Mitigating influence of transcendence on politics perceptions’ negative effects

Diane Lawong (Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Charn McAllister (Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Gerald R. Ferris (Department of Management, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA)
Wayne Hochwarter (College of Business, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, USA) (Centre for Sustainable HRM and Wellbeing, Australia Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Publication date: 12 March 2018

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine how a cognitive process, transcendence, moderates the relationship between perceptions of organizational politics (POPs) and several work outcomes.

Design/methodology/approach

Participants across two studies (Study 1: 187 student-recruited working adults; Study 2: 158 information technology employees) provided a demographically diverse sample for the analyses. Key variables were transcendence, POPs, job satisfaction, job tension, emotional exhaustion, work effort, and frustration.

Findings

Results corroborated the hypotheses and supported the authors’ argument that POPs lacked influence on work outcomes when individuals possessed high levels of transcendence. Specifically, high levels of transcendence attenuated the decreases in job satisfaction and work effort associated with POPs. Additionally, transcendence acted as an antidote to several workplace ills by weakening the increases in job tension, emotional exhaustion, and frustration usually associated with POPs.

Research limitations/implications

This study found that transcendence, an individual-level cognitive style, can improve work outcomes for employees in workplaces where POPs exist. Future studies should use longitudinal data to study how changes in POPs over time affect individuals’ reported levels of transcendence.

Practical implications

Although it is impossible to eliminate politics in organizations, antidotes like transcendence can improve individuals’ responses to POPs.

Originality/value

This study is one of the first to utilize an individual-level cognitive style to examine possible options for attenuating the effects of POPs on individuals’ work outcomes.

Keywords

Citation

Lawong, D., McAllister, C., Ferris, G. and Hochwarter, W. (2018), "Mitigating influence of transcendence on politics perceptions’ negative effects", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 33 No. 2, pp. 176-195. https://doi.org/10.1108/JMP-09-2017-0337

Download as .RIS

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited


Politics is an inevitable fact of organizational life, persisting as a prime area of interest for both academics and practitioners (Buchanan, 2016). Although recently defined in more balanced terms (Farmer and Van Dyne, 2017), employees’ perceptions of organizational politics (POPs) remain distinctly pejorative, evidenced by documented negative associations with attitudes, behaviors, and outcomes. For example, Chang et al.’s (2009) summary “demonstrated that such perceptions have strong positive relationships with strain and turnover intentions and strong, negative relationships with job satisfaction and affective commitment” (p. 792).

Despite consistent bivariate effects, notable research gaps exist. Specifically, identifying intervening variables capable of influencing POPs – outcomes relationships are needed (Drory and Meisler, 2016). Abbas et al. (2014) called for studies evaluating individual differences capable of attenuating POPs assumed undesirable effects. Extending this discussion, research identifying moderators has not examined the cognitive processes used when politics-associated threats occur (Kapoutsis, 2016). Evaluating self-focused cognitive patterns on threat perceptions, in the form of politics perceptions, will augment multiple research domains (Rosen and Hochwarter, 2014).

Accordingly, we introduce transcendence as a cognitive style posited to moderate the effects of POPs on work outcomes. Transcendence represents a proactive, perceptive method that enables employees to detach themselves from the immediate situation and respond to cues holistically (Baumeister and Heatherton, 1996). Unlike other cognition-based variables, transcendence focuses less on thought outcomes and more on methods of information processing (Fujita and Carnevale, 2012). Self-regulation theory is used to explain our hypothesized neutralizing role of transcendence (Baumeister et al., 2007).

The purpose of the present study is to examine transcendence as a moderator of the relationship between POPs and related work outcomes, which include job tension, job satisfaction, work frustration, emotional exhaustion, and work effort. This research was developed to address both academic and practical considerations. Concerning science, recent studies examined behavioral and contextual influences (Yang, 2017) without reviewing the mental processes that likely serve as precursors. Because reactions to others’ self-serving behavior are varied (Chang et al., 2009), focusing on “how people got there” (e.g. thought processes) rather than solely on “where they are” (e.g. contextual factors; Yang, 2017) will augment politics perceptions and transcendence research domains. For comparison purposes, outcomes chosen to include in this research were consistent with previous studies (see Chang et al., 2009; Miller et al., 2008), and identified as critical success indicators in organizations.

Regarding practice, others’ self-focused behavior is likely to remain an active component of virtually all work contexts. Therefore, action aimed at minimizing harm and realizing potential benefits associated with such activity represents a potential source of advantage if developed. Transcendence, as an essential predictor of self-regulation success (Baumeister et al., 2008), is both automatic and deliberate (Segerstrom et al., 2017). Accordingly, its malleability allows for learning and development through organizational interventions similar to other cognitive enhancement approaches (e.g. mindfulness/transcendental meditation program (Creswell, 2017; Elder et al., 2014).

Theoretical foundations and hypothesis development

POPs

Ferris et al. (2000, p. 90) defined POPs as “an individual’s subjective evaluation about the extent to which the work environment is characterized by co-workers and supervisors who demonstrate self-serving behaviors.” Lewin (1936) argued that individuals react based on reality perceptions, while Gandz and Murray (1980) described organizational politics as a unique result of experiences and personal sensitivities. Concerning sources, politics perceptions manifest when social support is deficient (Hochwarter et al., 2003), environments are uncertain, and when resources are limited (Miller et al., 2008).

