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Impact of Performance Lower Than Expectations on Work Behaviors: The Moderating Effect of Status Mutability and Mediating Role of Regulatory Focus

Authors Kumar N , Hossain MY , Jin Y , Safeer AA, Chen T

Received 6 October 2021

Accepted for publication 9 December 2021

Published 31 December 2021 Volume 2021:14 Pages 2257—2270


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Igor Elman

Nilesh Kumar,1,2 Md Yahin Hossain,2,3 Yanghua Jin,1 Asif Ali Safeer,4 Ting Chen1

1School of Business Administration, Zhejiang Gongshang University, Hangzhou, Zhejiang, People’s Republic of China; 2School of Management, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, Hubei, People’s Republic of China; 3Department of Business Studies, University of Information Technology and Sciences, Dhaka, Bangladesh; 4Business School, Huanggang Normal University, Huanggang, Hubei, People’s Republic of China

Correspondence: Nilesh Kumar Email [email protected]

Purpose: Drawing on social cognitive theory (SCT), this research aims to test the mediation of promotion focus motivation in between performance lower than expectations and innovative work behavior under the moderation of status hierarchy mutability. Further, low performance may also lead employees to counter-productivity through prevention focus. Thus, this study examines both sides of performance lower than expectations of the employee in the organization.
Methodology: The study considered a cross-sectional study and surveyed R&D departments of manufacturing firms located in China. In total, 340 employees in 65 teams participated in the survey. This study conducted a confirmatory factor analysis to test the reliability and validity of data and used hierarchical linear modeling to test the hypotheses via Mplus 7.3.
Findings: First, we reveal that employees’  performance lower than expectations is positively linked with promotion focus regulation. Second, the study’s outcomes reveal a positive indirect effect from employees’ higher status mutability in the group toward innovative work behaviour through promotion focus motivation. At last, the study identified that performance lower than expectations has a positive indirect impact on counterproductive behaviour via prevention focus.
Practical Implications: This research assists managers to understand the connection of stress between performances lower than expectations and the self-regulated motivation of the employee towards innovative behavior and counterproductive work behavior. Further, it recommends that leaders at different levels should understand that various reference groups inside and outside the organization pressurize employees’ cognition. Therefore, certain steps and policies (eg, sensitive training, annual performance appraisal, feedback) must be taken into consideration to handle such self-regulatory behaviors.
Originality: This study is the earliest to examine the performance expectations as an antecedent of innovative work behavior and counterproductive work behavior through regulatory focus.

Keywords: counterproductive work behaviour, innovative work behaviour, performance lower than expectations, prevention focus, promotion focus, status hierarchy mutability


Organizations nowadays operate in a very dynamic environment, with fast technological advancements necessitating the application of creativity and innovation to goods and services. The importance of employee creativity for innovation has been stressed in a significant quantity of literature.1–4 Since fostering individual creativity is critical for businesses to be competitive and thrive in the marketplace. Established companies are also continuously seeking for new methods to motivate their personnel to be more creative and come up with new ideas. As a result, many studies are eager to learn more about the motivational dynamics of employee creativity in the age of technological advancement.5–9

Motivating employee’s creative behavior is not difficult, yet challenging. Because idea generation and implementation require individuals to apart from existing approaches ie, evaluation of alternative solutions and risk failure. However, motivated employees’ innovative work behavior is even more puzzled when employees confront pressure initiated by performance expectations.10 This scenario encourages individuals to line up activities that are more regular and well-controlled than creativity. Such that, expectations have both good and bad effects on human behavior, these are reality in many modern businesses.11 Therefore, we employ expectancy theory and self-regulation theory to study “how people’s performance expectations encourage innovativeness and counter-productivity in difficult organizational conditions?’ What is expected of an individual will surely have an impact on the general conduct of the employee.12

