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  • Spring 2012 Self-Efficacy Case Study
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Introduction

Self-efficacy can be defined as a person's beliefs in their abilities and how those beliefs can influence the events in their lives (Bandura, 1994). The confidence in one's abilities is derived from how they perceive themselves and measure their abilities from various sources of information. Self-efficacy can be measured on two scales: self-efficacy magnitude and self-efficacy strength (Bandura, 1996). The magnitude of self-efficacy can be defined as a person's belief of effort that can be put forth on a certain task.   If, for example, two people must lift 200 pounds and one is a bodybuilder and the other is a 12 year-old boy, their magnitude would differ from each other. The magnitude for the bodybuilder would be simple, while the magnitude for the boy would be taxing. Self-efficacy strength can be defined as how much confidence a person has in themselves in completing the task put before them. The bodybuilder would have high self-efficacy strength while the boy would have low self-efficacy strength for the task.

Self-efficacy theory and its belief components are present in all work environments throughout every job field.  Situations where these components or belief systems are present are relatable by any workforce employee.  These situational components contribute to the motivation and confidence of every employee in any job field.  How an employee feels about the outcome from a previous task, and how well they believe they did, contributes to their confidence to perform the next task.  What a supervisor relates to an employee during praise or in criticism directly affects that employee's motivation and beliefs.  No matter what the confidence level is of an employee before or after a task is preformed, a negative or positive verbal response from their supervisor can change those beliefs.  Due to the nature of a competitive work force, measuring one’s self against another is frequently done to compare abilities and to measure the distance between them and a promotional level of effort.  Anxious feelings that contribute to sweating and rapid heart rate will be associated with the level of difficulty a task presents and will from then on be associated with performing such tasks.  This translates into performance outcomes, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological feedback which are all sources of information that one’s beliefs are based from.

The case study that follows presents some of these beliefs in a situation where an employee was hired due to a reason that is not associated with the job itself and not in a way where a typical hiring process was used.  The level of experience and knowledge that this employee lacks, for the position she has obtained, has presented the concepts of self-efficacy for not only the new hire, but the other employees she directly affects.  The following sections will describe the self-efficacy theory in more detail as it applies to this case study. 

Case Details

The business owners of a tax accounting firm hired an individual with no prior experience related to the position or industry. In fact they were introduced to this individual through a mutual interest in music. This individual is a trained musician, holds a masters degree in music theory and regularly plays an instrument for a living. However, the individual could not sustain a living on just music performance alone, and the accounting firm needed to hire an additional administrative assistant to help with increasing workload. Specifically, this musician was hired to be an administrative assistant in a tax accounting firm.

Examples of the job duties required for this position included: filing, printing, copying, scanning, coallating, using computer software such as MS Office (word, outlook, excel), tax preparation software, project management software (the nature of the firm's work is held to federally mandated deadlines), as well as time and billing software, and additionally, interacting with clientele. The new hire had very little experience using the required software, the only program the individual was familiar with was MS Word which had been used for school purposes. Additionally, the new hire had no experience being involved in a fast-paced environment or with highly intensive deadlined-based projects with adhered to strict federal guidelines for processes.

The individual was still hired by one of the firm's owners based on their mutual interest, despite their lack of many aspects of required knowledge missing in order to be a successful candidate for this position. Upon starting the job, the new hire was given standard office orientation regarding projects, where to find information, and where things were located in the office. It was necessary and fairly typical for training to occur on-the-job. From the outset, the new hire complained several times daily about their lack of confidence in completing their assigned tasks. Complaints included statements such as "I am not good at this admin work", "I have no experience", "I can't/don't think I can do this", "I don't understand what I am suppose to do". The new employee also exhibited physiological/psychological distress over the job, such as anxious behavior including fast breathing, sweating, passive-aggressive statements, and confrontations with other employees about the work when stressed.

Formal training was also provided on-the-job, which included demonstrations/simulations of work as well as training guides related to specific processes. Software orientations/trainings were also issued. After the formal training was administered, the new employee began to have more confidence in their ability to perform their duties (increased self-efficacy). Additionally, the employee was verbally encouraged to continue their efforts, and other staff empathized with their frustrations and then provided answers/guidance on how to resolve their situation (i.e. they would not understand how to do something, so another employee would be empathetic to their frustration and help/show them how to do it, or direct them to the training guides, etc). The guidance appeared to help sustain the new employee's confidence along with their efforts in learning the job which also assisted in increasing their performance.