Ferris et al.’s (1989) initial model and subsequent refinements have fostered research examining antecedents, moderators, and consequences (Chang et al., 2009). Evidence suggests that POPs negatively affect involvement, satisfaction, anxiety, performance, commitment, and withdrawal behavior (Yang, 2017). Given that politics represents an external threat to identity and well-being associated with others’ self-serving behavior, its potential for harm is implicit (Rosen et al., 2017). Despite these findings, meta-analyses have reported inconsistent, and often contradictory, results. For example, Miller et al. (2008) found correlations between POPs and job satisfaction ranging from 0.01 to −0.71, and between 0.10 and 0.56 for POPs and job stress. Single studies reported negative, non-significant, and positive POPs-job performance relationships. Within studies, scholars found that politics perceptions predicted performance declines in some, but not all, samples (Hochwarter et al., 2014), as well as indices indicative of work contributions.

As argued recently (Yang, 2017), these discrepancies suggest the need to extend prior moderator studies, and to investigate ones previously not considered. Heretofore, research has examined classes of factors documented to influence outcomes of POPs, including individual differences (e.g. age, gender; Treadway et al., 2005), proactive behavior (Hall et al., 2017), and organizational features (e.g. feedback support, structure; Rosen et al., 2006). Moderator research has focused on “what people do” when faced with a potential threat (Hall et al., 2017). To a much lesser extent, studies have not explained the cognitive processes, or “how people think,” when engaging with others’ political behavior (Rosen and Hochwarter, 2014).

Self-regulation theory argues that individuals possess resources that require dedicated attention to depletion and restoration (Baumeister and Vohs, 2003). Additionally, self-regulation explains the processes used when individuals pursue desired goals or minimize overburdening demands (Vohs and Baumeister, 2016). As one of the four components of self-regulation (along with affect organizing, impulse control, and performance regulation; Baumeister et al., 2000), the ability to direct one’s thoughts represents a critical success factor when threats to well-being emerge (Bandura, 1989). Extending results found in psychological domains, we adopt self-regulation principles to explain how transcendence mitigates the harmful effects of POPs.

Self-regulation

Self-regulation reflects “the capacity for altering one’s own responses, especially to bring them into line with standards such as ideal, values, morals, and social expectation, and to support the pursuit of long-term goals” (Baumeister et al., 2007, p. 351). Described akin to human strength and a form of energy, the process of responding to cues from the immediate context influences resources that are considered finite, yet malleable (Baumeister et al., 2000). Accordingly, resource stores are in constant flux, and amenable to transient depletion and growth.

Ostensibly, effective self-regulation requires an active approach to override or alter responses to temptations posed by contextual stimuli (Baumeister et al., 2008). As a form of self-control, failure to manage impulses has been shown to predict distress across a myriad of cues including dieting, dating, and compulsive buying (Hong and Lee, 2007). Similarly, self-regulation encourages the postponement of immediate gratification to pursue more future outcomes viewed as desirable (Vohs and Baumeister, 2016).

Because of their impact on resource stores, impulse regulation and delay of gratification predict self-regulation success (Neal et al., 2017). Both require the availability and efficient deployment of cognitive resources (Fujita and Carnevale, 2012). Specifically, automatic demand responses fail to consider long-term consequences and may generate multiplicative effects by simultaneously provoking resource depletion and unsuccessful threat resolution. Conversely, thoughtful approaches, which are reflective and inclusive of goals and enduring standards, encourage transcendence to allow for favorable outcomes and the protection of resources (Liberman and Trope, 2008).

Transcendence

Research has referred to transcendence as “the capacity of individuals to stand outside of their immediate sense of time and place to view life from a larger, more objective perspective” (Piedmont, 1999, p. 988). Individuals with the ability to transcend leverage pre-established frameworks that promote understanding of events, and how proximal decisions impact distal outcomes (Trope and Liberman, 2010). Accordingly, much of the act of transcending is done through the mental separation of the “here and now” (Liberman and Trope, 2008). Rather than focusing solely on subjective interpretations of others’ behaviors, transcendence fosters a more objective (and expansive) view of current realities (Maslow, 1969).

Specifically, transcendence reflects the ability to override one’s natural impulses in favor of longer-term outcomes (Baumeister and Heatherton, 1996). Accordingly, self-regulation supports a comprehensive decision-making process that connects cues from the immediate context, actions, and visualized long-term consequences (Fujita et al., 2006). Instead of responding to signals in a stimulus-response heuristic, transcendence allows connections to form across events by replacing the “extended now” reality with more distal, attention-widening views (Vohs and Schmeichel, 2003). Although found in a wide range of fields including psychology, philosophy, religion, spirituality, health, and environmental studies, transcendence has had little visibility in the organizational sciences (see Berson et al., 2015; Rosen et al., 2016 for recent exceptions). We borrow from this diverse set of disciplines to demonstrate that individuals high in transcendence are more apt to respond to other’s politicking in ways supportive of long-term participation and well-being.

Political environments as a source of inspection

Others’ political behaviors are considered a “shock” (Ferris et al., 2000) or a hindrance because of the resulting ambiguity that blurs the relationships between contributions and outcomes (Yang, 2017). Many behavior-based reactions have been proposed following threat appraisals, including withdrawal from the situation, immersing oneself in one’s work, or purposefully engaging in politics to benefit oneself or others (Ferris et al., 1989). Although constructed through cognitions, these reactions are mostly behavioral and fail to address common thought patterns associated with their development. Rosen and Hochwarter (2014) argued that cognitive processes can help explain responses to threats that thwart the accrual of goals and maintenance of well-being. Extending this discussion, we contend that transcendence represents a practical, cognitive-based, approach to dealing with work politics (Fujita and Carnevale, 2012).