According to expectancy theory, performance expectations vary from “high-performance expectations (HPE)” to “low-performance expectations (LPE)”.13 The level of expectation ultimately determines the employee’s contributions to the workplace.14 This is important because employees will perform better if the value of their contribution is expected to be high, while they would perform worse if the expectations are low.15 The link between employees’ performance expectations and outcome behavior in the organization can be analysed properly by the self-regulatory focus.16 The “Regulatory Focus Theory” recommends that individuals can engage in self-regulation at any given time with a focus on prevention or promotion, and the two focuses vary in the types of outcome expectations that are important to individuals.17

Furthermore, self-regulation has a strong mediating capability to predict individuals’ outcome behavior, generated from expectations pressure.18 In the case of creative performance lower than expectations (PLE), employees’ cognition creates pressure to strive for improvement, which ultimately brings innovative behavior through promotion focus motivation. Indeed, bringing new ideas is the only key to becoming a star employee and recovering the faded performance expectations.19,20 However, some employees may fail to adapt to the pressure and act counterproductively. As a result, such expectations are likely to have a strong double-edged influence on employees’ outcome behavior, such as innovative work behavior (IWB) and counterproductive work behavior (CWB). Previous studies have already represented higher performance expectations as the antecedent of several positive outcome behaviors such as vitality, psychological empowerment, job demand, organizational citizenship behavior, and other related outcome behaviors.21–25 Nevertheless, it is still unclear ‘how performance lower than expectations (PLE) initiates either innovativeness or counter-productivity among the employees, which urge to find out the answer to this question. Hence, this study intends to fill this gap.

This study contributes to the literature of expectations states, self-regulatory focus, innovative work behavior, and counterproductive work behavior in several ways. First, understanding the experience of the low-performing employee is important; because such an unexpected situation may happen with either a star or a beginner employee. In that case, their expectation pressure will influence the self-regulation system. Later, how the expectation pressure is linked with employees’ self-regulation system and initiates positive or negative outcome behavior will be addressed through this study. Second, we introduce regulatory focus as an intermediating process between PLE and IWB of individuals. It grasps a new perspective for illustrating “why the employees” PLE may initiate innovations for the organization even if s/he is tagged as a loser?’ Third, the moderating role of status mutability in the process where an individual’s relative standing can exert an impact on the relationship between the expectations and regulatory focus. The elaboration about the effect of status standings, which acts as an essential informal incentive, is very useful for supervisors in maintaining their managing credibility. Moreover, mapping how individuals’ creative performance expectations can cause innovations and counter-productivity simultaneously, depending on individuals’ self-regulation, will help supervisors take necessary actions in practice. In this part, supervisors will be able to identify potentially resourceful as well as less motivated employees and direct them towards the right development path immediately. Figure 1 depicts an overall hypothesized research framework.

Figure 1 Proposed model.

Theory and Hypotheses Development

Performance Lower Than Expectations and Innovative Work Behavior: The Promotion Focus Perspective

The expectation is perceived as being likely to generate brilliant performance; the variables that affect the individuals’ perception of expectancy include self-efficiency, goal complexity, and perceived control.26 The presumption that the desired performance will be inspired by the experience, judgment, and the nature of the performance objective. The concept of expectancy is widely supported by empirical evidence and is one of the most popular motivational theories at the workstation.27 Strong human resource management produces “consistent expectations of employee behavior, offers clear expectations regarding rewards and incentives for the reactions and leads to social pressures in enforcement and conformity”.28 There a high level of group consensus in a stable community evolves. Workers view specific standards, and employee perceptions of priorities overlap as expected. When the level of agreement is high, expected behaviors are clarified. It means that the target activities will be heavily assisted, but this will be limited due to differences in HRM for others.

Building expectation is a technique used to manage employees’ performance in the organization and sets a shared understanding of performance expectations concerning the tasks and activities to be accomplished.29 The behaviors involved to undertake these actions prolifically, and the adjustment with the organizational outcome.30 Therefore, when an employee fails to reach such standards, he/she gains a lower rating in performance appraisal systems, which ultimately blurred or biased his supervisor’s expectations.31

The concept of “creative performance lower than expectations (PLE)” represents the failure of achieving expected creative performance in a given work system by an individual. To measure the employees’ creative performance lower than expectations employees’ intension and preferences were taken into considerations. Once an employee fails to attain performance expectations, it creates pressure on their cognition and generates a motivation to strive. At this point, the employee starts to assess their intention to choose the path of motivation, which may be positive or negative in the organizational settings. It may be that multiple and poorly defined expectations need to be clarified and prioritized. Thus, an employee willing to meet the level of creative performance expected will work harder and become more promotion focus.