Overall, the training and encouragement/assistance reduced the employee's negative outlook about the job (the new hire's complaints lessened in frequency, and performance increased (i.e. they no longer needed assistance and errors/mistakes decreased). Lastly, and more recently, the employee has been given responsibility for special projects and particular aspects of the firm. These special assignments have continued to come with additional staff encouragement. This act of expressing the firm's confidence in this new hire to complete these special responsibilities has appeared to increase the new hire's own confidence and persistence in completing their job successfully. The individual no longer needs constant hand-holding to complete simple administrative tasks and is now taking on more complex responsibilities with little to no complaint.

Connection to the Theory

As shown in studies conducted by Bandura (1977), Gist and Mitchell (1992), the beliefs of self-efficacy can be developed in four different ways: performance outcomes, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological feedback. First, performance outcomes are essentially past experiences.  The self-efficacy an individual feels, whether it's low or high, when having to complete the same task again has to do with how well they did previously. Secondly, vicarious experiences are a form of social comparison in which the individual compares their self to a perceived similar other individual and forms a self-efficacy for the task depending upon how the comparison-other performed on the task. Third, verbal persuasion is demonstrated by praise or criticism for a task, which can influence the person's motivation to either perform at a higher level, or discourage them. Lastly, physiological feedback are physiological or bodily sensations (i.e., the feeling of increased adrenaline, sweaty palms, agitation etc). Any number of these can alone or combine to form and influence our confidences and perceptions of our abilities and therefore form self-efficacy.

In regards to the four sources previously described, Gist and Mitchell (1992) state that even though the four sources influence self-efficacy, it is actually the perception of the individual of their own self-efficacy. However, several of the sources are applicable when viewing this particular individual's work experiences. First, because the individual had no prior experience (no performance outcome) with the required tasks for the job, they had extremely low perception of self-efficacy. Bandura (1982) found performance outcomes to be the most influence determinate of developing self-efficacy, and when the individual has negative or poor past experiences they tend to have low self-efficacy. This demonstrates why the employee's self-efficacy was low to begin with. Secondly, after initial introduction to the job, the employee suffered an additional decrease in their perception of self-efficacy due to subsequent poor performance outcomes (mistakes, errors). Although this invoked an even lower level of self-efficacy, these failures can later be overcome by conviction and can serve to increase self-motivated persistence (Bandura, 1977).  After receiving more experience on the job, this is the outcome that is experienced before and after new tasks. 

Further, the employee had a negative response to the physiological feedback as well (anxiety, agitation, etc), which lowered their perception of self-efficacy for completing the required tasks. Physiological feedback has the least influence on self-efficacy but it can still lower a person’s self-efficacy and effect their personal beliefs to perform specific tasks (Bandura, 1977).  Moreover, the employee’s perception of self-efficacy increased as a result of providing successful performance experience via training. This outcome is aligned with empirical research that proves success during training and raises self-efficacy (Latham & Frayne, 1987; Frayne & Latham, 1989; Davis, Fedor, Parsons, & Harold, 2000). Lastly, providing verbal persuasion and increased responsibility has helped to sustain a positive perception of self-efficacy. Several studies corroborate this finding in that increasing the employee's control over job and tasks (task control), by way of offering individual responsibilities and allowing autonomy during a variety of tasks, is directly correlated with high self-efficacy (Bandura, 1986; Bandura & Wood, 1989; Axtell & Parker, 2003).

Further Research 

Although the new hire was able to gain confidence in herself and increase the level of belief she had to accomplish tasks, the chain of events could have been altered to change the low self-efficacy that not only she experienced during the beginning of her employment, but also the difficulty her co-workers had with their own self-efficacy in relation to her hire and work performance.  The formal training she was given while on the job could have been offered and completed prior to her start date.  Although on-the-job training is beneficial for an employee to learn the proper processes of a particular office or business, it is not the only training that is necessary for a new employee in any capacity.  If formal training on all firm-related programs would have been completed prior to the new hire‘s first day on the job, it may have contributed to a positive performance outcome (Axtell & Parker, 2003).  This could have been achieved due to the experiences she had during training which would have left her with higher self-efficacy strength and the magnitude may have decreased from taxing to moderate or even simple. Likewise, the physiological feedback she endured during her crash course in administrative tasks would have decreased and possibly disappeared after her on-the-job-training, instead of simply decreasing. Additionally, although verbal persuasion was utilized and worked effectively to encourage the newly hired individual, it is such informational sources that could have been used to make sure that the self-efficacy of her co-workers were not lowered while extra care was given to her. 

