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If I Could Turn Back Time: Occupational Regret and its Consequences for Work and Life. Amy Wrzesniewski Jennifer Tosti New York University Janet Landman Boston University. Living with Regret over Choice of Work.

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if i could turn back time occupational regret and its consequences for work and life

If I Could Turn Back Time: Occupational Regret and its Consequences for Work and Life

Amy Wrzesniewski

Jennifer Tosti

New York University

Janet Landman

Boston University

May Meaning Meeting 5/7/05

living with regret over choice of work
Living with Regret over Choice of Work

“Basically, the reason I keep at it…is that my wife is from this area, she is very happy to be here, and this is the only firm of its type here that does the kind of law that I have now trained for and worked in over the last seven years of my life. It would be very difficult to break out…so I find myself basically saying, ‘Well, as long as I can do this to keep the family together, that’s what I’m going to do’.…

It’s a deal with the devil…I’m not a happy guy.”

– Corporate Securities Lawyer (Bowe, Bowe, & Streeter, 2000)

occupational regret
Occupational Regret
  • Regret – a more or less painful judgment and state of feeling sorry for misfortunes, limitations, losses, shortcomings, transgressions, or mistakes (Landman, 1993)
  • Occupational Regret – an enduring state of wishing that one had never entered one’s current occupation
  • Challenges the notion of free choice in selecting an occupation
  • Constraints to occupational entry abound:
    • Social class, level of education, networks
    • Needs of family, location
    • Personal expectations
why study occupational regret
Why Study Occupational Regret?
  • Work is the second most commonly cited domain of regret (Landman & Manis, 1992; Roese & Summerville, in press)
  • Regret has been associated with negative mental states, such as depression, neuroticism and negative affect(Gudjonsson, 1984; Landman et al., 1995; Weisman & Worden, 1976-77)
  • Focus here is on current, lived regret rather than hypothetical or past regrets(e.g., Gleicher et al., 1990; Landman, 1987; Gilovich & Medvec, 1994)
central research questions
Central Research Questions
  • How does occupational regret affect people’s responses to and feelings about their work and, as a result, their lives? (Study 1)
  • What role does personality play in people’s experience of occupational regret? (Study 2)
  • How does occupational regret affect overall mental health and functioning? (Study 2)
occupational regret and the experience of work study 1
Occupational Regret and the Experience of Work (Study 1)
  • Satisfaction with work constitutes a significant part of the quality and meaning in life(Loscocco & Roschelle, 1991)
  • Evidence of pervasive regret among teachers(Moracco, D’Arienzo & Danford, 1983)
  • Teachers who felt regret were more likely to be absent from work due to stress(Moracco et al., 1983)
hypotheses
Hypotheses

H1: Occupational regret will negatively affect people’s satisfaction and engagement with their work and lives.

H2: Dissatisfaction with work and life will mediate the relationship between occupational regret and absence from work.

role of work orientation
Role of Work Orientation
  • Defined as people’s relationships to their work; reflected in our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors related to work and its role in our lives(Wrzesniewski et al., 1997)
  • 3 main orientations:
    • Jobs: Material benefits from work
      • ‘My primary reason for working is financial – to support my family and lifestyle.’
    • Careers: Advancement in occupation
      • ‘I expect to be in a higher level job in five years.’
    • Callings: Fulfillment from work itself
      • ‘My work makes the world a better place.’
benefit of a calling orientation
Benefit of a Calling Orientation
  • People who view their work as a Calling (as opposed to Career or Job) are better off:
    • More satisfied with work and life(Wrzesniewski et al., 1997)
    • More engaged at work(Serow, 1994)
  • Like regret, work orientation varies by person within an occupation
  • The root of regret is based on the experience of the work itself rather than extrinsic motivators (e.g., pay, benefits)
work orientation hypotheses
Work Orientation Hypotheses

H3: People who regret their choice of occupation will be less intrinsically motivated, and more extrinsically motivated at work.

H4: People who feel regret over their choice of occupation will be less likely to have a Calling orientation and more likely to have a Career or Job orientation.

H5: A Calling orientation will alleviate (moderate) the negative impact of occupational regret on satisfaction and engagement with work and life.

