• innovative work behaviour;
  • target specificity;
  • innovation tasks;
  • employee needs;
  • vocational teachers

The aim of this study was to investigate how employees’ innovative work behaviour is determined by the level of target specificity of innovation tasks, which refers to the concreteness of a task regarding the realization of an innovation. This issue was addressed in a study with 239 vocational teachers. The study investigated the assumption that employees have different task-related needs depending on whether they engage in innovation tasks with low or high target specificity. That is, with increasing target specificity, innovation-specific resources, such as perceived social support, become more important compared with general, work-related resources such as perceived impact. In addition, the study aimed to show that intrinsic motivation for innovation is a crucial requirement at all levels of target specificity. By applying structural equation and path modelling, we found that (1) the engagement in innovation tasks with low target specificity (i.e., opportunity exploration) depended on perceived impact, (2) the engagement in innovation tasks with high target specificity (i.e., idea generation, idea promotion, and reflection) was facilitated by perceived social support, and (3) intrinsic task motivation enhanced the engagement in innovation tasks at all levels of target specificity and mediated the effects of perceived impact and perceived social support.

Practitioner points

  • The development of innovations can be fostered if employees are encouraged to carry out social-interactive and reflective activities such as sharing ideas and critically analysing conditions, tasks, processes, and outcomes at work.
  • The exploration of opportunities for innovation can be facilitated by a work environment and by job tasks, which provide experiences that increase employees’ perception of influence on work processes and outcomes.
  • Dimensions of innovative work behaviour that are related to the realization of an innovation can be facilitated by a work environment that supports innovation processes by encouraging an open dialogue about ideas, by providing appreciation and sociopolitical backing, and by guiding less experienced colleagues in the innovation process.
  • The engagement in all innovative behaviours can be enhanced by creating an intrinsically motivating work environment that contains collaborative work structures, a safe space for errors and reflection, and sensitivity for context-specific problems and needs.