Regulatory focus is used to diminish the distance between actual and desired achievements and expand the gap between actual and unwanted results.32 The direction toward seeking prosperity is treated as a promotion/ambition focus intention, while the path for dodging displeasure leads to prevention intention. Generally, an individual with prevention-focused motivation is more likely to emphasize on security needs33 rather than nurturing, rules and responsibilities rather than optimism and ambitions,34 losses rather than gains.35 Thus, these two approaches are both targets engaged, but the point of difference is in mind-set deriving from divergent behavioural manifestations.36 When an employee’s creative performance is lower than expected, he/she gain lower points in the annual performance appraisal system.37 Subsequently, the employees with a significant expectancy perspective will work harder to restore their performance, while employees with lower or average expectancy will blame the organization.38 Thus, creative PLE could divide employees’ motivation into two pools, “Prevention focus and Promotion focus.” Prevention-focused employees develop a negative mindset towards the organization and start blaming the work system, whereas promotion focus employees are amenable to radical improvement.39

The literature contends that employees amenable to radical improvement to handle existing problems usually cultivate innovative work behavior.40 Innovativeness speaks about newness that is dramatic, exceptional, and brings paradigm-shifting inputs (knowledge, capabilities, and technologies) for the organization. An employee with a radical improvement mentality is likely to engage in innovations,41 because such individuals can change their behavior and adopt the demand of the situation. Therefore, employees with performance lower than expectations may also work hard to attain promotion, which eventually changes their outcome behavior. In that case, they will take risky endeavours to regain their expectations by solving existing problems with new methods and ideas. Existing studies also explain risk-taking employees as promotion-focused individuals who possess investigative and ambitions type mentality. Creativity researches show that employees with promotion focus tends to introduce creative approaches within their work settings.42,43 Consequently, such individuals will be more energetic and prompter to reach the expectations within a short time. Accordingly, the following hypothesis is derived:

Hypothesis 1: A promotion type regulation leads towards innovative work behavior.

Hypothesis 2: An employee’s promotion type regulation mediates the relationship between performance lower than expectation and innovative work behavior.

Performance Lower Than Expectation and Counterproductive Work Behaviour: The Prevention Focus Perspective

So far, we have elucidated how performance lower than expectations increase an employee’s innovative work behavior via a promotion/ambition focus. Then, we discuss the critical outcome, which may also arise as a consequence of creative PLE. When the employees’ creative performance is lower than expectations, they may start to blame the appraisal system and ignore their faults. As a result, the employee will lose enthusiasm toward the task activity or job and perform only routine works. Besides, if the stress level is so high, they may hurt the organization intentionally. Sabotages, go-slow, being absent become their outcome behavior. In this situation, employees pay more focus to collecting regulations about punishments and misconduct.44 As a result, their cognition and intension become restricted and avoid learning new things as they feel the organization is doing injustice to them.

Therefore, an employee with lower creative performance achievement will tend to adopt a “Prevention-focused” approach.45 Additionally, they will continually have concerns about their performance expectations and feel negative pressure from it. Later, the prevention-focused employee will act in a way that avoids risk-taking, learning, and innovativeness.34 As a result, they are less likely to adopt or bring new ideas and methods to the workplace, as they are more concerned that their failure to do so is not made unnecessarily obvious. In these states of mind, an employee may potentially generate counterproductive behavior in the organization. Counterproductive behavior is a planned violation of organizational standards of proper action by the employee. It is destructive and has the probability of causing harm or loss for the organization or its members.

