When you have strong workplace accountability, you'll know it! How do you create an organization of people behaving like responsible adults, taking mutual ownership for reaching a shared destiny? Here's what the research says...
Promote workplace accountability formally and informally.
Formal accountability happens through planned processes designed to foster responsibility. For example: employee contracts, quality monitoring, disciplinary procedures, and performance evaluation. Formal accountability practices create an impact because they:
provide a feedback loop to increase the likelihood that work will meet key standards
follow deficiencies until they are corrected or addressed
Informal accountability takes place through group norms, organizational culture, and employee loyalty. Informal workplace accountability processes guide work decisions and actions, helping people differentiate “the way we do things here.” They also introduce and reinforce habits for how acceptably-completed work moves from one person or team to the next.
Research supports that the best way to promote workplace accountability is to use both formal and informal channels4,7,10.
Upholding workplace accountability impacts many important employee attitudes and behaviors.
Workplace accountability has a positive relationship with: job performance, job satisfaction, people taking on extra-role behaviors, trust, and commitment to the organization1,9,10,12,13,15.
When people are a good fit and feel supported at work, workplace accountability leads to positive outcomes.
When we believe we're a good fit for a company, and experience organizational support, workplace accountability is a good thing. Accountability links to higher job satisfaction and stronger organizational commitment.
For people who fit in and feel supported, clear accountability decreases job tension and depressed mood12,16.
WD-40 Company's CEO Garry Ridge describes a pledge for accountability within a tribe at WorldBlu's Freedom at Work Summit:
Autonomy and confidence matter for workplace accountability.
Workplace accountability is most positive when people can choose how to do the work and feel confident in their ability to get the job done.
When autonomy and job efficacy are high, accountability is more likely to have a positive impact on behaviors and attitudes. Autonomy comes from job design – the tasks and decisions that are expected, the discretion available to the person in the role, and the nature of interactions with a supervisor or manager. Confidence is a combination of the skills and abilities of the person holding the job and the training, preparation, and resources available8,14.
Personality and goal orientation impact the relationship between accountability and job performance.
For people with an approach orientation – that is, those who are oriented towards success, advancement, and mastery – task and extra-role performance is stronger when there is high accountability for outcomes. Highly conscientious people also perform well on tasks and beyond under high outcome accountability.
For people with an avoidant orientation – that is, those who focus on avoiding failures and remaining at the status quo – having high accountability makes extra-role performance stronger, but doesn't affect task performance3,6.
Watch out for the dark side of workplace accountability.
Under certain conditions or expressions, workplace accountability connects to poor work experiences: stress, job tension, and emotional exhaustion.
For example, when people have a weak personal reputation (i.e., easily believe others perceive them in a negative way, less competent, etc.), high workplace accountability connects to strain, job tension, and depression at work.
Similarly, when people feel that they're a poor fit at work, high accountability connects to lower job satisfaction, lower job commitment, and higher depressed mood at work.
Lastly, when people work under low job autonomy, high accountability leads to greater strain2,5,8,11,12
Support and accountability must go hand-in-hand.
Be sure there is support for meeting objectives. In an unsupportive work context, endorsing accountability has a negative effect. In a workplace marked by politics or abusive leadership, being held accountable reduces job satisfaction and increases job tension.
Create a supportive environment for work by developing and maintaining positive relationships with team members, promoting psychological safety, and providing team members with resources needed to be successful (e.g., training, tools, technology). Then promote accountability1,2,16.
Breaux, D. M., Munyon, T. P., Hochwarter, W. A., & Ferris, G. R. (2009). Politics as a moderator of the accountability—job satisfaction relationship: Evidence across three studies. Journal of Management, 35(2), 307–326. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206308318621
Breaux, D. M., Perrewé, P. L., Hall, A. T., Frink, D. D., & Hochwarter, W. A. (2008). Time to try a little tenderness? The detrimental effects of accountability when coupled with abusive supervision. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(2), 111–122. https://doi.org/10.1177/1548051808321787
Frink, D. D., & Ferris, G. R. (1999). The moderating effects of accountability on the conscientiousness-performance relationship. Journal of Business and Psychology, 13(4), 515–524. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022918904256
Frink, D. D., & Klimoski, R. J. (2004). Advancing accountability theory and practice: Introduction to the human resource management review special edition. Human Resource Management Review, 14(1), 1–17. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hrmr.2004.02.001
Green, M. C., Visser, P. S., & Tetlock, P. E. (2000). Coping with accountability cross-pressures: low-effort evasive tactics and high-effort quests for complex compromises. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(11), 1380–1391. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167200263006
Guidice, R. M., Mero, N. P., Matthews, L. M., & Greene, J. V. (2016). The influence of individual regulatory focus and accountability form in a high performance work system. Journal of Business Research, 69(9), 3332–3340. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2016.02.011
Hall, Angela T., Frink, D. D., & Buckley, M. R. (2015). An accountability account: A review and synthesis of the theoretical and empirical research on felt accountability: Accountability. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 38(2), 204–224. https://doi.org/10.1002/job.2052
Hall, Angela T., Royle, M. T., Brymer, R. A., Perrewé, P. L., Ferris, G. R., & Hochwarter, W. A. (2006). Relationships between felt accountability as a stressor and strain reactions: The neutralizing role of autonomy across two studies. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 11(1), 87–99. https://doi.org/10.1037/1076-89184.108.40.206
Hall, Angela T., Zinko, R., Perryman, A. A., & Ferris, G. R. (2009). Organizational citizenship behavior and reputation: mediators in the relationships between accountability and job performance and satisfaction. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 15(4), 381–392. https://doi.org/10.1177/1548051809331504
Laird, M. D., Perryman, A. A., Hochwarter, W. A., Ferris, G. R., & Zinko, R. (2009). The moderating effects of personal reputation on accountability-strain relationships. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14(1), 70–83. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0012567
Lanivich, S. E., Brees, J. R., Hochwarter, W. A., & Ferris, G. R. (2010). P-E Fit as moderator of the accountability – employee reactions relationships: Convergent results across two samples. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 77(3), 425–436. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2010.05.004
Mero, N. P., Guidice, R. M., & Werner, S. (2014). A field study of the antecedents and performance consequences of perceived accountability. Journal of Management, 40(6), 1627–1652. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206312441208
Thoms, P., Dose, J. J., & Scott, K. S. (2002). Relationships between accountability, job satisfaction, and trust. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 13(3), 307–323. https://doi.org/10.1002/hrdq.1033