H6: A Calling orientation will mediate the relationship between occupational regret and satisfaction and engagement with work and life.

methods study 1
Methods – Study 1
  • Survey conducted among nurses at a mid-sized public hospital in the Midwest
  • 105 respondents (35% response rate)
  • Mean age = 40.0 (s.d. = 9.3)
  • 98% female
  • Average 2 children
  • Mean tenure in occupation = 10.7 years (s.d. = 8.9, range 1-37 years)
measures study 1
Measures – Study 1

Independent Variable

  • Occupational Regret (several items adapted from Ryff & Heincke’s Views of Living Scale, 1983) (alpha = .82)

Dependent Variables

  • Job and Life Satisfaction (Campbell et al., 1976)
  • Internal Work Motivation (Hackman & Oldham, 1975)
  • Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation (Amabile et al., 1994)
  • Work Orientation (Wrzesniewski et al., 1997)
results study 1
Results – Study 1
  • Respondents who indicated that they had not chosen their line of work had significantly higher regret scores (M = 4.37) than with those who had chosen their work (M = 2.62), t(101) = 5.89***
  • After controlling for age, sex, tenure and number of children, regret was related to:
    • Job satisfaction (beta = -.53***)
    • Work motivation (beta = -.43***)
    • Life satisfaction (n.s.)
    • Days of work missed (n.s.)
    • Intrinsic motivation (beta = -.22*)
    • Calling orientation (beta = -.42***)

(H1)

(H1)

(H1, H2)

(H3)

(H4)

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

results calling as moderator
Results – Calling as Moderator

Calling orientation significantly moderated the impact of regret on job satisfaction (beta = .20*)

(H5)

* p<.05

results calling as mediator
Results – Calling as Mediator

Calling orientation fully mediated the relationship between occupational regret and intrinsic motivation.

(H6)

Calling

Orientation

beta = -.42***

beta = .48***

Occupational

Regret

Intrinsic

Motivation

beta = -.22*

beta = -.01

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

results calling as mediator16
Results – Calling as Mediator

Calling orientation partially mediated the relationship between occupational regret and job satisfaction.

(H6)

Calling

Orientation

beta = -.42***

beta = .45***

Occupational

Regret

Job Satisfaction

beta = -.53***

beta = -.37***

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

disposition and regret study 2
Disposition and Regret (Study 2)
  • Individual personality traits shape job attitudes, including satisfaction, as well as performance(Barrick, Mount & Judge, 2001; Judge & Locke, 1993; Staw & Cohen-Charash, 2005)
  • Impact of personality holds over time and across occupations(Staw et al., 1986; Staw & Ross, 1985)
  • Big Five personality factors(Costa & McCrae, 1992)
    • Extraversion, agreeableness and openness are generally linked with positive work outcomes (Tokar & Subich, 1997; McCrae & Costa, 1991)
    • Neuroticism linked to poor job performance (Furnham & Zacherl, 1986; Judge & Locke, 1993)
    • Conscientiousness linked to job performance (Barrick & Mount, 1991)
regret and overall functioning
Regret and Overall Functioning
  • Extends the scope of occupational regret outside of the domain of work
    • Work plays a large role in people’s lives
    • People’s experiences of their work have been found to affect life satisfaction (Wrzesniewski et al, 1997)
  • Mental health indicators:
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Somatic symptoms
study 2 hypotheses
Study 2 Hypotheses
  • Confirmation of Study 1 hypotheses and results.

H7: Personality traits will moderate the relationship between occupational regret and satisfaction and engagement with work and life.

H7a: Extraversion, openness to experience and agreeableness will alleviate the negative effects of regret.

H7b: Neuroticism will exacerbate the negative effects of regret.

H7c: Conscientiousness will have no effect.

H8: Occupational regret will negatively affect mental health.

methods study 2
Methods – Study 2
  • Survey conducted among nurses at a large, private hospital in the Northeast
  • 119 respondents (59% response rate)
  • Mean age = 39.0 (s.d. = 7.9)
  • 95% female
  • Average 1 child
  • Mean tenure in occupation = 14.1 years (s.d. = 8.2, range 1-38 years)
measures study 2
Measures – Study 2

Refinements and additions from Study 1:

  • Life Satisfaction measure changed from 1 to 6 items (Diener, Emmons, Larsen & Griffin, 1985)
  • Job Satisfaction measure changed from 1 to 3 items (Cammann, Fichman, Jenkins & Klesh, 1979)
  • NEO Personality Inventory (Costa & McCrae, 1985)
  • Mental Health assessed by Hopkins Symptom Checklist (Derogatis, Lipmann, Rickels, Uhlenhuth & Covi, 1974)
results study 2
Results – Study 2
  • After controlling for age, sex, tenure and number of children, regret was related to:
    • Job satisfaction (beta = -.60***)
    • Life satisfaction (beta = -.40***)
    • Days of work missed (beta = .23*)
    • Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (n.s.)
    • Calling orientation (beta = -.52***)
    • Career orientation (beta = .42***)

(H1)

(H3)

(H4)

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

results life satisfaction as mediator
Results – Life Satisfaction as Mediator

Life satisfaction fully mediated the relationship between occupational regret and the number of days missed in a year.

(H2)

Life

Satisfaction

beta = -.40***

beta = -.31**

Occupational

Regret

Days

Missed

beta = .23*

beta = .11

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

results calling as mediator24
Results – Calling as Mediator

Calling orientation partially mediated the relationship between occupational regret and job satisfaction.

(H6)

Calling

Orientation

beta = -.52***

beta = .39***

Occupational

Regret

Job Satisfaction

beta = -.60***

beta = -.40***

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

results calling as mediator25
Results – Calling as Mediator

Calling orientation partially mediated the relationship between occupational regret and life satisfaction.

(H6)

Calling

Orientation

beta = -.52***

beta = .23***

Occupational

Regret

Life Satisfaction

beta = -.40***

beta = -.34***

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

results personality as moderator
Results – Personality as Moderator

Extraversion significantly moderated the effect of regret on job satisfaction (beta = .19*)

(H7a)

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

results personality as moderator27
Results – Personality as Moderator

Agreeableness significantly moderated the effect of regret on job satisfaction (beta = .19*)

(H7a)

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

results overall functioning
Results – Overall Functioning
  • After controlling for age, sex, tenure and number of children, regret was positively related to the following mental health outcomes:
    • Overall measure of poor mental health (beta = .20*)
      • Depression (beta = .20*)
      • Paranoia (beta = .26**)
  • These mental health outcomes partially mediated the relationship between occupational regret and life satisfaction
    • Overall measure of poor mental health (p<.08†)
      • Depression (p<.08†)
      • Paranoia (p<.05†)

(H8)

† p<.10

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

summary of findings
Summary of Findings
  • The experience of occupational regret has negative implications for both satisfaction and engagement with work and life.
  • Having a calling orientation protects people from the negative relationship of occupational regret with job satisfaction.
  • Extraversion and agreeableness buffer people from the effect of regret on job satisfaction.
  • Occupational regret is related to poor mental health and functioning, which in turn is related to reduced satisfaction with life.
theoretical practical contributions
Theoretical & Practical Contributions
  • Measures the lived experience of one of the most commonly regretted life domains
    • Affects overall functioning
    • One of the daily lived regrets
    • Reminder of the most common area of regret, education(Roese & Summerville, in press)
  • Suggests paths that ameliorate effects of regret:
    • Calling orientation, finding fulfillment and meaning in work itself
    • Dispositional traits that focus on positive emotion and adaptation
  • In the future, consider role of organizations
regret measure
Regret Measure

12 items, 1-7 scale

  • If I could turn back the clock, there are many things in my work life I would do differently.
  • All in all, I am comfortable with the work choices I have made. (r)
  • It doesn’t bother me to think about work goals I haven’t reached and probably never will. (r)
  • If I had to do it all over again, there are very few things about my work life that I would change. (r)
  • In general, I would say I have few regrets about my past work life. (r)
  • I have consciously chosen my current line of work. (r)
  • I often think about switching occupational paths.
  • I regret not having entered the line of work I always hoped to enter.
  • I am happy about the occupational choice I have made. (r)
  • I feel I have made a mistake in going into this line of work.
  • My occupational choice was dependent on other people in my life.
  • I feel I have ended up in my current line of work through factors beyond my control.
work orientation
Work Orientation

20 items (Wrzesniewski et al., 1997), True/False scale (Study 1), 1-7 scale (Study 2)

Calling

  • I would choose my current work life again if I had the opportunity.
  • I find my work rewarding.
  • My work makes the world a better place.