Moreover, an employee with lower creative performance outcomes may try to bypass his/her failure by blaming organizational strategy, processes, and operations. From the above discussion, it is clear that poor self-efficacy leads to the non-attainment of expected outcomes. Consequently, they may contribute in a way that delays or damages the pace of workflow. Moreover, such employees will lose self-confidence and self-esteem, impacting further on their work contribution. In this part of the study, the dark side of employees with performance lower than expectations is highlighted. This has profound implications for management. Accordingly, the following hypothesis was derived:

Hypothesis 3: A prevention focus regulation mediates the relationship between performance lower than expectation and counterproductive work behavior.

Status Hierarchy Mutability as a Boundary Condition

Status hierarchy is developed by the collective understanding of the group members.46 Personal attributes such as “race, gender, dominance, and extraversion” are important in the initial status hierarchy cycle formation.12 The status will vary over time as group members get more opportunities to demonstrate the strengths of each other in the organizational environment.47 In comparison, expectations of other capabilities are focused on loud signs such as fast expression,48 rendering the assessment dynamic and continuous as team players gain further encounters with one another.49

Such continuous assessment creates the chances of changing the status hierarchy proves that status hierarchies are fairly changeable.50 In some cases, high-status group members rely on low-ranking members “deference and do not try to improve their abilities. Though high-ranking employees are motivated to retain their roles, they depend on others for their standing, rendering their positions hard to defend without supporting allies.51,52 They always feel expectations pressure to remain a step ahead of the lower-ranking employees. The higher rank always signals the source of innovations and uniqueness to solve challenging problems. Status Hierarchies drive certain group members to more competitive behaviors than power hierarchies.49 Since status hierarchies are viewed as more mutable and fluid, there is a potential for upward mobility than power hierarchies.50 People willingly bestowed status by assessing the individuals” capability of contribution within the community. However, power depends on the asymmetric authority over resources. As a result, individuals become more confident to manage their expectations than they can obtain additional resources from those in the authority. Which makes them see rank hierarchies as more flexible than power hierarchies. Therefore, employees with creative PLE will try hard to improve their position by the aspiration of upward mobility in the status hierarchy.

An employee with different status characteristics develops different expectations from both himself and others.37 Such that, on the one hand, an employee holding a higher status in hierarchy terms tends to produce higher performance expectations. On the contrary, an employee having a lower status tends to generate relatively lower performance expectations.53 Hence, it is obvious that employees’ creative performance expectations and status in the organizational hierarchy have a logical relationship in the workplace.12

A fixed status boundary only creates the opportunity for upper-status employees to deflect their poor creative performance.52 Those employees will not be afraid of losing their status while failing to achieve the performance expectations. This situation reduces their cognitive stress and restricts them from striving for innovativeness through promotion focus mentality because they know the status hierarchy is fixed.49 In contrast, where the status hierarchy is flexible, employees with lower creative performance than expected will try hard to take a chance of improvement. Therefore, they strive hard to change their position in the hierarchy by introducing new ideas, thoughts to solve the challenges.

We propose that a high hierarchy status, which is stable, allows actions that offer mental “nourishments” (ie, independence, kinship, and capability) to an employee. These mental diets are delivered by creating a powerful position in group decision-making and permitting employees the freedom to act and perform autonomously. For employees with creative performance lower than expectations, a high-status hierarchy position gives the liberty to self-develop. Thus, employees may conceal their poor performance by exploiting their stable position in the group. In that situation, they will strive for promotion. Having a permanent hierarchy status in their group will lead them to take greater risks in bringing forward innovations. Accordingly, the following hypotheses were derived:

Hypothesis 4: Status hierarchy mutability in-group positively moderates the connection between PLE and promotion focus, such that the relationship becomes stronger when status hierarchy mutability is higher.

Hypothesis 5: PLE has a positive indirect effect on innovative behavior via promotion focus under the moderation of status hierarchy mutability in the group; such that the indirect influence becomes stronger as the status mutability is higher.


