The More, the Better? Curvilinear Effects of Job Autonomy on Well-Being From Vitamin Model and PE-Fit Theory Perspectives

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Abstract

In organizational psychology research, autonomy is generally seen as a job resource with a monotone positive relationship with desired occupational outcomes such as well-being. However, both Warr’s vitamin model and person–environment (PE) fit theory suggest that negative outcomes may result from excesses of some job resources, including autonomy. Thus, the current studies used survey methodology to explore cross-sectional relationships between environmental autonomy, person-environment autonomy (mis)fit, and well-being. We found that autonomy and autonomy (mis)fit explained between 6% and 22% of variance in well-being, depending on type of autonomy (scheduling, method, or decision-making) and type of (mis)fit operationalization (atomistic operationalization through the separate assessment of actual and ideal autonomy levels vs. molecular operationalization through the direct assessment of perceived autonomy (mis)fit). Autonomy (mis)fit (PE-fit perspective) explained more unique variance in well-being than environmental autonomy itself (vitamin model perspective). Detrimental effects of autonomy excess on well-being were most evident for method autonomy and least consistent for decision-making autonomy. We argue that too-much-of-a-good-thing effects of job autonomy on well-being exist, but suggest that these may be dependent upon sample characteristics (range of autonomy levels), type of operationalization (molecular vs. atomistic fit), autonomy facet (method, scheduling, or decision-making), as well as individual and organizational moderators.

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