The present study represents an examination on how an employee’s passionate attitude towards work is associated with individual innovative behavior. The aim of the present research was to study through which mechanisms individual innovative behavior occurs within organizations. More specifically, it was hypothesized that a passion for one’s work stimulates innovation in employees and the question was raised how this works. The present research investigated the relationship between passion and innovation, the mediating role of intrinsic motivation, and the moderating role of an innovative organizational culture. A passionate attitude towards one’s work was found to be positively associated with innovative work behavior, as well as with intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, intrinsic motivation was found to be positively related to innovative behavior, however, the mediating role of intrinsic motivation could not be confirmed. Additionally, an innovative organizational culture did not moderate the relationship between intrinsic motivation and innovative work behavior.
For the exploratory part of this study, the present research investigated the relationship between obsessive passion and innovation, the mediating role of intrinsic motivation, and the moderating role of an innovative organizational culture. Being obsessively passionate toward one’s work was found to be positively associated with innovative work behavior, as well as with intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation fully mediated the association between obsessive passion and innovative work behavior. Additionally, the model was tested with harmonious passion as independent variable. Harmonious passion was positively associated with innovative work behavior and intrinsic motivation. An employee’s intrinsic motivation did not mediate the relationship between harmonious passion and innovative work behavior.
A passionate attitude toward one’s work and innovative behavior
The present study found a significant positive relationship between an employee’s passionate attitude towards work and innovative behavior. This result suggests that employees that feel good about what they do at work and are actively engaged show more innovative behavior. According to the dynamic componential model of innovation by Amabile and Pratt (2016), innovative behavior includes: agenda setting, stage setting, idea generation, idea implementation and outcome assessment. Previous research already found that passion increases individual creativity (agenda setting, stage setting, idea generation) within organizations (Amabile & Müller, 2008; Amabile & Fisher; Bierly et al., 2000). Establishing that an employee’s affection towards his or her occupation not only positively affects creativity, but also the later parts of the innovation cycle idea implementation and outcome assessment, has often been ignored by researchers. However, since showing creative behavior makes up a large portion of the innovative process, the previously mentioned findings were taken as an indication that passion also fuels innovative behavior. According to the results, this hypothesis has been confirmed and therefore the present study takes further steps in explaining the antecedents of innovative employee behavior.
The mediating role of intrinsic motivation
The findings of the present research were congruent with past research pointing to a positive association between a passionate attitude toward one’s work and individual intrinsic motivation (e.g., Amemiya & Sakairi, 2019). Already previous research found that both dimensions of passion, harmonious and obsessive, lead to increased intrinsic motivation (Ho et al., 2018). Furthermore, the results revealed a significant positive relationship between intrinsic motivation and innovative work behavior. This suggests that employees who are satisfied with and interested in their tasks, generate and implement more novel ideas than employees who are not. Previous research found that intrinsic motivation is positively associated with creativity (Devloo et al., 2015), which was taken as an indication that this is also true for the whole innovative cycle. Next to this, the findings of the present study are in line with the componential theory of creativity, which assumes that creativity is fueled by the enthusiasm that intrinsically motivated employees experience (Amabile, 1996). The findings of the present study confirm this assumption and therefore this research takes further steps in establishing intrinsic motivation as an antecedent of idea generation and implementation (innovative cycle), next to the previous work on this topic (e.g., Collins & Amabile, 1999; Yindong & XinXin, 2013). Intrinsically motivated employees are of utmost importance in order to ensure individual innovative behavior through the determination to constructively solve problems in a potentially novel fashion (Gaddis & Strange, 2002).
