The concept of psychological ownership (PO) as we know and understand today has originated from the field of organizational behavior and psychology. More precisely, Pierce, Kostova & Dirks (2001, 2003) were the first ones to coin the term and establish a theory of PO in organizations. Defined as “the state in which individuals feel as though the target of ownership (material or immaterial in nature) or a piece of it is “theirs”, they were able to show that PO develops through three distinct routes: control over, self-investment in, and intimate knowledge of the target of ownership (Pierce et al. 2003). In addition to these three routes, many scholars have argued that personality and disposition may also matter for the emergence of PO, yet this has never been properly tested.

In his PhD thesis, our current guest author Bobby Bullock, has explored this gap in the literature and has taken a closer look at the relationship between personality, job autonomy and psychological ownership. Moreover, he has looked at how the well-established routes through which PO is said to emerge come into play in the context of organizational employment.

But read for yourself what Bobby Bullock has to say:

Psychological ownership has come to light as an important state with strong implications on employee attitudes and behaviors.  However, relatively little attention has been paid towards the process by which employees come to develop feelings of psychological ownership towards their work, particularly regarding the role played by individual traits in this process.  Ownership theorists claim that personality and disposition should matter (Mayhew, Ashkanasy, Bramble, & Gardner, 2007; Pierce & Jussila, 2011), yet these claims remain largely untested.

The purpose of the current investigation is to address these gaps by exploring how employee disposition and job design contribute to the development of job-based psychological ownership.  Employing a cross-sectional approach, data were collected using an online survey where participants were asked to complete measures of trait positive affectivity (PA), job characteristics, work experiences, and job-based psychological ownership.  Because the study focused on job-related phenomena, participants were required to work full-time in a location other than their home to be considered for this study.  The final 426 participants (60.4% male, 39.6% female) had an average tenure of 5.04 years (SD = 5.03) and represented a wide range of industries and job levels (23.7% entry-level, 31.0% individual contributor, 17.8% supervisory, 10.8% mid-level manager, 2.8% senior manager, 13.8% technical or professional).  Hypotheses were tested using bootstrapped regression analyses and structural equation modeling.

Results indicated that job autonomy has a positive effect on job-based psychological ownership (B = 0.501, CI 0.415 to 0.594) through three mediated paths:  investment of ideas, effort, and self into one’s work (B = 0.252, CI 0.178 to 0.349), experienced control and influence over one’s work (B = 0.214, CI 0.137 to 0.293), and intimate knowledge and understanding of one’s job (B = 0.036, CI 0.003 to 0.082).  Employee PA significantly moderated the mediated path from autonomy to ownership through experienced control (Index of ModMed = 0.017, CI 0.000 to 0.045), such that control mattered more for high-PA employees.  Exploratory analyses suggest that PA may play a dual role – as a moderator of autonomy’s effects on control (B = 0.052, CI 0.009 to 0.100), and as an indirect effect on ownership itself.  For example, high-PA employees reported greater investment of self in their work, which in turn predicted job-based psychological ownership (B = 0.255, CI 0.177 to 0.361).

Ultimately, job autonomy stood out as having a particularly strong and consistent positive effect on job-based psychological ownership.  Results suggest that all employees, from the most enthusiastic to the most apathetic can experience this positive psychological state.  That is, as long as they are afforded a high level of autonomy in deciding how to plan and carry out their work.

If you are interested in reading the full paper including more detailed results, please click here.

About Bobby:

Dr. Robert Bullock is a management consultant with a background in industrial-organizational (I-O) psychology. Since 2010 he has been a staff consultant at Scontrino–Powell, Inc., a Seattle-based I-O consulting firm. As a consultant Robert specializes in qualitative and quantitative assessment (i.e., employee surveys, leadership evaluations, developmental needs assessments, organizational assessments, validation studies), learning and development (i.e., training workshops, on-the-job learning, leadership coaching, training evaluation), and continuous improvement (i.e., Lean workshops, continuous process improvement, culture change). He has provided those services to dozens of clients across a diverse range of sectors and industries, including Fortune 500 companies, state agencies, and the high-tech, education, health care, and non-profit sectors. As a scientist Robert has published and presented research on the psychology of ownership, organizational citizenship behaviors, and job design. He enjoys writing and has had articles published in several outlets including Forbes, Bloomberg, Profiles International, and more.

For more about Bobby, please click here.

Editor’s note: All references can be found in the whitepaper, which you can download here.