Self-control at work: its relationship with contextual performance

Benjamin J. de Boer (Faculty of Education, Princess Nora Bint Abdulrahman University, Riyadh, Saudi-Arabia)
Edwin A. J. van Hooft (Department of Psychology, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
Arnold B. Bakker (Department of Work and Organizational Psychology, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Rotterdam, The Netherlands)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Publication date: 11 May 2015



Individuals differ in their levels of self-control. Trait self-control has been found to relate positively to desirable and negatively to undesirable behaviors in contexts like physical health, academic performance, and criminality. The purpose of this study is to examine the relevance of trait self-control in work-settings. The authors distinguished between two types of self-control, stop-control (inhibitory control) and start-control (initiatory control), and tested their differential validity in predicting contextual performance.


In two independent employee samples, stop-control, start-control, organizational citizenship behavior (OCB), personal initiative, and proactive coping were measured. Counterproductive work behavior (CWB) was added in Study 2.


Results showed that only start-control was positively related to OCB, personal initiative, and proactive coping. Both stop-control and start-control were negatively related to CWB.

Research limitations/implications

Findings support the validity of distinguishing between stop-control and start-control, suggesting that self-control theory and models should be refined to incorporate this distinction. Limitations include the correlational design and self-report measures. Although results were similar across two independent studies, future research is needed to test the generalizability of the conclusions in other settings, using non-self-report data.

Practical implications

The distinction between stop-control and start-control may help organizations in selecting staff and assigning tasks.


The present research introduces the distinction between two conceptually different types of self-control (stop-control and start-control), demonstrating their relevance to work-related behavior.



This research was financially supported by Work-Wise Netherlands and the FMG-UvA Research Priority Grant on Affect Regulation. The authors would like to thank Maria Tims for her help with data collection.


de Boer, B., van Hooft, E. and Bakker, A. (2015), "Self-control at work: its relationship with contextual performance", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 30 No. 4, pp. 406-421.

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