Study Design and Procedure

This research was conducted in the department of research and development of large manufacturing firms located in China. 340 employees in 65 teams participated in the study. Their jobs involved a wide variety of tasks: designing improved work systems and developing new ideas and practices in the organization. The enrolled survey included 600 full-time workers, with 340 providing valuable details (response rate is 57%). The research study used questionnaires from two sources. Employees were asked to assess their performance expectations and self-regulation as well as a creative personality. The team leader rated each employee’s innovative work behavior and counterproductive work behavior. The senior team members rated each participant’s status hierarchy mutability in the group. The work team comprised of 4 individuals working under a single supervisor. The respondents were 41.3 years of age in the average population (SD = 14.8) and 12.8 years in the average company (SD = 9.3). Table 1 describes the demographic features of the respondents.

Table 1 Provides the Means, Standard Deviations, and Correlations of the Measures and Variables Used in the Study


Measures were managed over three months. Employees primarily completed the questioners of “creative performance much lower than expectations” and “status stability as a boundary condition”. One month later, the respondents also completed the regulatory focus questionnaires. Supervisors finalized the ratings of each employee’s innovative work behavior and counterproductive work behavior at the last lag of three months.

Measurement items for the creative performance lower than expectations are taken from the literature and moderated according to this research context. The scale was taken from the research of Jia et al (2014) and, Locke and Latham54 that involve job expectations by the organization and employees’ effort expectancy. Six measurement items were used for expectancy.55

Employees’ Regulatory focus was measured by using five items developed by Neubert, Kacmar, Carlson, Chonko and Roberts.43 The promotion (such as, “I always imagine how I will accomplish my hopes and ambitions”) and prevention (such as, “I am attentive on avoiding negative events at the workplace”) focus regulations consist of six items each (α = 0.84 and 0.82, correspondingly).

The counterproductive work behavior was measured using six items developed by Spector et al (2006). The scale involves damaging practices towards people, “Insulted colleagues about their performance” or the organization “I tried to go slow to perform an easy task” (α =0.88).

To measure innovative work behavior, we used a four items scale (α = 0.92) of Innovative work behavior from Wu, Harrigan, Ang and Wu41 A Sample item is “Employee’s innovations make our prevailing product line obsolete,” “Employee regularly search for a new approach to address new needs of the market.”

Status hierarchy mutability of one’s current position was measured with three items based on the research of Hays and Bendersky.50 Participants rated the status of each employee in their team by responding to three questions (α =0.77): “How much respect does he or she have in the group?”

Control Variables

In this research, we treated age, gender, education, and organizational tenure variables as the control variable. We also control employees’ demography as it has a significant influence on employees’ creative cognition.56 Specially we controlled for an employee’s informal status, which is derived from an employee’s social background. We control organizational justice because it can reduce the tendency of counterproductive work behavior of the employee. We also control the creative personality of individuals by a thought style or attitude towards personality that encourages creative thinking on an individual basis.

Analytical Strategy

We used multilevel modeling with SAS/STAT 15.1 to check our hypotheses. This allowed us to monitor Group heterogeneity and non-independence.57,58 We used a mixed model of random and fixed results. The group is included as a random variable in this study, and we control it; because the group variance may hamper the interdependence of the nested data.59 We calculated the grand mean of all variables to decrease the correlation between slopes and intercepts.60

Results and Analysis

Descriptive Statistics

The means, standard deviations, and zero-order correlations of all relevant variables are shown in Table 2. All variables are correlated according to the hypothesis and show relevance to advance in further analysis.

Table 2 Results of Confirmatory Factor Analysis

Psychometric Characteristics of the Measures

We used Mplus 7.3 to perform a CFA and test the discriminant and convergent validity of our main variables (creative performance much lower than expectation, promotion focus, prevention focus, innovative behavior, counterproductive behavior, and Status hierarchy mutability). The proposed six-factor model was a successful calculation overall match, as shown in Table 1; (X2 (472) =1494.145, p < 0.001; confirmatory factor index = 0.901; Tucker-Lewis index = 0.890; standardized root mean residual = 0.062). All the loading factors were important, which showed convergent validity. In comparison to alternative CFA models, we tested the discriminating validity of the proposed 6-factor model. Table 2 fit indexes show that the proposed 6-factor model much better fits the data than any other alternative model. Consequently, the present measurement model satisfies the convergent validity criteria (Table 3). Table 3 results showed that the CR calculation values for all constructs are strongly consistent internally.

