Blog written for Bloomfield Harris Workplace Wellbeing published 23 January 2019.
What is Locus of Control?
Julian Rotter (1954) devised the Locus of control (LOC) personality trait which explains what we believe is responsible for the actions and outcomes in our lives.
It is measured on a scale, a low score usually indicating an internal LOC and high score an external LOC.
A person with an Internal LOC believes that they are in control of their behaviour and the outcomes that happen to them. Whereas a person with an external LOC believes external events and factors beyond their control are responsible. Externals will believe in luck and fate.
When the LOC shifts from the External to the Internal frame, clients find more energy, motivation and greater confidence to change.
Moore & Tschannen-Moran (2010, p.75)
Take the test here (don’t overthink your answers go with your first instinct!)
So what does your LOC mean?
Overall it is considered more favourable to have an Internal LOC. Internals are more likely to be healthier, happier and more successful.
In the workplace research has found the following benefits:
- Higher job satisfaction (Colquitt et al. 2015; Hughes et al. 2012)
- Better job performance (Colquitt et al. 2015)
- Less job strain and stress (Hendrix, 1989)
- Better physical health and mental wellbeing (Colquitt et al. 2015)
(nb. Colquitt et al. 2015 conducted a large scale meta-analysis of 357 studies)
In the workplace…
Internals are more likely to become leaders and are more effective in the role because they are proactive and take responsibility for their actions (Yukl, 2006; Dubrin, 2010).
They are also perceived by their team as being powerful as they can change “unfavorable conditions” and are more likable (Dubrin, 2010). Internals also prefer an internal leader and are best suited to taking the initiative, working independently, creatively and problem solving (Daft, 2008).
Whereas externals prefer a more directive leader who gives them little flexibility in their role. Externals prefer a highly structured work environment (Daft, 2008). Externals can often feel helpless and that their situation is uncontrollable. As a result they may be more likely to suffer from stress and depression.
Although an Internal LOC is usually found to be psychologically and physically more favourable there can be downsides. For example, if the person feels overly responsible it could create feelings of anxiety (Gershaw). A high responsibility attitude is highly correlated with OCD traits. For example, feelings of guilt can result if something goes wrong (Lagrotte). Rotter himself said that internals were predisposed to perfectionist traits.
Whatever your score here are some ways you can take control of your LOC.
- Start to believe that there’s no such thing as luck. See Professor Richard Wiseman for the evidence!
- Understand that your actions have a consequence.
- Believe you can achieve your goals and the best way to do this is through small actions.
- If you feel inclined to blame someone or something for an outcome consider what role you played in the situation.
- Take the initiative on a new project at work.
- Remember you’re not responsible for everything, other people and factors will have some impact on the outcome of a project
- Make sure you have planned strategies to cope with criticism and managing anxiety
- Consider if you have perfectionist traits and if so what can you do to make sure they are adaptive and not maladaptive
- In team projects remember others should have a say too
Knowing your LOC means you can use it to your advantage. If you’re leading a team you can better support your team if you know their LOC and the ways they prefer to work.
If you’d like support with implementing change we’re here to help. Jessica@bloomfieldharris.com