In doing so, we argue that the impulse regulation and delay of gratification mechanisms of transcendence are consistent with research advocating for the coping potential of active sensemaking (Hall et al., 2017). Weick (1995) described sensemaking as a series of ongoing behaviors initiated in response to a shock perceived as threatening. Because politics perceptions infuse work contexts with disruptions that are often unpredictable (Mills et al., 2010), figuring things out, and developing future-oriented plans, represent essential coping behaviors. By definition, sensemaking represents a cognitive process that aligns past, present, and future realities to reduce uncertainty (Mills et al., 2010). Sensemaking and transcendence overlap in this research by embracing a “being to becoming” mentality (Tsoukas and Chia, 2002) that affects appraisals of politics perceptions. In this regard, impulse control and delay of gratification allow for an understanding of both “how things will be in the future” and “how things are now” (Liberman and Trope, 2008). In this paper, politics is hypothesized to influence job tension, job satisfaction, work frustration, emotional exhaustion, and work effort, as reported in both single and meta-analytic studies (Chang et al., 2009). In the sections below, we discuss how transcendence is positioned to mitigate and neutralize these relationships.

Relationships with work outcomes

Job satisfaction

Job satisfaction represents a worker’s psychological and physiological contentment toward one’s job and work environment (Brayfield and Rothe, 1951). When job satisfaction is low, workers may choose to react impetuously, potentially jeopardizing long-term fulfillment for immediate gratification. Specifically, research confirms that low-gratification-delay employees left dissatisfying jobs because they were unable to patiently wait for the irritating work conditions to be resolved (Corr, 2002). Across environments, studies have demonstrated that a delayed and thoughtful approach predisposes one to view work pleasurably (Neal et al., 2017).

Transcendence augments individuals’ appreciation for the broader, and goal-relevant ramifications of their choices, leading to heightened self-control (Fujita and Carnevale, 2012). Hence, high transcendence individuals choose not to engage in deviant or self-destructive work behaviors. Instead, goal-relevant work features increase significantly, and this ability to look beyond the immediacy of the situation allows targets to delay gratification and seek more adaptive and enduring satisfaction (Steger, 2012). Furthermore, transcendence allows individuals to differentiate the signal (e.g. perceptions of politics that are signals of actual harmful political behavior) from the noise (e.g. perceptions of workplace politics that have minimal or no workplace harmful effects), leading job satisfaction to be less reactive to contextual ambiguities associated with others’ self-serving behavior:

H1.

Transcendence will moderate the relationship between POPs and job satisfaction such that as transcendence increases (decreases), the negative relationship between POPs and job satisfaction will be weaker (stronger).

Job tension and work frustration

Job tension perceptions and reactions have been linked consistently to POPs (Byrne et al., 2005), as well as heightened frustration as a result of impeded goal progress and resource accrual (Harris and Kacmar, 2005). A conventional truism used to conceptualize transcendence is “It is hard to see the forest for the trees” (Trope and Liberman, 2010). By adopting a more global view, high transcendence workers see the forest, but not at the expense of the trees (Liberman and Trope, 2008). This unique ability allows high transcendence individuals to remain composed when faced with the POPs-related threat by promoting retention of central features, and the liberation of those considered incidental (Trope and Liberman, 2011).

Heightened perspective taking allows high transcendence individuals to benefit by seeking strategies aimed at changing the self as well as the immediate situation. As a result of both independent (e.g. self) and interdependent (e.g. contextual) orientations, high transcendence individuals devise personal coping strategies that minimize stress and frustration when faced with a threat. A heightened awareness of contextual sources of coping allows high transcendence employees to accrue necessary resources (Fujita et al., 2006) by adopting a view that better identifies sources of support.

Finally, the moderating potential of transcendence is consistent with the “pause and plan” rudiments of self-regulation (Segerstrom et al., 2017). This view advocates for contemplative and vigilant behavior, rather than those considered careless and impulsive, when faced with stress. Regarding reactions to POPs, Segerstrom et al. (2017) argued that a more expansive view of demands attenuates negative responses and facilitates a more rapid return to desired, pre-threat levels:

H2.

Transcendence will moderate the relationship between POPs and job tension such that as transcendence increases (decreases), the positive relationship between POPs and job tension will be attenuated (strengthened).

H3.

Transcendence will moderate the relationship between POPs and work frustration such that as transcendence increases (decreases), the positive relationship between POPs and work frustration will be attenuated (strengthened).

Emotional exhaustion

Emotional exhaustion occurs when workers feel “emotionally overextended and exhausted by one’s work […] mainly manifested by both physical fatigue and a sense of feeling psychologically and emotionally drained” (Wright and Cropanzano, 1998, p. 486). Transcendence enables individuals to psychologically distance themselves from situations that deplete resources (Reyt et al., 2016). White and Carlson (2016, p. 419) argued that “Mental separation from the here and now enables us to transcend the urgencies of the situation and take on a more distanced perspective.” Furthermore, Vohs and Baumeister (2016) discussed how self-control guides self-selection into contexts that lead to desired feelings and behaviors. In the occurrence of POPs, people with the ability to transcend can refocus their attention, and self-select into situations that are not emotionally exhaustive.

