The Power of Self Efficacy

The Power of Self Efficacy

As American industrialist Henry Ford famously remarked: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” Such is the power of self-efficacy, defined by Stanford University psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1970s as the inherent and steadfast belief that we really do have what it takes to achieve our goals. Since its inception four decades ago, self-efficacy has been applied to management, healthcare, sports, education, as well as current social and environmental issues such as AIDS, terrorism, and disasters in both the developed and developing world. Informed by the “positive psychology” movement, which marked a shift from the negative aspects of human functioning (e.g., mental illness) to a concerted effort to study ways to enhance positive functioning and well-being (e.g., happiness), self-efficacy has emerged as one of the key concepts in developing human resource strengths.

Against the backdrop of the “positive psychology” movement that has swept through research and practice in human resource management, my research on self-efficacy in the work–family interface sheds light on the difficulties employees face when navigating their work and family demands and responsibilities. Drawing on Bandura’s (2005) “Guide for Constructing Self-Efficacy Scales”, my co-authors and I developed a five-item self-efficacy to regulate work and life measure set in the context of employees’ work and non-work experiences. We defined self-efficacy to regulate work and life as “the belief that one has in one’s own ability to achieve a balance between work and non-work responsibilities, and to persist and cope with challenges posed by work and non-work demands” (Chan et al., 2015, p. 4). The measure sought to assess how confident employees were in regulating their work and non-work lives, and included the following items:

  1. How confident are you in changing your lifestyle to achieve a good work–life balance?
  2. How confident are you in finding out how to balance work and life?
  3. How confident are you in achieving your ideal work–life balance?
  4. How confident are you in implementing strategies to achieve work–life balance?
  5. How confident are you in inventing ways to balance your work and life?

Employees rated each item on a scale ranging from 0 (can’t do at all) to 100 (highly certain can do), such that higher scores meant that they were more likely to believe in their own abilities to cope with work–life challenges.

Based on a sample of 1,134 Australian employees from the education, government, and financial services industries, we undertook programmatic research to develop a set of papers which investigated the predictive and mediating effects of self-efficacy to regulate work and life. In Chan et al. (2015), we found that employees who experienced work–family enrichment were also more likely to believe in their own abilities to maintain a balance between work and non-work demands, thereby acquiring a strong sense of self-efficacy to regulate work and life. Their self-efficacy beliefs subsequently led to the attainment of work–life balance, which in turn, enabled them to achieve job and family satisfaction.

In another paper (Chan et al., 2015, under review), we found that self-efficacy to regulate work and life enabled Australian employees to achieve work–life balance and work engagement despite the presence of work and family demands. In a third manuscript (Chan et al., 2016, under development), self-efficacy to regulate work and life accounted for the relationship between supportive work–home culture and work–family enrichment, indicating that leaders and managers play a crucial role in fostering self-efficacy beliefs and enrichment experiences among employees. Essentially, a supportive organisational culture characterised by high responsiveness of the organisation, leaders, and co-workers to work–family issues enhanced employees’ self-efficacy to regulate work and life, leading to positive work-to-family and family-to-work spillover. When use of flexible work arrangements was included in the same study, it was not shown to have any positive associations with supportive work–home culture and work–family enrichment. This suggests that it’s not simply a case of implementing flexibility initiatives and encouraging employees to use them, companies have to devote resources to cultivate employees’ self-efficacy beliefs in order for work to have synergistic benefits on employees’ non-work lives, and vice versa.

Taken together, our findings demonstrate how self-efficacy can lead to a range of positive outcomes through a self-fulfilling cycle in which individuals achieve what they believe they can accomplish, and in the process, build skills and resources to overcome future challenges. Now, you might ask, where does self-efficacy come from and how can you get more of it? In some cases, it’s inborn optimism bestowed on a lucky few, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop self-efficacy on your own. Self-efficacy beliefs can also be acquired through mastering a task, modelling the behaviours of others who have succeeded, and “verbal persuasion”—that is, getting effective encouragement and receiving positive and constructive feedback that are tied to achievement.

Work–life balance and workplace well-being may seem like elusive ideals, but work and family demands and challenges can also be understood as opportunities to overcome, which ultimately build up your self-efficacy beliefs. Those who successfully cultivate self-efficacy to regulate work and life will be better positioned to thrive in the work–family interface when others falter.

For more on this topic, see:

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bandura, A. (1995). Self-efficacy in changing societies. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman.

Bandura, A. (2005). Guide for constructing self-efficacy scales. In F. Pajares & T. Urdan (Eds.), Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents (pp. 1–43). Information Age: Greenwich, CT.

Chan, X. W., Kalliath, T., Brough, P., Siu, O. L., O’Driscoll, M. P., & Timms, C. (2015, October 9). Work–family enrichment and satisfaction: The mediating role of self-efficacy and work–life balance. The International Journal of Human Resource Management. Advance online publication.

Other references:

Chan, X. W., Kalliath, T., Brough, P., O’Driscoll, M. P., Siu, O. L., & Timms, C. (2015, under review). Self-efficacy and work engagement: Test of a chain model.

Chan, X. W., Kalliath, T., Brough, P., O’Driscoll, M. P., Siu, O. L., & Timms, C. (2016, under development). A missing link in work–family enrichment: The mediating role of self-efficacy to regulate work and life.


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