Table 3 Multi-Level Models Identifying That Promotion Focus Mediates the Relationship Between Performance Lower Than Expectations and Innovative Work Behavior (IWB)

Hypothesis Testing

In this study, we found a positive link between promotion focus and innovative work behavior (IWB). Table 3, Model 3 demonstrates a significant positive correlation between promotional and innovative acts (γ =0.61, t (228) =8.75, p<0.01). We calculated that all variables in Table 3, Model 3 explained 25% of the variance. We measured the R-square shift finding that 20% of the variance was due solely to a promotion focus. Thus, hypothesis 1 is sustained.

The contention that Employees’ promotion focus would mediate the connection between PLE and IWB formed the basis of hypothesis 2. Initially, the criterion variable is regressed onto the predictor variable, and the result was found to be mediated (Krull & MacKinnon, 2001; Preacher & Hayes, 2004). Model 2 of Table 3 displays that PLE relates substantially and positively to IWB (γ = 0.34, p < 0.01). This finding shows a significant association between PLE and IWB. Table 3, Model 1 reveals PLE substantially predicts promotional emphasis (γ = 0.32, p < 0.01) which supports the second condition of mediation. The multi-level model that includes predicting IWB shows that promotion focus remains significantly linked to IWB, when controlling for; Table 3, Model 4; (γ = 0.51, t (227) = 6.74, p < 0.01). Here random team variance, tenure, gender, employment, creative personality, and informal status was treated as control variables. So, hypothesis 2 is accepted.

Hypothesis 3 assumes that the focus of prevention would mediate the PLE-CWB relationship. Table 4, Model 2 indicates that PLE is strongly and favorably correlated with CWB. (γ = 0.37, p < 0.01). Table 4, Model 1 of Table 4 indicates PLE predicts prevention emphasis significantly (γ = 0.29, p < 0.01) by attaining the condition of mediation. The multilevel model that covers both prevention and PLE for CWB prediction shows that the prevention focus remains closely related to the CWB (Table 4, Model 4; γ = 0.49, p < 0.01). Therefore, this hypothesis is recognized.

Table 4 Multi-Level Models Identifying That Prevention Focus Mediates the Relationship Between Performance Lower Than Expectations and Counterproductive Work Behavior (CWB)

Hypothesis 4 assumes that the relationship between PLE and promotion focus is influenced by the status hierarchy mutability. Precisely, the connection between PLE and promotion emphasis will improve if the workers have more opportunities to improve their status.53 As such analysis shows significant interaction between PLE and promotion focus (Table 5, Model 3; γ = 0.22, p < 0.01) in the model. The structure of this association is based on Figure 2, showing that at high (“+1” standard deviation above average), normal, and low (“-1” standard deviation below average) status mutability rates, the relationship between PLE and promotion emphasis is optimistic and slope increasing. The total interaction suggests that there is a significant change in the slope of the promotional retreat when status adjustments in one unit become necessary (Aiken & West, 1991).

Table 5 The Multilevel Model Explaining the Effect of Status Hierarchy Mutability on Employees’ Innovative Work Behavior

Figure 2 The moderating effect of employee status hierarchy mutability on the relationship of promotion focus and performance lower than expectations.

We found that the basic incline of a partnership between PLE and promotional attention was favorable and statistically important in high rates of reliability (represented as a standard deviation above average) (Intercept is 2.90, γ =0.55, s.e.=.10, t (214) = 5.12, p <0.01). However, the basic incline of the association between PLE and promotion concentration was the lowest of the three criteria for low stability (“-1” standard deviation), and this favorable relation was significant (intercept is 3.44, γ =0.79, SE=0.10, p<0.01). Finally, hypothesis 5, moderated mediation asserted to alleviate PLE’s indirect impact on innovative work behavior (IWB) through promotion focus. ‘1ʹ SD higher the mean (γ = 1.10, SE = 0.24; CI =0.65, 1.44), mean (γ = 1.17, p < 0.01, SE = 0.26; Monte Carlo CI = 0.75, 1.59), and “1” SD below the mean (γ = 1.30, SE = 0.29; Monte Carlo CI = 0.82, 1.76). The final calculation indicates that the indirect influence of PLE on IWB by promotional focus motivation was higher among employees with standard deviations above average, relative to employees who keep rank below the average.