Perceptions of politics trigger emotional exhaustion by increasing disengagement and fatigue (Cropanzano et al., 1997). Perrewé et al. (2015) suggested that burnout occurs in political contexts because of communication and fairness mismatches, as well as constant abrasive interactions with others. High transcendence individuals employ heightened construal behavior to understand the “why” of a particular situation. Importantly, the goal is to gain insight and consider alternative interpretations, as well as the omission of inconsistent or irrelevant details. Thus, judgments of situations are more coherent and less ambiguous (Trope and Liberman, 2010). Hunnibell et al. (2008) argued that transcendence represents a viable coping resource when vulnerability increases. Their study of hospital personnel found that transcendence “may be restorative, enabling nurses to endure, diminish, or rise above burnout” (p. 177):

H4.

Transcendence will moderate the relationship between POPs and emotional exhaustion such that as transcendence increases (decreases), the positive relationship between POPs and emotional exhaustion will be attenuated (strengthened).

Work effort

Brown and Leigh (1996) conceptualized work effort as the time and energy devoted to work. Environmental perceptions influence many behaviors including the amount of energy committed to work activities. Research argues that politics perceptions are inversely related to work effort (Hochwarter and Thompson, 2012). In support, McAllister et al. (2015) explained that stress experiences often lead to decreased energy levels at work. Furthermore, the components of work effort (e.g. energy and time) are resources people can use to cope with stress (Hobfoll, 1989).

The holistic viewpoints, followed by rational calculations of people who transcend, reveal to them that failure to exert enough effort at work will impede future goal achievement. Hence, transcendence motivates individuals to regulate their behavior, such that they continuously put in the effort that will result in goal achievement. Furthermore, workers with the ability to transcend can adapt better functionally by prioritizing, making more appropriate trade-offs, and finding opportunities for synergy to cope with the stress of perceived politics and counteract resource depletion (Reyt et al., 2016). Hence, transcendence permits employees to maintain the motivation to continually exert effort at work despite their perceptions of politics in the workplace:

H5.

Transcendence will moderate the relationship between POPs and work effort such that as transcendence increases (decreases), the negative relationship between POPs and work effort will be attenuated (strengthened).

Design of the current investigation

A constructive replication research design was developed to test the interactive politics perceptions × transcendence relationship (Hochwarter et al., 2011). Constructive replication, which examines similar questions with related measures in different environments, represents a stronger test of original documentation relative to exact duplication (Van Hulle et al., 2017). Sample 1 consisted of workers across a myriad of job contexts, whereas Sample 2 mainly focused on a single work environment.

Additionally, we were unable to identify a suitable transcendence measure that dealt directly with reactions to workplace demands. Considerable research to date has employed the construct of self-transcendence as a proxy for finding purpose in life (Hunnibell et al., 2008), increasing wisdom while advancing through life stages (Levenson et al., 2005), or an overarching value orientation-enhancing universalism and benevolence (Schwartz, 1992). Despite the developmental and protective nature of these treatments, associated measures were incapable of assessing transcendence as conceptualized in this research.

Thus, we undertook the development of a measure that more specifically addressed the theoretical and practical contributions sought in this research. Below, we describe the development of the transcendence measure beginning with the conceptual underpinnings of scale items relative to prior research. Following this, we conducted two studies seeking to establish a preliminary nomological network for the construct. Furthermore, evidence exists linking transcendence with mindfulness in that both represent a form of positive, psychological functioning (Baer and Lykins, 2011). Therefore, a second study was undertaken to explore the relationship between these constructs.

Method

Establishment of scale items

The transcendence scale developed for this research contained the five items formed following prior theoretical delineations of the construct (Baumeister et al., 2007). For example, “When I am involved in a boring, repetitious, or stressful job that most people dislike, I try to see how my efforts will impact my work and success” is consistent with the delay/impulse control mechanisms of transcendence (Mischel and Ayduk, 2004). Moreover, the item “When an unforeseen event occurs at work, I can immediately see how it will affect things in the future” taps directly into Baumeister and Heatherton’s (1996) conceptualization of transcendence as “a matter of focusing awareness beyond the immediate stimuli (i.e. transcending the immediate situation)” (p. 4).

The items “I spend more time at work thinking about what has already happened and what I think will take place in the future,” and “At work, I overcome anger by taking a big picture view,” are consistent with Maslow’s (1969) description of transcendence as an essential form of holistic consciousness. Also, these items relate accordingly to Baumeister and Vohs’ (2003) review that identifies transcendence as a “psychological capacity to respond to something that is not physically present” (p. 552). Finally, the item “When interacting with others at work, I am able to determine the motives for their requests and behaviors” follows discussions of self-regulation failure (Rebetez et al., 2016). Specifically, Baumeister and Heatherton (1996) contended that transcendence, in the form of the motive speculation benefitting the offending person, fosters positive emotional regulation.

Nomological network of transcendence scale

Transcendence recognizably shares overlap with other active, self-focused responses to work demands (Vago and Silbersweig, 2012). To assess its distinctiveness, we compared the scale to those purported to measure active, engagement including drive (Spence and Robbins, 1992; α=0.86), enactment (Hochwarter and Thompson, 2012; α=0.90), effort (Brown and Leigh, 1996; α=0.84), empowerment (Spreitzer, 1995; α=0.90), and political behavior (Hochwarter et al., 2007; α=0.81). The sample, which consisted of 173 attendees of a professional development conference directed at maximizing product quality, received a survey following a scheduled presentation (we did not discuss study concepts). We received completed questionnaires in a sealed envelope.

The sample was 61 percent male, approximately 51 years of age, and had 15 years of industry experience. An adequate reliability estimate was confirmed (α=0.87) for the five-item scale. Confirmatory factor analyses (CFAs) indicated that transcendence items loaded on the intended factor. In total, six factors emerged (GFI=0.91, AGFI=0.88, NFI=0.91 and RMSEA=0.06). We eliminated one work drive item due to its loading on the effort factor. Finally, the scale was correlated with work drive (r=0.28), enactment (r=0.29), effort (r=0.36), empowerment (r=0.38), and political behavior (r=0.23) in the expected manner.

