The Importance of Initiative in the Workplace and How to Develop It

Proactive, decisive, and flexible people are highly valued by companies. But, how do we develop initiative in the workplace? Find out here.
The Importance of Initiative in the Workplace and How to Develop It
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 14 March, 2023

What qualities do you think a person needs to perform well at work? Naturally, it all depends on the specific job, but you probably think that they need to be responsible, flexible, and meticulous. While this is true, today, the landscape of society and companies has changed. Indeed, it’s no longer enough to be an efficient employee. One characteristic that can make you stand out in the workplace is initiative.

This professional competence is one of the most demanded by organizations due to the benefits it brings. A person with initiative, all other things being equal, tends to feel more motivated and committed to their work. Therefore, they’re a great asset when it comes to innovating and proposing improvements in internal processes.

But, what exactly is initiative in the workplace? What can you do to develop it? Find out here.

girl in an interview
Employers take the demonstration of initiative into consideration in selection interviews.

Initiative in the workplace: a 21st-century competence

To understand the importance of initiative in the workplace, we need to look at the current job market. During the industrial era, tasks were more monotonous and repetitive, requiring rigor and precision, but not so much curiosity and creativity. However, today, globalization and technological advances mean there’s a really different scenario in which soft skills are key.

Workers are required to contribute to non-mechanized tasks such as resilience, teamwork, and empathy, and to have the ability to adapt. And, of course, initiative. This quality is understood as the willingness to propose and develop changes, improvements, or adaptations that have a positive impact on the organization’s processes, dynamics, or results.

Inititiative is the ability to observe the environment and point out what can be done differently from the competition. It also involves optimizing work processes and improving motivation and the work environment. However, it not only consists of proposing new products or services. It also implies possessing a global vision that allows for the detection of where and how to intervene to achieve progress.

Keys to developing initiative in the workplace

Initiative in the workplace favors organizations because it allows them to reinvent themselves, move forward, and obtain better results. It’s also positive for the employee since they feel more useful, valuable, motivated, and satisfied in their daily routine. That said, it should be remembered that they’re often not prepared for it.

In fact, traditionally, we’re urged to be passive subjects, recipients of information and orders. From an early age, we learn to comply with what’s fair and necessary, but we aren’t encouraged to develop critical thinking, curiosity, and initiative. Therefore, as adults, it can be difficult for us to implement these skills in the work environment. If you want to improve them, you should take the following steps:

Don’t settle for compliance

You know that, in your job, you’re paid to carry out a series of fixed tasks. But this doesn’t mean that you should settle for doing the minimum. In fact, you should find a way of achieving higher-quality results as well as making the process easier and more enjoyable.

Small changes aimed at improving your work environment or making your way of working simpler and more efficient can make a difference. So, don’t get stuck. Be observant. Figure out what you can improve.

Have a proactive attitude

Initiative in the workplace is extremely important at difficult times. It means that, instead of regretting, complaining, or feeling demotivated, you’re more resilient and flexible. Moreover, you collaborate and seek solutions.

Both bosses and work colleagues highly value this attitude, since it contributes to the common good and favors a good working environment. Also, if you anticipate potential problems and suggest ways of preventing them, you’ll be more successful.

Try and stay motivated

You’ll achieve significantly better results if you become really involved with your tasks and enjoy what you do. You must also take care of your moods and know how to regulate your emotions if you want to stay motivated.

Naturally, you don’t always feel equally inspired, but you can find certain incentives in repetitive and monotonous tasks, thus enriching you on a personal level. For example, raising the level of difficulty or implementing certain changes could be the challenges you need to continue being active and involved in your work.

Lose your fear of rejection

To show initiative in the workplace, you must have the courage to propose, suggest, and participate. That said, having your own voice and making it heard isn’t always so easy. After all, you were probably taught to follow orders and be careful not to be too pushy. But, losing your fear of rejection will allow you to offer feedback to your company, suggesting ways that they may need to improve. Remember, your own comments and opinions are valid and worthwhile.

Watch your attitude

When you’re part of an organization, you not only contribute your physical, creative, or intellectual work, but you also contribute (positively or negatively) with your energy and attitude.

A positive, kind, empathetic, and collaborative employee is of great value in a work team. Indeed, they spread enthusiasm and create a pleasant work environment. Therefore, you should work on these personal strengths.

Demonstrate a good disposition

There are many opportunities that present themselves to you in which you can show initiative. For example, when volunteers are required for a project. Or, by offering your help or stressing that you’re willing to collaborate on tasks that aren’t necessarily part of your normal work. This can open doors for promotion, help you improve your relationships with colleagues, and also allow you to develop new skills and expand your knowledge.

Value your work

Finally, as you can see, demonstrating initiative in the workplace requires giving more than what’s usually expected of you. For instance, extra energy, time, or effort. You don’t necessarily need to be seeking a specific reward. But it’s important to know how to value your work and everything you currently contribute and can supply to the organization.

If you don’t value your commitment and don’t make it noticeable, you can become frustrated and dissatisfied. Therefore, obtaining recognition is also part of the process.

Grateful boss with his employee
The demonstration of initiative in the workplace means valuing what you do, as well as contributing and making an effort.

Companies also influence the initiative of employees

The above guidelines are aimed at you if you’re an employee at a particular level. With these behaviors and attitudes, you’ll be able to show more initiative. However, it’s important to remember that not all environments are conducive to the cultivation of this quality. Yet, companies must be open to the opinions of their employees. They must listen to their voices and give space to their ideas and suggestions.

In addition, it’s important that they encourage and motivate their teams, and offer promotional opportunities and reward plans. Because, if the willingness is one-sided, it won’t go far. Indeed, making an extra effort in an environment that doesn’t appreciate or value it, isn’t pleasant for anyone.

Finally, developing initiative will allow you to increase your self-confidence. Moreover, you may be able to seek or create new opportunities for yourself, those in which you can continue to grow professionally.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Fundación Adecco. (2020). 20 competencias contra la exclusión social en el empleo
  • Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2012). The good character at work: An initial study on the contribution of character strengths in identifying healthy and unhealthy work-related behavior and experience patterns. International archives of occupational and environmental health85, 895-904.
  • Gerhart, B., & Fang, M. (2015). Pay, intrinsic motivation, extrinsic motivation, performance, and creativity in the workplace: Revisiting long-held beliefs. Annu. Rev. Organ. Psychol. Organ. Behav.2(1), 489-521.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.