Based on the results of the present research there was no significant relationship found between a passionate attitude towards one’s work and innovative behavior, through intrinsic motivation. Hypothesis 4 expected that the association between the independent and dependent variable would at least be partly positively mediated by intrinsic motivation. Even though the relationships between passion and intrinsic motivation, and intrinsic motivation and innovative behavior were positive and significant, this was not the case for the mediation model (see Figure 3). This finding is not in line with previous claims by Amabile (1983), who stated that even if a favorable or passionate attitude towards work is present within an individual, in order for it to trigger innovative behavior intrinsic motivation is necessary. The lack of a significant mediation is an indication that showing general passion toward one’s work is sufficient in order to increase innovative behavior. Even though this is not in line with some previous results (e.g., Amabile & Kramer, 2007), there is research which shows that passion is directly positively associated with innovative behavior, without any other factor being included (Shi, 2012). An aspect that should be taken into consideration here is that the passion scale used includes two dimensions which were disentangled in the exploratory analysis of this research.
Based on the results of the exploratory analysis of this study, there was a significant relationship found between obsessive passion and innovative behavior, through intrinsic motivation. First of all, the results of regression analysis showed that obsessive passion was positively associated with innovative behavior and intrinsic motivation, while intrinsic motivation was also positively associated with innovative behavior. The significant positive relationship between obsessive passion and innovative behavior is in line with the previous work of Vallerand (2012), who stated that both harmonious and obsessive passion can potentially increase innovative behavior. However, there are findings of previous studies that contradict this assumption and showed that obsessive passion decreased while harmonious passion increased innovative behavior in employees. When intrinsic motivation was entered into the model, the relationship between obsessive passion and innovative behavior became insignificant. Therefore, a full mediation is present. First, the results of the mediation analysis with obsessive passion as the independent variable, provide support for the claim by Vallerand (2012). Second, they add important knowledge on the mechanism of how obsessive passion can trigger innovative behavior. By establishing intrinsic motivation as a mediator, the present study takes a step closing the knowledge gap and provides an explanation of why obsessive passion can indeed lead to innovative behavior.
Being obsessively passionate about one’s work is associated with a pressured job internalization due to the need for approval or feelings of superiority (Amiot, Vallerand & Blanchard, 2006). Since internalizing one’s job in a voluntary way by being challenged and seeing it as a way of developing oneself is usually seen as the ideal way of increasing innovative behavior, obsessive passion has been widely ignored as an antecedent. However, the present study proves that obsessively passionate employees develop a high level of intrinsic motivation and therefore show more innovative behavior. A reason for this could be that no matter if an employee is harmoniously or obsessively passionate, he or she internalizes the job and derives pleasure and approval from it. As soon as you derive something positive from an activity, you are likely to be intrinsically motivated to do this activity (Deci & Ryan, 2010). A last point which is important to mention here is that even though there is a significant mediation present with obsessive passion as the independent variable, it is by no means the better predictor of both innovative behavior and intrinsic motivation. When analyzing the correlations table it becomes apparent that harmonious passion is substantially more related to innovative behavior and intrinsic motivation than obsessive passion (see Table 1).
The moderating role of an innovative organizational culture
The present research did not find statistical support for the moderating effect of innovative organizational culture, which means that hypotheses 5 and 6 could not be supported. This result yields the conclusion that the indirect effect of a passionate attitude toward one’s work on innovative behavior through intrinsic motivation, does not appear to be moderated by an innovative organizational culture. The moderator innovative organizational culture was proposed as previous research was lacking an explanation of how intrinsic motivation positively affects innovative behavior. Prior work on this topic indicated that viewing intrinsic motivation as a mere antecedent of innovative behavior might be too simplistic (Christiansen & Tett, 2013). Therefore, it was hypothesized that there might be a situational variable that strengthens the relationship. The lack of a significant moderation is not consistent with prior research, as Christiansen and Tett (2013) constructed in their trait activation theory that an innovative supporting organizational culture is vital in order for innovative behavior to occur as a descendant of intrinsic motivation. One reason for the insignificant findings could be that an innovative organizational culture is rather an antecedent of intrinsic motivation or innovative behavior than a moderator that affects the relationship between the two constructs. An indication for this can be found in the correlations table (see Table 1) where one can see that innovative organizational culture is significantly correlated with intrinsic motivation and innovative work behavior. Also other research suggests that an innovative culture might act as an antecedent rather than a moderator. For example, Jaiswal and Dhar (2015) found in one of their studies that an innovative organizational culture positively predicted employee creativity, moderated by creative self-efficacy. Furthermore, a study by Foss, Woll and Moilanen (2013) found that an innovativeness supporting culture on a management and employee level positively predicted idea generation as well as implementation.