Theoretical Contribution

Our outcomes have numerous theoretical implications. The present research is one of the first attempts to empirically describe the combined effects of employees’ promotion focus and status hierarchy mutability in the group to predict innovative work behavior. This gives us the lead “how hierarchical mutability as a boundary condition is related to employees’ innovative behavior”.61,62 We adopted a multilevel approach for understanding how the interaction between group level and individual level can draw out a more inspiring state that is favorable to innovativeness. This multilevel moderation approach also expends the literature on regulatory focus theory by delivering insights on how employees’ performance expectations can stimulate employees’ outcome behavior (IWB and CWB) through self-regulation. Besides, the complex nature of status stability in the group used as a moderator of an individuals’ self-regulation towards the end behavior would undoubtedly help to assess new insights of status competition in the group. Our results validate that employees’ status stability in the group helps them to choose promotion focus regulation, and yet they have lower performance than expected.

Second, our findings have suggestions for the individual-level approach, which stretches employees’ creative performance expectations to influence their Innovative work behavior and counterproductive work behavior through self-regulation. The growing research displays that creative performance expectation is an essential predictor of both innovative and harmful behavior.3,31,56,63 However, we are not familiar with any research which has been enthusiastic about studying how this effect occurs. We handle such void by presenting individuals’ distinctness in self-regulations (promotion and prevention focus) shows dissimilarities to choose outcome behavior (IWB and CWB). We reveal that employees’ creative performance lower than expectations is positively linked with promotion focus regulation, indicating that expectations generate a pressure of goal attainment with their desires, aspirations, and hopes. This self-striving phenomenon develops a higher level of energy within the individuals’ minds and brings innovative work behavior by taking a higher risk in work. On the contrary, individuals with a creative performance lower than expectations may also focus on the values of responsibility, duties, and avoid any risky decision to initiate. Therefore, they avoid doing something new and develop negative energy that leads them to perform counterproductive work behavior (ie, absenteeism, sabotage, go-slow).

Finally, our study highlights the essential role that group-level influences take place in the individual-level innovative behavior process. Elucidating how employees’ status stability in the group motivates employees by supplying psychological nutrition that facilitates major human needs. We presented that high-status mutability in the group influence employee to strive for promotion focus though the employee has lower creative performance in the group. Self-regulatory focus theory proposes that both group-level contexts and individual qualities should feed employee motivation.15 Yet, a little scrutiny has been done to match these two motivational deliberations. Our results confirm the relevance of this interaction as prescribed by regulatory focus theory by revealing that even the low performed employee may strive for innovative work behavior through promotion focus motivation as he holds fixed status in the workgroup. In summary, by outlining and upholding multilevel interactions, we have extended the earlier study of regulatory focus theory and the multilevel approach leading to innovative work behavior. Thereby, we offer a more extensive understanding of how creative performance lower than expectations and status mutability in the group is related to innovative work behavior where regulatory focus (promotion focus) attends as an illustrative mechanism.

Practical Implications

This study provides several applied implications for the organizational behavior and human resource management field. First, it suggests that an employee’s creative performance lower than the desired expectations in the workplace is effective in producing either promotion focus or prevention focus motivation. Therefore, sensitivity training might include managers to understand the stresses connections between the creative performances lower than expectations and the self-regulated motivation of the employee. Second, leaders at different levels of the organization should also understand that various reference groups inside and outside the organization pressurize employees’ creative cognition. This cognitive pressure leads the employees to behave innovatively or counterproductively in their workplace. Thus, an annual performance appraisal system can include a new chapter named “creative performance expectations” that will help employees to realize actual expectations and provide positive feedback to attain those expectations. Besides, this chapter will also develop behavioral standards for the employees and enrich the employees’ cognitive level.

