White vs. blue: does the collar color affect job attitudes and behaviors?

Author:Rozell, Elizabeth J.


Researchers continue to be curious about the role of job attitudes and behaviors as they relate to a variety of workplace variables. Specifically, past empirical studies have investigated a variety of work attitudes related to dispositional affectivity, with most studies examining a few workplace attitudinal variables within a study. In the current study, we investigate the impact of dispositional affectivity on a wide spectrum of workplace attitudes and behaviors using a sample of white and blue collar workers. Much of the research in the area of dispositional affectivity has largely focused on negative affectivity (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005; Hochwarter et al, 2003). As such, researchers have criticized the exclusive focus on the negative affectivity construct (Fortunato & Stone-Romero, 1999; Stone-Romero, 2005). The positive psychology movement, first advocated by Seligman (2000), has shifted the focus to positive affectivity and its advantage for promoting a healthy organizational environment. Hence, there has been a shift in the literature on dispositional affectivity to a greater emphasis on evaluating positive affect and its statistical relationships with a variety of variables. This paper looks at both positive and negative affect and their impact on a range of job attitudes and behaviors.

In most research regarding workplace attitudes and behaviors, research is conducted with employee samples without regard to the 'type of job'. The assumption seems to be one that holds that workers are workers. Thus, factors that may affect one group will logically affect another group. However, what if this assumption fails to hold true? What if there are differences in attitudes and behaviors that exist independent of one's workplace environment? It seems logical to assume that individuals enter the workplace with certain predispositions that have been formed as a result of their experiences and perhaps genetics. Further, it seems logical to assume that an element of self-selection exists in the workplace, with certain individuals possessing specific predispositions selecting careers that match these predispositions. Thus, this research fills a void in the literature pertaining to differences in white and blue collar workers. Indeed, little, if any recent research has examined the attitudinal and behavioral differences between white and blue-collar workers. Therefore, another purpose of the current research study was to investigate these differences.

We begin by reviewing the pertinent literature for dispositional affectivity and each of the individual difference variables. Next, we consider the conceptual linkages between these variables, as well as their effects on work-related attitudes and behaviors such as job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, absenteeism, and tardiness. Drawing on this discussion, we use regression analysis comparing the white and blue-collar samples to test a set of hypotheses regarding the relationships between dispositional affectivity and certain work attitudes and behaviors. We examine these models using a powerful sample of 595 employees (an 85% response rate) of a Midwestern manufacturing company. We conclude with a discussion of the results and their implications for management research and practice.


Dispositional Affectivity and Work-Related Attitudes and Behaviors

Social scientists have long been intrigued by individual differences in people's interpretations of their own emotional experiences (Berry & Hansen, 1996). In particular, research shows that some individuals report experiencing increased amounts of positive emotions relative to others. The phenomenon is referred to as positive affect, and these persons are usually self-described as joyful, exhilarated, excited, and enthusiastic. Those low in PA have been described as listless, lethargic, drowsy, apathetic, and dull (Cropanzano et al, 1993; Watson & Tellegen, 1985). In contrast, other individuals describe themselves as experiencing greater amounts of negative feelings than others, and are often referred to as high-negative-affect individuals (Berry & Hansen, 1996; Cropanzano et al., 1993). Such individuals report being afraid, anxious, angry, and tend to be nervous and tense. Those low in NA tend to view conditions as less upsetting and stressful than high NA individuals (Chiu & Francesco, 2003). Interestingly, the research on dispositional affectivity has shown that there are two general dimensions of affective responding: trait-positive affect (PA) and trait-negative affect (NA). These dimensions do not appear to represent opposite ends of a continuum; but rather they are independent of one another (Berry & Hansen, 1996; Diener & Emmons, 1985). That is, it is possible for an individual to be high on both, low on both, or high on one but not the other (George, 1992; Watson & Tellegen, 1985). An individual who rates high on both dimensions would be characterized as quite emotional, and would experience fluctuating moods in response to environmental stimuli (Diener & Emmons, 1985). In sharp contrast is the individual that rates low on both who would likely display little affect; i.e. the person would likely be unemotional and unresponsive (Cropanzano et al., 1993).

Several researchers have documented the significant relationship between dispositional affectivity and work attitudes. For example, an inverse relationship has been found to exist between NA and job satisfaction ENRfu(Levin & Stokes, 1989; Staw, Bell, & Clausen, 1986). A minority of researchers has criticized negative affectivity as a construct (Stone-Romero, 2005) citing construct validity problems, however, several others have shown success in using an established and validated scale (Watson et al., 1988; Watson, Clark, & Carey, 1988; Watson 1988a, 1988b). Researchers have documented that NA may be negatively correlated with not only job satisfaction, but also organizational commitment, and positively correlated with turnover intentions; the exact opposite pattern of correlations has been obtained for PA ENRfu(Cropanzano et al., 1993). One explanation for these relationships is that work attitudes are primarily a function of how an individual affectively responds to his or her work environment, and are therefore influenced by one's underlying affective disposition. Consequently, high PA individuals are likely to exhibit extremely positive responses to their work environment which are reflected in their work attitudes, while extreme negative responses are usually seen in high NA persons ENRfu(George, 1992).

Research notes the tendency of individuals to be dispositionaly inclined to form positive or negative attitudes about their work (Cropanzano et al., 1993). Interestingly, Arvey, Bouchard, Segal, and Abramson (1989) demonstrated that approximately 30% of the observed variance in general job satisfaction was attributable to genetic factors. Longitudinal studies indicate that scores on job satisfaction measures remain correlated over time, and that this relationship holds even when individuals change employers or occupations (Staw et al., 1986; Staw & Ross, 1985). These findings do not mean that work attitudes are entirely stable, or that the job context is unimportant; in actuality, work attitudes do indeed fluctuate over time. Instead, these longitudinal studies are consistent with the view that while work attitudes vary as a function of changes in the work setting (Cropanzano & James, 1990; Newton & Keenan, 1991), the rank ordering of individuals' attitudes remains relatively stable, and that such stability can be attributed to certain underlying personality dispositions (George, 1992) such as positive or negative affectivity (Cropanzano et al., 1993).

Research by Fredrickson (1998, 2001) has proposed a "broaden-and-build" theory of positive affect which contends that individuals who experience positive emotions and generally experience "chronic" positive affectivity are able to adapt and be flexible to workplace changes. Further, it has been proposed that positive affect individuals possess a wider range of thoughts than individuals who experience negative affectivity on a regular basis. Recent empirical support has shown how positive affect...

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