Thesis title: PROMOTING MILITARY CADETS' WORK ADJUSTMENT AND OCCUPATIONAL WELLBEING: THE ROLE OF SELF-EFFICACY BELIEFS
To support employees in their work adjustment process as well as to ensure their occupational wellbeing and health are prerogatives for nowadays organizations, whatever the industry, and society as a whole. However, to reach this purpose can be particularly challenging for some employers rather than for others, despite the remarkable efforts they make. To be sure, it may be the case of military organizations with regard to their newcomers. Indeed, the military personnel undertake a high-risk profession which is typified by extremely stressful situations, such as shootings, intimidations, and foreign missions (Delahaij & Van Dam, 2017). Moreover, the military career is so much demanding that military organizations have been defined as greedy institutions (Segal, 1986): Since day 1 at the academy, military newcomers are forced to respect a rigid hierarchy, to accept a high work-life imbalance, and to undergo physically and psychologically harsh trainings (Hall, 2011; Soeters, 2018). Additionally, newcomers’ work expectations about their future employment not always are met when entering the new organization (Nelson, 1987). All these issues are often a source of negative frustrating emotional states which in the long run, if not properly handled, can contribute to undermine one’s work adjustment, occupational wellbeing and health, with significant negative consequences for both the employees and their employer.
To better understand how to support military newcomers and their organization to work synergistically and to benefit from each other, I have conducted three studies aimed at identifying the individual determinants of work adjustment, occupational wellbeing, and health in order to detect potential areas of intervention. More in detail, I focused on the role of self-efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1997) because they reflect valuable personal resources (Hobfoll, 2001), namely self-related aspects or psychological characteristics associated with resiliency helping individuals to control and to affect the surrounding environment according with one’s goals (Halbesleben et al., 2014; Hobfoll et al., 2003). The importance of personal resources for newcomers’ work adjustment (i.e., organizational socialization; Ellis et al., 2015; Saks & Gruman, 2018), occupational wellbeing, and health (Halbesleben et al., 2014; Hobfoll et al., 2018) has been widely recognized by virtue of their intrinsic property to simultaneously encourage functional ways to behave and to cope with negative frustrating and stressful situations at work. In this regard, research has suggested self-efficacy beliefs among the most pervasive personal resources supporting individuals’ work adjustment (Ellis et al., 2015; Saks & Gruman, 2018), occupational wellbeing and health (Alarcon et al., 2009; Bandura, 2010; Xanthopoulou et al., 2007). Generally speaking, self-efficacy beliefs refer to beliefs “in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the course of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1997, p. 3). They exert a pervasive effect on human functioning by affecting action, affect, motivation, and thoughts by increasing the perception of control on the surrounding environment (Bandura, 2009). More specifically, self-efficacy beliefs self-motivate individuals to make plausible plans, mobilize energy, take actions, make efforts, and persist despite obstacles and hardships (Bandura, 2001), such as those that newcomers may encounter when entering the military career. Importantly, individuals high in self-efficacy appraise demanding situations as challenging rather than threatening (Bandura, 1997).
Accounting for the context-specific nature of self-efficacy beliefs (Bandura, 1997), it may be valuable to use a specific set of self-efficacy beliefs depending on both the workers’ organizational context and their career stage (Bandura, 2009). This is expected to produce more robust results with regard to the contextual psychological processes under study (Salanova et al., 2002). For this reason, the present Thesis points to the value of two contextualized measures of self-efficacy beliefs with regard to different indicators of newcomers’ work adjustment (i.e., organizational socialization, organizational identification, and turnover intentions), occupational wellbeing (i.e., job burnout and work engagement), and health (i.e., depressive symptoms), in a military working context. More in detail, in Study 1 and Study 2, I have examined the role of self-efficacy beliefs related to the management of negative affect, namely regulatory emotional self-efficacy beliefs (RESE; Alessandri et al., 2018; Alessandri, Vecchione, et al., 2015). RESE are formally defined as a set of “beliefs regarding one’s capability to ameliorate negative emotional states once they are aroused in response to adversity or frustrating events” (Caprara et al., 2008, p. 228). Instead, in Study 3, I have explored the role of work self-efficacy beliefs (WSE) which reflect ones’ self-perceived capabilities to perform well by carrying out several work-related tasks successfully (Alessandri, Borgogni, et al., 2015; Bandura, 2006). Throughout the three studies, I have adopted a longitudinal approach to take into account the dynamic nature of psychological processes which unfold over time as well as to provide support for the likely direction of the relationships implied in the hypothesized mediational models (Cole & Maxwell, 2003).
After providing an overview of these three studies, I will present them detailly in three different chapters. Subsequently, I will discuss the general conclusions deriving from the present Thesis as well as plausible directions for future research, ethical and managerial implications.
Overview of the studies
In Study 1, I have tested a serial mediational model of work adjustment which is triggered by individuals’ RESE. Building on insights deriving from Social Cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986, 2001), socialization literature (Ellis et al., 2014, 2015; Saks & Gruman, 2018), and Social Identity theory applied to work contexts (Haslam & Ellemers, 2005; Riketta, 2005), I expected that RESE indirectly negatively predicted turnover intentions through the serial mediation of organizational socialization and organizational identification. After gathering three waves of data (1-year lag) on a representative population-based sample of 890 military newcomers belonging to two different cohorts, I have tested the hypothesized serial mediational model through a series of multigroup autoregressive cross lagged panel models. As predicted, results fully supported the posited theoretical model showing that individuals’ RESE reduced their intentions to abandon the current employment indirectly, by fostering their socialization which in turn promoted their identification with the organization.
Giving continuity to Study 1, in Study 2, I have tested a mediational model of occupational wellbeing and health which is triggered, again, by individuals’ RESE. Building on insights deriving from Social Cognitive theory (Bandura, 1986, 2001), Conservation of Resources theory (COR; Halbesleben et al., 2014; Hobfoll & Shirom, 2000), research on burnout and depression (Hakanen et al., 2008; Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012), and a previous prospective study on the relationship between RESE and burnout in the military (Alessandri et al., 2018), I expected that RESE indirectly negatively predicted depressive symptoms through the mediation of job burnout. After gathering three waves of data (1-year lag) on a representative population-based sample of 1,327 military newcomers, I have tested the posited theoretical model through a series of autoregressive cross lagged panel models. Results fully supported the posited mediational model showing that individuals’ RESE reduced the occurrence of depressive symptoms indirectly, by counteracting the emergence of the job burnout syndrome.
Finally, in Study 3, I have tested a mediational model of occupational wellbeing pointing to the value of individuals’ WSE as the key mediator in the relationship between positivity and work engagement. Building on theory of Positive Orientation (POS; Alessandri et al., 2012; Caprara et al., 2009, 2010), Social Cognitive theory (SC; Bandura, 1986, 2001), McAdams’ theory of personality (McAdams, 1995; McAdams & Pals, 2006), Conservation of Resources theory (COR; Halbesleben et al., 2014; Hobfoll & Shirom, 2000), and work engagement research (Bakker et al., 2014; Schaufeli et al., 2002), I expected that WSE mediated the relationship between positivity and work engagement. After gathering two waves of data (1-year lag) on a representative population-based sample of 644 military newcomers, I have tested the posited theoretical model through a series of autoregressive cross lagged panel models. Results fully supported the posited mediational model showing that WSE was the self-motivating mechanism enabling individuals to turn their dispositional positivity into work engagement.