Scale structure relative to mindfulness

We examined the relationship between our measure of transcendence and mindfulness with a sample of 224 medical professionals (non-clinical) employed by a large hospital in the Southern USA. Surveys were distributed following weekly planning and returned in a sealed envelope. The sample was 53 percent female, approximately 43 years of age, and reported roughly nine years of hospital tenure.

Neff’s (2003) four-item scale was used to measure mindfulness. Items included “When something upsets me, I try to keep my emotions in balance,” “When I’m feeling down I try to approach my feelings with curiosity and openness,” “When something painful happens I try to take a balanced view of the situation,” and “When I fail at something important to me I try to keep things in perspective” (α=0.78). The reliability estimate for the transcendence measure was acceptable (α=0.81). CFAs supported a two-factor solution (GFI=0.93, AGFI=0.89, NFI=0.91 and RMSEA=0.08). One mindfulness item cross-loaded on the transcendence scale (e.g. 0.41; “When I fail at something, important to me, I try to keep things in perspective”). However, the item loading was higher on the mindfulness scale (e.g. 0.51). Finally, the correlation between measures was significant (r=0.41) at a level and magnitude predicted by Vago and Silbersweig (2012).

These additional assessments do not allow for conclusive statements regarding scale adequacy without further evaluation. However, they do provide at least preliminary evidence of the transcendence scale’s uniqueness relative to other like constructs often measured in the organizational sciences. The use of the five-item transcendence scale as a substantive moderator of politics perceptions-outcomes relationships is presented below.

Participants and procedures – Sample 1

Students were given a survey to be completed by an individual working over 35 hours per week at two times during the semester (time separation was a minimum of three weeks and a maximum of six weeks). We distributed a total of 210 surveys; we received 191 questionnaires before the Time 2 deadline. The sample was mostly white-collar, professional occupations (78 percent), averaged 45 years of age (SD=10.06), was 49 percent female, and had nine years of organizational tenure (SD=7.19). Students received credit for recruiting participants.

Scholars advocate the use of this data collection strategy (Hochwarter, 2014), acknowledging that information collected is often consistent with other, more well-utilized, approaches. In support, Wheeler et al. (2014) found few differences between student-recruited and non-student-recruited samples for observed correlations of established constructs (e.g. engagement and politics perceptions).

Participants and procedures – Sample 2

Surveys were distributed electronically to all 212 information technology employees of an insurance company located in the mid-Atlantic USA. Employees were provided time to complete the survey at work (e.g. 30 minutes), and the instrument was returned anonymously to the researchers. After two weeks, we received a total of 158 completed surveys (response rate of approximately 75 percent). The sample averaged 42 years of age (M=41.82, SD=12.60), was 50 percent female, and had approximately eight years of organizational tenure (M=8.03, SD=7.80). Archival data provided by the organization provided little evidence of sample-population differences (Age M=42.71; Female 48.9 percent; tenure data were unavailable).

Measures

Five-factor personality variables

Consistent with recent research (Hochwarter and Thompson, 2012), we controlled for extraversion and neuroticism using a scale developed by Gosling et al. (2003). Specifically, two items (one of which had a reverse construct meaning) measured neuroticism (anxious/easily upset and calm/emotionally stable, r=0.45 – Sample 1; r=0.51 – Sample 2) and extraversion (extraverted/ enthusiastic and reserved/quiet, r=0.53 – Sample 1; r=0.47 – Sample 2). A seven-point response format, ranging from strongly disagree (1) to strongly agree (7), was used for all substantive measures in this research.

Politics perceptions

We used a six-item scale (Hochwarter et al., 2010) to measure organizational politics perceptions (α=0.92 – Sample 1; α=0.89 – Sample 2). “There is a lot of self-serving behavior going on in my organization” and “People do what’s best for them, not what’s best for the organization” represent sample scale items.

Transcendence

The five-item scale discussed above measured transcendence (α=0.74 – Sample 1; α=0.78 – Sample 2).

Job tension

A six-item measure developed by House and Rizzo (1972) to measure job tension (α=0.81 – Sample 1; α=0.88 – Sample 2). “My job tends to directly affect my health” and “I work under a great deal of tension” represent scale items.

Job satisfaction

A five-item scale developed by Brayfield and Rothe (1951) was used to measure job satisfaction (α=0.86 – Sample 1; α=0.82 – Sample 2). “Most days I am enthusiastic about my work” and “Each day of work seems like it will never end” represent scale items.

Work frustration

Work frustration was measured using a three-item scale developed by Peters et al. (1980). “Being frustrated comes with the job” is an example of a scale item (α=0.70 – Sample 1; α=0.79 – Sample 2).

Emotional exhaustion

Consistent with prior studies (Farmer and Van Dyne, 2017), a shortened, four-item scale from Maslach and Jackson (1981) measured emotional exhaustion (α=0.87 – Sample 1; α=0.83 – Sample 2). “I feel emotionally drained from my work” and “I often feel worn out even before I start my work day” represent scale items.

Work effort

Five items from Brown and Leigh’s (1996) scale were used to measure work effort (α=0.84 – Sample 1; α=0.89 – Sample 2). “When there’s a job to be done, I devote all of my energy to it” and “When I work, I really exert myself to the fullest” represent scale items.

