Challenging tasks: The role of employees' and supervisors'goal orientations

2014 – In this article in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Paul Preenen, Annelies van Vianen and Irene de Pater investigated the relationship between goal orientations and challenging tasks. Specifically, they investigated whether the goal orientations of employees predicted the amount of challenging tasks they performed, as well as how the goal orientations of their supervisors predicted how many challenging tasks they would give to their employees.  


Challenging tasks are new, demanding, and stimulating tasks that test one’s abilities and determination. Performing challenging tasks is important for the advancement of the workers’ careers and future job performance. Goal orientations concerns the type of goals that individuals pursue. Individuals with a mastery-approach orientation may want to perform challenging work, as this may further develop their competence and skills.  

Employees’ are often dependent on their supervisors for the tasks that they receive. Depending on the goal orientation of the supervisor, different amounts of challenging tasks may be assigned to their subordinates. Supervisors with a mastery-approach orientation may want to keep challenging tasks for themselves, while supervisors with a performance-avoidance orientation may be more willing to delegate challenging tasks to their subordinates. 


Goal orientation, the amount of challenging tasks performed and the level of authority of the supervisor were measured using three questionnaires filled in by employees and supervisors. 


The results show that individuals with a mastery-approach goal orientation performed more challenging tasks. Supervisors with a performance-approach goal orientation delegated less challenging tasks to subordinates than supervisors with a performance-avoidance goal orientation. This shows that the individuals’ goal orientations, as well as those of their supervisors, matter in determining the amount of challenging tasks employees will perform. The authors conclude that managers who are too focused on their own performance goals may have a negative influence on the employees’ abilities to learn new skills through challenging tasks. 


Preenen, P., Van Vianen, A., & de Pater, I. (2014). Challenging tasks: The role of employees’ and supervisors’ goal orientations. European journal of work and organizational psychology, 23(1), 48-61. The article is attached.