Further, research into the altering of others’ self-efficacy while focusing on one particular person can be followed and studied.  Although the new hire was the focus of this case study, the effect of her low self-efficacy and the extra steps the company used to increase it could have negatively affected her co-workers.  These events could alter the vicarious experiences of each individual related to the new hire and could change their own self-efficacy.  For example, the statements she made aloud about the confidence in her own abilities could have provoked another co-worker to doubt their own abilities, or in the opposite extreme, could have heightened her co-worker’s self-efficacy (Vancouver, Thompson, Tischner, & Putka, 2002).  By seeing her fail or face a difficult task with the belief that she could not perform them to par, she could have been boosting the confidence of others due to feelings of superiority.

If a new case study would be performed, the preparation of a new hire could be changed and training increased.  Also, after starting this employee in a new position, the levels of self-efficacy could be measured not only within this employee’s own beliefs but within the beliefs of that person’s co-workers.

Conclusion

In closing, self-efficacy contributes to the outcome of one’s job performance.  A minor change in the situation can alter that outcome.  The self-efficacy that one feels affects every aspect of their job performance as well as their co-workers’ performance.  The case study provided an example of a situation where low self-efficacy turned itself around by using components of information (i.e. performance outcomes, verbal persuasion and task control). 

The variables of self-efficacy theory can produce different outcomes but generally help to encourage an employee to motivate themselves and be a more productive asset to their company.  This theory and its components are simple, yet complex in the aspect of implementation.  A simple gesture of verbal praise or criticism can affect the outcome of a case.  This can also set off a chain of events that can affect every other co-worker and their own self-efficacy.

In the presented case, the newly hired individual suffered from every low form of self-efficacy within the theory.  She suffered from low magnitude and strength as well as suffering from physiological feedback.  She had no performance outcomes to associate her new tasks with and had not been brought up to par enough to be at a level for vicarious experience.  With that said, it was an information source of verbal persuasion along with belated training, and finally, task control that increased her motivation through self-efficacy, allowing her to overcome these fetes and enabling her to become a productive employee. 

References

Axtell, C. & Parker, S. (2003). Promoting role breadth self-efficacy through involvement, work redesign and training. Human Relations, 56, 1. The Tavistock Institute. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks, CA.

Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.

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

Bandura, A. & Wood, R. (1986). Effects of perceived controllability and performance standards on self-regulation of complex decision-making. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,  56, 805-14.

Bandura, A. (1982). Self-efficacy mechanisms in human agency. American Psychologist, 37, 122-147.

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior, 4, 71-81. New York: Academic Press.    

      (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).

Davis, W., Fedor, D., Parsons, C., & Harold, D. (2000). The development of self-efficacy during aviation training. Journal of Organizational Behavior,  21, 857-871

Frayne, C. & Latham, G. (1989). Self-management training for increasing job attendance: a follow-up and a replication. Journal of Applied Psychology, 74, 411-416.

Gist, M. E., & Mitchell, T. R. (1992). Self-efficacy: A theoretical analysis of its determinants and malleability. Academy of Management Review, 17, 183-211.

Latham, G. & Frayne, C. (1987). Application of social learning theory to employee self-management of attendance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 72, 387-392.

Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2012). Work Attitudes and Motivation. PSYCH484: Lesson 7: Self-Efficacy Theory: Do I think that I can succeed in my work? Retrieved February 20, 2012 from:  https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/sp12/psych484/002/content/lesson06/lesson06_03.html

Vancouver, J. B., Thompson, C. M., Tischner, E. C., & Putka, D. J. (2002). Two studies examining the negative effect of self-efficacy on performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(3), 506-516.

     

 

 

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