Data analysis

Hierarchical moderated regression analyses were conducted to examine the politics perceptions × transcendence relationship on each outcome. In the first step, age, gender, and tenure were included given their prior associations with politics perceptions (Treadway et al., 2005). Demographic factors also have been associated with transcendence in previous research. For example, because familiarity (Vago and Silbersweig, 2012) and anticipation (Metzger, 2014) are rudiments, we expect associations between transcendence and both tenure and age.

Extraversion and neuroticism were included in Step 2 due to their corroborated relationship with outcome variables (Judge et al., 2002). Extraversion reflects sociability, activity, and many positive emotions including enthusiasm and assertiveness (John, 1990). Conceptually, extraversion and neuroticism have been described as valid representations of negative and positive affectivity (Duffy et al., 1998). Regarding threat reactions, extraverts are more apt to develop problem-solving to facilitate positive coping (Watson and Hubbard, 1996). Threat responses of neurotic individuals, which include guilt and self-disgust, are personally denigrating (Penley and Tomaka, 2002).

Moreover, personality variables encourage transcending behavior. For example, Shipp et al. (2009) suggested that neuroticism promotes a preoccupation for future events expected to cause disappointment. In support, neurotics struggle with this fixation because it provokes a sense of uncontrollability that impedes coping and recovery. Also, studies have documented relationships between extraversion (positive) and neuroticism (negative) and work effort (Merino-Tejedor et al., 2015), job satisfaction (Judge et al., 2002), and work frustration (Caspi et al., 2005). Steps 3 and 4 included the main effect and interaction terms.

Results

Descriptive statistics and correlations

Table I shows descriptive statistics and intercorrelations for Samples 1 and 2 variables. Bivariate relationships between politics perceptions and examined outcomes were consistent with those shown in prior research. Correlations among outcome variables are considered modest by psychometric standards, ranging from −0.46 (satisfaction-frustration – Sample 2) to 0.47 (tension-frustration – Sample 1) (Lewis-Beck and Lewis-Beck, 2015). Moreover, Tabachnick and Fidell (1989) argued that dependent variables should (ideally) be uncorrelated, or correlated at low levels, to allow for unique independent variable contributions to result. As shown in Table I, several dependent variables were marginally correlated.

Regression results

Table II reports regression analyses. Of particular interest are the interaction terms between POPs and transcendence. The interaction term for job satisfaction was statistically significant, after controlling for age, gender, tenure, and personality.

When plotted, the relationship between POPs and job satisfaction was statistically significant and negative when transcendence was low, and non-significant when transcendence was high (see Figure 1). The interaction terms for job tension, frustration, and exhaustion were also statistically significant (see Table II). When plotted, all three interactions indicated that the relationship between POPs and the outcomes was statistically significant and positive when transcendence was low, and non-significant when transcendence was high (see Figure 2, which was similar in direction for all three interactions). Overall, the hypotheses received support (Figures 3 and 4).

Discussion

To date, research affirming the harmful effects of POPs on outcomes has been extensive (Chang et al., 2009). However, antidotes to POPs (Harris and Kacmar, 2005) have received little emphasis, especially those characteristically cognitive (Rosen and Hochwarter, 2014). To build a more informed research base, we drew from the concepts of self-regulation and sensemaking to examine transcendence as a moderator of POPs – work outcomes (i.e. tension, satisfaction, frustration, effort, and emotional exhaustion) relationships. Results corroborated the hypothesized role of transcendence across two samples. Explicitly, the lack of influence of POPs on outcomes at high levels of transcendence was confirmed as theorized in prior cognition research (Kross and Ayduk, 2017).

Conceptually, transcending situations considered threatening allowed for a broader, goal-relevant perspective that suppressed proximate harm associated with others’ self-serving behavior (Rosen et al., 2016). Liberman and Trope (2008) argued that adopting a psychologically distant perspective, and its associated “big picture” cognitions, would augment decision making. Concerning this research, transcendence presumably allowed those faced with politics to consider both likely and unlikely possibilities when considering potential threat manifestations (Trope and Liberman, 2011).

Contributions to theory and research

Prior research examining boundary conditions on POPs and work-related outcomes has not adequately considered cognitive style moderators (Rosen et al., 2017). To expand this research, we examined transcendence as a moderator, hypothesizing that this cognitive style would allow individuals to adopt a broader and future-oriented approach when faced with politics. Regarding thought processes, transcendence moves the victim from a “what happened” mentality to one that includes “the when, the where, the whom, and the how much” of the threat as well (Trope and Liberman, 2010, p. 442).

Furthermore, our investigation incorporates transcendence, a construct that has not been considered in the organizational sciences, although other research streams including philosophy, health sciences, and public administration have deemed it an effective coping mechanism. We interweave self-regulation theory and sensemaking to defend our hypotheses theoretically. In heightened politics settings, transcendence helps regulate behavior and attitudes that reduce spontaneous reactions and fosters a full appraisal of the situation. By doing so, individuals gain greater perceived control and are not as affected by the adverse outcomes associated with POPs. Findings from the empirical tests of our hypotheses indicate that transcendence is a moderator with explanatory value in the relationship between POPs and various work outcomes.

Practical implications

Organizations spend millions of dollars on a yearly basis due to the harmful effects of job tension, work frustration, emotional exhaustion, low job satisfaction, and minimal work effort on the part of employees. Given that organizations are social entities, eliminating all politics is neither possible nor advised (Hochwarter, 2012). However, the discovery of antidotes like transcendence can help organizations combat the adverse effects of POPs on work outcomes. Furthermore, transcendence could contribute to a more pleasant work environment. Rosen et al. (2016) reported that individuals with the ability to transcend are less prone to instigate incivility toward others at works.

