During the last decade, several perspectives on workaholism have been developed that suggest that this addiction to work originates from the joint impact of person characteristics and environmental factors [38
]. Accordingly, Mazzetti and colleagues [39
] observed high levels of workaholism when employees both possessed person characteristics that predispose them towards this compulsive behavior and perceived an overwork climate in their workplace, thus an organizational environment that require them to devote an extraordinary amount of time and energy to their work.
In contrast to work engagement, workaholic employees are primarily driven by a controlled motivation [40
]. Hence, they strive to avoid disapproval by others and, at the same time, to obtain appreciation. The adoption of external standards of self-worth and social approval without a whole identification with them results in incessant attempts to meet these standards and, in turn, experience a sense of self-esteem: the failure in reaching these standards may lead to the experience of negative emotions and self-criticism [41
Wojdylo and colleagues [42
] argued that the main mechanism of work addiction is the compensatory function of emotions, which explains the inner drive of workaholic employees in fulfilling unrealistic standards of perfectionism. Several studies recognized in obsessive perfectionism the need to compensate for low self-worth and to avoid further negative feelings through compulsive working [43
]. The behavioural dimension of workaholism, that is working excessively, may be interpreted as an individual strategy employed in order to prevent employees from experiencing negative emotions and painful feelings of inadequacy. Accordingly, it may be argued that workaholic employees use the act of working as a means for regulating their trait negative affectivity [41
]. Moreover, negative affectivity has been defined as a significant antecedent of workaholism [38
]. Empirical evidence corroborated this assumption by showing a strong association between negative affectivity and this addiction to work [44
]. Specifically, it has been suggested that workaholic employees work so hard in order to avoid the experience of negative affective states [45
]. Thus, the following study hypothesis was formulated:
Negative affectivity is positively related to higher levels of workaholism.
1.2. Different Perceptions of Job Demands and Resources: Assuming an Individual Perspective
Taken together, the empirical evidence discussed above suggests that dispositional traits such as positive and negative affectivity may boost opposite forms of heavy work investment, i.e.
, work engagement and workaholism. This may be conceptually framed into the Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) Model [5
]. As previously mentioned, the JD-R model assumes that employees’ well-being stems from a wide range of workplace characteristics that can be conceptualized as either job demands (i.e.
, characteristics of the job that require effort and are therefore associated with physiological and psychological costs) or job resources (i.e.
, those job-related aspects that allow employees to cope with the demanding aspects of their job and simultaneously stimulate them to learn from and grow in it) [46
]. Excessive job demands and lacking job resources exert an energy-draining effect on employees through a so-called health impairment process, whereas high levels of job resources may lead to positive work-related and individual outcomes through a motivational process. In addition to job demands and resources, there is compelling evidence suggesting that also dispositional characteristics represent personal demands and resources able to play a significant role as initiators of the JD-R model processes. On the one hand, personal resources such as self-efficacy and optimism contribute in explaining variance in employees’ strain and work engagement [8
]. On the other hand, there is substantial evidence that personal aspects such as overcommitment and deficit in the cognitive control system constitute personal demands able to boost the negative impact of job demands and foster the occurrence of workers’ burnout [47
Moreover, empirical findings indicate that job resources and work engagement are not linked through a one-way relationship, but rather they mutually influence each other. Xanthopoulou and colleagues [48
] revealed that job and personal resources exert a lagged effect on employees’ work engagement which, in turn, resulted in enhanced personal and job resources over time. Hence, engaged employees’ not only view themselves as being more optimistic and self-efficacious, but they also perceive enhanced levels of autonomy, supervisory coaching, performance feedback and opportunities for professional development in the workplace. In a similar vein, Schaufeli, Bakker and Van Rhenen [49
] conducted a longitudinal study on a sample of managers and showed that engagement was predictive of improved job resources one year later, therefore an enhanced perception of social support, job autonomy, opportunities to learn and to develop, and performance feedback. Consistent to these findings, work engagement has been shown to have a positive, lagged effect on next week’s job resources (i.e.
, autonomy, social support from colleagues, and exchange with supervisor) on a sample of teachers [50
]. A three-way longitudinal study provided further support to this evidence by showing that engagement among teachers may positively affect the perception of the opportunities to learn and develop in the workplace and employees’ faculty to influence their work [51
]. Overall, these results extend the motivational process postulated by the JD-R Model with concrete evidence that also work engagement may be conceived as an antecedent of the perceived job resources. In other words, the experience of a great level of engagement may enable employees’ to easily identify, trigger and even produce additional resources.
In contrast to work engagement, the negative form of working hard (i.e.
, workaholism) seems to be associated to an increased perception of the requirement to carry out difficult and demanding work tasks. As previously stated, workaholic employees comply with their inner compulsion to work in order to prevent the tension, restlessness, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness that arise when they do not work [36
]. As a consequence, these employees attempt to complete tasks more extensively than necessary not because their jobs require them to do so, but they actively strive in order to actively create more work for themselves [52
]. Accordingly, the unreachable work standards set by workaholic employees translate into a greater difficulty in entrusting others with job responsibilities, and the unwillingness to delegate tasks to others [53
In line with the research evidence summarized above, the current study represents an initial effort to extend the hypothesized association between trait affectivity and opposite types of working hard (see Hypothesis 1
), by investigating the relationship between work engagement and job control, on the one hand, and between workaholism and job demands, on the other hand. Job control and job demands are key constructs within the Demands-Control Model [54
], which constitutes a leading model in occupational health psychology. This model defines job demands as psychological stressors present in the work environment and entailing the requirement to carry out difficult and mentally demanding work with a high work pace, whereas job control refers to employees’ opportunity to be creative, participate in decision-making, and influence how they carry out their tasks.
Therefore, in the present research work engagement is expected to result in a higher level of perceived control over one’s job, due to the sense of energetic and effective connection with job experienced by these employees and the subsequent confidence on their ability to successfully control the surrounding environment [55
]. In addition, workaholism is expected to foster the individual perception of the requirement to cope with demanding tasks and responsibilities (i.e.
, job demands) since it may give reason for the necessity to dedicate an extraordinary amount of time to work [30
]. Based on this rationale, the remaining hypotheses were formulated as follows:
Work engagement mediates the relationship between positive affectivity and job control.
Workaholism act as a mediator in the relationship between negative affectivity and job demands.