Career

  • I expect to be at a higher level job in five years.
  • I view my job primarily as a stepping stone to other jobs.

Job

  • My primary reason for working is financial – to support my family and lifestyle.
  • I am eager to retire.
internal work motivation
Internal Work Motivation

6 items (Hackman & Oldham, 1975), 1-6 scale

  • My opinion of myself goes up when I do my work well.
  • I feel a great sense of personal satisfaction when I do my work well.
  • I feel bad and unhappy when I discover that I have performed poorly in my work.
  • My own feelings are generally not affected much one way or the other by how well I do on my work. (r)
  • Most people in this line of work feel a great sense of personal satisfaction when they do the work well.
  • Most people in this line of work feel bad or unhappy when they find they have performed the work poorly.
intrinsic and extrinsic motivation
Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

30 item Work Preference Inventory (Amabile et al., 1994), 1-4 scale

Intrinsic Motivation

  • It’s important to me to be doing what I really enjoy.
  • I want to find out how good I really can be at my work.
  • Curiosity is a driving force behind much of what I do.
  • I enjoy tackling problems that are completely new to me.

Extrinsic Motivation

  • To me, success means doing better than other people.
  • I want other people to find out how good I really can be at work.
  • I’m strongly motivated by the money I can earn.
  • I prefer working on projects with clearly specified procedures.
job satisfaction
Job Satisfaction

Study 1

1 item (Campbell et al., 1976), 1-7 scale

  • All things considered, how satisfied are you with your job?

Study 2

3 items (Cammann, Fichman, Jenkins, & Klesh, 1979 ), 1-7 scale

  • All in all, I am satisfied with my job.
  • In general, I don’t like my job.
  • In general, I like working here.
life satisfaction
Life Satisfaction

Study 1

1 item (Campbell et al., 1976), 1-7 scale

  • How satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?

Study 2

6 item Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen & Griffin, 1985), 1-7 scale

  • In most ways my life is close to my ideal.
  • The conditions of my life are excellent.
  • I am satisfied with my life.
  • So far I have gotten the important things I want in life.
  • If I could live my life over again, I would change almost nothing.
big 5 personality
Big 5 Personality

100 item NEO Personality Inventory (Costa & McCrae, 1985), 1-9 scale

Extraversion

  • Talkative, assertive, energetic, bold

Agreeableness

  • Kind, trustful, pleasant, sympathetic

Openness to experience

  • Intellectual, creative, deep, innovative

Neuroticism

  • Jealous, touchy, nervous, insecure

Conscientiousness

  • Neat, efficient, careful, steady
mental health
Mental Health

90 item Hopkins Symptom Checklist (SCL-90) (Derogatis, Lipmann, Rickels, Uhlenhuth, & Covi, 1974), 1-4 scale

  • Somatization – headaches, nausea, back pain
  • Obsessiveness – unpleasant thoughts, worry over sloppiness
  • Interpersonal functioning - critical of others, easily hurt
  • Depression – low energy, cry easily, blame self for things
  • Anxiety – nervous shakiness, trembling, heart racing
  • Hostility – easily annoyed, temper out of control
  • Phobia/fear – afraid to leave home, uneasy in crowds
  • Paranoia – blame others, can not trust others
  • Psychoticism – others control thoughts, hear voices
correlation table study 1
Correlation Table – Study 1

** Correlation is significant at the .01 level (2-tailed).

* Correlation is significant at the .05 level (2-tailed).

Coefficient alphas are shown along diagonals

regression results study 1
Regression Results – Study 1

† p<.10

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

regression results job satisfaction
Regression Results – Job Satisfaction

† p<.10

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

regression results intrinsic motivation
Regression Results – Intrinsic Motivation

† p<.10

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

regression results days missed
Regression Results – Days Missed

† p<.10

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

correlation table study 2
Correlation Table – Study 2

** Correlation is significant at the .01 level (2-tailed).

* Correlation is significant at the .05 level (2-tailed).

Coefficient alphas are shown along diagonals

regression results study 2
Regression Results – Study 2

† p<.10

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

regression results job satisfaction49
Regression Results – Job Satisfaction

† p<.10

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

regression results life satisfaction50
Regression Results – Life Satisfaction

† p<.10

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001

regression results days missed51
Regression Results – Days Missed

† p<.10

* p<.05

** p<.01

*** p<.001