Transcendence motivates the “think before you act” mentality, and this is very helpful in political environments. Metaphorically, organizational politics represents a jigsaw puzzle. If the picture, rather than the pieces, is not considered, completion is unlikely. Transcendence enables employees to adopt a big picture view that promotes continuous progress at work in spite of the political environment. Organizations can take action by hiring employees with transcendence abilities, and provide training aimed at expanding employee cognitive processes. Training techniques, such as the transcendental meditation program, have been proven effective in helping employees deal with workplace stress and burnout (Elder et al., 2014). Moreover, Hülsheger et al. (2015) found that a brief mindfulness intervention positively impacted sleep quality and duration. Such applications will enable employees to maintain favorable health, augment existing self-regulation acuities, and develop a broader perspective when faced with workplace challenges such as politics.

Strengths and limitations

Several strengths warrant brief mention. We found comparable results in support of our hypotheses across two unique samples (e.g. working adults from a variety of professional occupations and information technology clerks). Consistent with prior theoretical discussions (Treadway et al., 2005), demographic factors were included and shown to influence dependent variables (particularly age and tenure). Moreover, we controlled for extraversion and neuroticism due to documented relationships with threat and reward sensitivity (Penley and Tomaka, 2002). Our findings confirm previous studies documenting relationships between these dimensions and both dependent and independent variables (Hall et al., 2017).

Our transcendence measure developed for this research may be considered a limitation. Several self-transcendence scales focusing on individual growth (e.g. “I am more likely to engage in quiet contemplation”; Levenson et al., 2005) and personal benevolence (e.g. “I am willing to pardon others”; Schwartz, 1992) are available. However, we were unable to locate a transcendence measure that reflected its meaning as explicated in this study. Specifically, our focus on external perceptions and reactions (i.e. potential threat induced by politics) required the use of a scale that possessed those characteristics.

A final limitation is the use of single-source, self-report data. The imposed boundaries of the data collection led us to include steps to circumvent method effects. Specifically, we added recommendations outlined by Podsakoff et al. (2012) during survey development, including the removal of common scale properties, reviews of item ambiguity/cross-meanings, balancing positive and negative scale items, and collecting the independent and dependent variables for Sample 1 at different time points. Finally, controlling for dispositional characteristics can help identify sources of bias when using self-report formats (Spector, 2006).

If method bias posed a threat, intercorrelations would be high (>0.70; Lewis-Beck and Lewis-Beck, 2015). An examination of Table I fails to confirm such associations. Moreover, significant cross-product terms are often unaffected by method issues due to the analytic structure associated with moderated regression procedures (Podsakoff et al., 2012). Finally, tests of multicollinearity did not substantiate method biasing effects.

Directions for future research

We urge researchers to pursue a richer understanding of the transcendence construct and its application in organizational settings. Development of its conceptualization and differentiation from related constructs, such as self-control and salience, is needed. As an example, self-control is an attribute demonstrated by high transcendence individuals. However, the ability to transcend goes beyond the prompt to override one’s impulses. Transcendence captures the fundamental purpose and ramifications of self-control. In opposition to those who focus on the most salient contextual features (Taylor and Fiske, 1978), high transcendence individuals develop a more-encompassing perspective that has a temporal component. A myriad of other conceptually similar constructs requires attention as well.

Also, research should identify the actual behaviors associated with transcendence. At this point, we are merely able to assess whether or not employees possess and utilize the ability to transcend (i.e. “When an unforeseen stressful event occurs at work, I can immediately see how it will affect things in the future”). Unexplained to date is the “how” component. However, research has taken some steps forward in determining how individuals learn to transcend. Elder et al. (2014) found the transcendental meditation program to be effective in reducing psychological distress, workplace stress, and burnout in teachers and their support staff who worked with students with behavioral problems. More research on this technique and other intervention programs will increase our understanding of how people transcend stressful work environments.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that in previous transcendence models of social science research, the beneficiaries are external, whereas, in this investigation, the recipient of this holistic view of transcendence is the person. Future research should consider the benefits of transcendence that go beyond the self, such as their involvement in organizational citizenship behaviors. Other questions to be answered include: are high transcendence individuals more reflective when faced with a threat? Are high transcendence workers more deliberative when forming conclusions? Is additional information seeking behavior a feature of heightened transcendence (Fujita et al., 2006)? When reactions are identified and made available to researchers for theorizing and measurement, we expect contributions to become more expedient and impactful.

Finally, research should continue to explore both positive and negative conceptualizations of both politics and transcendence. Hochwarter (2012) suggested that greater understanding of positive-negative politics would result if scholars delved more deeply into participant’s motives, cognitive approaches, and situational factors. Recently, Maslyn et al. (2017) documented positive, negative, and non-linear politics relationships. Moreover, they found that the distance of the political behavior influenced how targets responded. Grant and Schwartz (2011) contended that virtues, including transcendence, possess inherent costs. Because useful transcendence requires a calibrated, self-focus on both proximal and distal factors, excessive emphasis on either may be problematic. Specifically, failing to recognize proximal cues may hinder the development and use of strategies intended to maximize opportunities or lessen threat consequences. Conversely, strict adherence to proximal signals may provoke a “stuck in the mud” reality that hinders growth.