Third, research and development departments may gain improvement from focusing on employees’ expectations and regulatory focus while designing the task atmosphere. Even though it will be challenging, the highly ambitious employees are always a level ahead to become radically innovative. Because such behavior supports them to achieve their ambition. In addition, employees’ status stability in the group also influences their innovative work behavior. Hence, it is not only the individuals’ performance expectations but also the status where he belongs has a crucial role in bringing innovations in the organization. Therefore, organizational managers and supervisors should ensure stable status for the potential employees. Stability in the position will also act as an intrinsic motivational factor that will increase employees’ motivation and decrease extrinsic motivational costs for the organization at the same time Moreover, creative performance expectations may have a dark side also. Employees with low or damaged creative performance may have the intention to hurt organizations’ interests. Therefore, managers and leaders should be careful about their movements within the organization.

Finally, managers need to provide a sense of hope to the employee despite their success or failure. Each employee deserves to get another chance. By ensuring mutability in their current position, will make employees feel optimistic as well as entitled to use the opportunity to upgrade their status in the group. As a result, the employee will identify himself as an insider, which thrust him to bring out his best at any cost. In conclusion, such enthusiasm in work may come up with the basis of innovative work behavior that leads to superior competitive achievements for the organization.

Limitations and Future Research Directions

Even though this research contributes to understanding the incorporation of creative performance expectations, regulatory focus, and status stability in predicting innovative work behavior and counterproductive work behavior, it has some drawbacks. First, respondents were taken from diverse organizations, and employees were involved in identical natures of works (research and development). Thus, our analysis may not apply to other professional jobs. Nonetheless, because all respondents were from research and development departments, it is relevant to assess incremental innovative behavior, which is more applicable to promotion focus motivation.64 This research supports group status mutability as a significant predictor, which leads us to explore other group-related issues to predict employees’ innovative behavior more rationally.

A mounting stream of study is bringing attention to innovations for sustainability in the market of the fourth industrial revolution. Developing an innovative workforce becomes the tactical focus to win this war. The capability to create and nurture a creative workforce is not dependent on a single mechanism, context, or personal traits. Instead, a considerable amount of multilevel approaches pushes innovative work behavior.65 The present research assists this view and brings new insights into how performance expectations and status mutability in the group both solely and together stimulate employees’ regulatory focus, and, consequently, innovative work behavior. However, it also provides a new vision about the potential source of employees’ counterproductive work behavior, which will help managers to address it. In addition, this study recommends that employees’ status stability in group and promotion focus motivation energize employees to strive for innovative work behavior even though their performance is lower than the expectations. Our outcomes produce a pattern of implementing regulatory focus theory within a multi-layered structure that may predict employees’ potential positive (Innovative work behavior) and negative (counterproductive work behavior) behavior. Optimistically, organizations can utilize these outcomes to leverage their staffs’ performance expectations and emphasize more focus on employees standing in the workgroup to boost innovativeness in the workstation.


By examining the relationship between performance expectations with employees’ outcome behaviors, this study intends to help management to prepare an alternate plan. The pressure generated from expectations could be a game-changer for the organization as it might bring innovations. On the other hand, such expectations may demotivate employees so badly that they become deadly for the organization. In addition, status hierarchy mutability shows a significant impact on employees’ self-regulatory behavior. This study thereby concludes that employers should pay special attention to lower-performing individuals, as they are more likely to take good or poor actions more quickly than high-performing people.

Ethical Consideration

The study was approved by the Academic Development Committee of Zhejiang Gongshang University (Reference No. 202101/IRB/23) and conducted in line with Helsinki Declaration principles. We used only standard procedures and measurement instruments. All respondents participated in the survey willingly and voluntarily. Such that, a description of study objectives was given prior to the questionnaire. Those who were comfortable continued answering.


Authors declare no conflict of interest.


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