The findings of the present study discussed above have important implications for organizations. According to Yuan and Woodman (2010), it is not an inherent trait to show innovative behavior, but a deliberate and intentional choice of an individual. This means that the innovativeness of employees can be shaped and the focus of leadership within any organization should be put on designing all positions within a company in a way that allows employees to be passionate about their occupation. Even though passion can be shaped or activated, it cannot be created if it is not already present somewhere within the employee (Tucker, 2014). This is why it is of utmost importance for any organization to hire the right people and, even more important, to place them in the right positions (Collins, 2001). This does not mean that there is only one point in time (the initial hiring phase) to make these decisions, but the match between the employee and his or her fit with the organization and position should be continuously evaluated by means of passion- or strengths-based management (Tucker, 2014). Some of the most successful businesses such as Apple already use this strategy (Ponciano, 2019). However, the approach is still absent in most organizations, no matter if small or big. Next to creating positions that are meaningful and offer a diverse set of tasks, it also includes factors such as autonomy and support from peers and leadership.
The results of the present study showed that passion, no matter if harmonious or obsessive, was associated with increased levels of intrinsic motivation and innovative behavior. According to Ho et al. (2018), being passionate about one’s work is more long-lasting than being intrinsically motivated. Therefore, if it is assumed that passion leads employees to be more intrinsically motivated, fueling passion by matching professionals with the right positions and strengths-based management (Tucker, 2014) could be an effective way of keeping employees’ intrinsic motivation high on the long run, without increasing efforts in keeping it on a high level. Someone who shows passion at work makes it part of his or her identity and therefore will show more intrinsically motivated behavior such as helping a colleague or spending extra hours on a project, without receiving an additional transactional incentive (extrinsic reward). Despite the fact that there are not a lot of tools that allow organizations to monitor their employees’ passion, the results of the present research indicate that this should be done continuously. One way of doing so is to quarterly measure engagement scores on an individual or team level. Passion is tightly linked to engagement and said to be an antecedent of it (Ayers & Cahill, 2012). Since it is already common for many organizations to measure employee engagement at certain points in the year, it would be easy to use the results of these surveys to get an idea of passion within employees without incorporating another tool. No matter how, leadership, management, and HR should focus on keeping employees passionate about what they do. The present research provides evidence that this is a way to increase individual innovative behavior which is a key factor for success of any organization.
The exploratory analysis of the present research revealed that obsessive and harmonious passion are both positively associated with innovative behavior. The positive relationship between obsessive passion and innovative behavior was less strong than the relationship between harmonious passion and innovation, and occurred through the mediator intrinsic motivation. This shows that management and HR should focus on matching employees with positions within the organization so that they are as highly harmoniously passionate about their work as possible. Furthermore, organizations should continuously monitor the development of employees’ passion toward their occupation. Only this approach will lead to more innovative employee behavior and ultimately increase competitive advantage in a market where innovation is of utmost importance in any industry.
Limitations and directions for future research
A number of limitations to this study must be acknowledged. First of all, the findings of the present research have been the result of a cross-sectional study. Here it is important to be aware of the limitations. Cross-sectional studies come with the limitation that exposure and outcome are assessed at the same time. Therefore, without longitudinal data, conclusions about cause and effect between the main variables cannot be made with certainty. It is possible that the associations between the main variables and innovative work behavior are reciprocal. For example, it was hypothesized that passion positively influences innovative behavior. However, an employee’s innovative behavior might also influence his or her passion level over the long term, which in turn could have an influence on the future innovativeness of this employees. Hence, researchers who conduct studies on passion and innovative behavior in the future should consider to use a longitudinal research design.
By establishing innovative organizational culture as a moderator, the present research tried to close the existing research gap of explaining how intrinsic motivation is positively associated with innovative behavior. Even though the moderator proposed here proved