Conclusion

Our conceptualization and theoretical underpinnings of the transcendence construct show that transcendence is universally adaptable, and its use should not remain confined to the fields of health and philosophy. The findings of our empirical investigation suggest that transcendence improves the lives of employees, and fosters organizational success via the mitigation of the harmful effects of POPs on work outcomes.

Figures

Interactive effects of politics perceptions and transcendence on job tension (Sample 1)

Figure 1

Interactive effects of politics perceptions and transcendence on job tension (Sample 1)

Interactive effects of politics perceptions and transcendence on job satisfaction (Sample 1)

Figure 2

Interactive effects of politics perceptions and transcendence on job satisfaction (Sample 1)

Interactive effects of politics perceptions and transcendence on job satisfaction (Sample 2)

Figure 3

Interactive effects of politics perceptions and transcendence on job satisfaction (Sample 2)

Interactive effects of politics perceptions and transcendence on emotional exhaustion (Sample 2)

Figure 4

Interactive effects of politics perceptions and transcendence on emotional exhaustion (Sample 2)

Means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations among study variables

Variable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
 1. Age −0.08 0.47 0.02 −0.15 −0.16 0.06 0.17 0.18 0.01 −0.13 0.28
 2. Gender1 −0.07 −0.01 0.01 0.11 0.07 −0.13 0.04 −0.02 −0.09 0.06 −0.03
 3. Tenure 0.51 −0.09 0.15 −0.07 0.01 0.17 0.22 −0.01 0.19 0.09 0.11
 4. Extraversion −0.09 0.09 0.02 0.04 −0.13 0.14 −0.01 0.35 −0.18 −0.14 0.29
 5. Neuroticism −0.09 0.08 0.03 0.08 0.22 −0.04 0.33 −0.32 0.33 0.41 −0.21
 6. Politics Perc. −0.19 0.03 −0.07 −0.05 0.20 0.02 0.19 −0.44 0.33 0.38 −0.14
 7. Transcendence 0.07 −0.08 0.12 0.10 −0.09 −0.03 0.26 0.21 0.20 0.02 0.29
 8. Tension −0.01 −0.02 0.15 −0.06 0.31 0.24 0.08 −0.11 0.47 0.41 0.21
 9. Satisfaction 0.09 −0.03 0.03 0.23 −0.23 −0.41 0.16 −0.24 −0.45 −0.37 0.35
10. Frustration −0.09 −0.03 0.02 −0.16 0.28 0.23 0.13 0.40 −0.46 0.41 0.06
11. Exhaustion −0.16 0.09 −0.06 −0.05 0.37 0.39 0.02 0.42 −0.39 0.42 0.01
12. Effort −0.04 −0.06 0.01 0.35 −0.23 −0.12 0.36 0.09 0.31 −0.01 0.01
Sample 1 – M 44.97 1.49 9.47 5.12 2.77 3.51 4.93 3.71 5.38 3.77 3.89 5.20
Sample 1 – SD 10.06 0.50 7.19 1.33 1.21 1.49 0.77 1.26 1.09 1.45 1.54 0.88
Sample 2 – M 41.82 1.58 8.03 5.23 2.64 3.41 4.69 3.64 5.50 3.51 3.69 5.70
Sample 2 – SD 12.60 0.49 7.80 1.30 1.27 1.61 0.98 1.41 1.22 1.53 1.49 1.05

Notes: n=187 (Sample 1 – below diagonal); r>0.15 and r<−0.15 are significant at p<0.05; n=158 (Sample 2 – above diagonal); r>0.17 and r<−0.17 are significant at p<0.05. Gender coded as “1” for females and “2” for males

Results of hierarchical regression

Tension Satisfaction Frustration Exhaustion Effort
Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 1 Sample 2
Variable β β β β β β β β β β
Step 1
Age −0.01 0.01 0.13* 0.15* 0.17* −0.01 −0.20* −0.10 −0.02 0.13*
Gender −0.02 −0.04 −0.12 −0.04 0.08 −0.08 −0.01 −0.17* −0.06 0.06
Org. Tenure 0.23** 0.20* 0.08 0.01 −0.11* 0.14* 0.12* −0.01 0.02 0.06
ΔAdj. R2 0.03 0.02 0.03 0.01 0.02 0.02 0.01 0.03 0.01 0.01
Step 2
Extraversion −0.09 −0.06 0.21** 0.31** −0.18** −0.21** −0.20* −0.15* 0.23** 0.34**
Neuroticism 0.37** 0.35** −0.23** −0.33** 0.32** 0.36** 0.41** 0.46** −0.27** −0.24**
ΔAdj. R2 0.14** 0.12** 0.12** 0.22** 0.10** 0.14** 0.16** 0.21** 0.08** 0.14**
Step 3
Politics perceptions 0.18* 0.19* −0.31** −0.46** 0.15** 0.15* 0.37** 0.31** −0.15* −0.12*
Transcendence 0.14* 0.08 0.16* 0.15* −0.10* 0.17* 0.09 0.23** 0.23** 0.24**
ΔAdj. R2 0.06** 0.04** 0.16** 0.13** 0.05** 0.05* 0.13** 0.16** 0.10** 0.05**
Step 4
PP × TR −0.18** −0.15* 0.16** 0.12* −0.14** −0.15** −0.12* −0.19** 0.10*** 0.14**
ΔAdj. R2 0.02** 0.02* 0.03** 0.02* 0.03** 0.02* 0.02* 0.04** 0.02*** 0.03**

Notes: *p<0.05; **p<0.01; ***p<0.10 (two-tailed tests)

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Corresponding author

Wayne Hochwarter can be contacted at: whochwar@cob.fsu.edu