Why Would I Help My Coworker? Exploring Asymmetric Task Dependence and the Self-Determination Theory Internalization Process

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Research on power suggests asymmetric task dependence (sending work resources to a coworker and receiving little in return) should create a power imbalance and promote selfishness. In contrast, work design theory suggests asymmetry can lead to felt responsibility, but this link has not been tested and its theory remains underdeveloped. Drawing on self-determination theory (SDT), this article argues that work design characteristics can encourage the SDT internalization process—the transformation of external reasons for behavior into internal reasons. Two experiments demonstrate asymmetry encourages felt responsibility for the dependent’s task, which helps explain the amount of help provided to the dependent. The author proposes felt responsibility indicates the extent to which an external task has been internalized as a self-directed motivation. This article clarifies how task dependence is different from power and develops an important and understudied aspect of SDT: how work design characteristics are transformed into internalized motivations.

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