Original Research

Positive delay? The influence of perceived stress on active procrastination

Zhe Shang, Yuxin Cao, Ziyan Cui, Chenhui Zuo
South African Journal of Business Management | Vol 54, No 1 | a3988 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajbm.v54i1.3988 | © 2023 Zhe Shang, Yuxin Cao, Ziyan Cui, Chenhui Zuo | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 March 2023 | Published: 29 September 2023

About the author(s)

Zhe Shang, School of Government, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
Yuxin Cao, School of Government, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China
Ziyan Cui, School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
Chenhui Zuo, School of Government, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, China


Purpose: Although it is widely accepted that procrastination is counterproductive, active procrastination may be considered a constructive coping strategy in situations where work-related stress is high. Drawing upon the conservation of resource theory and the ego depletion theory, the article suggests that active procrastination can be influenced by perceived stress, mediated by ego depletion, and potentially moderated by the Big Five personality traits.

Design/methodology/approach: Using hierarchical regression analysis, Hayes Process Macros, and the general path analytic framework, our hypotheses were investigated. The sample was made up of 651 Chinese civil servants.

Findings/results: According to the results, ego depletion fully mediated the positive connection between perceived stress and active procrastination. Furthermore, extroversion, conscientiousness, and openness negatively moderate the link between perceived stress and ego depletion as well as mediating effect. While neuroticism exhibited a positive moderating effect.

Practical implications: The findings can serve as references for civil servants and public organisations to address stress and create a more relaxed work environment. Recognising active procrastination as a potential coping strategy can help to reframe the perception of procrastination and guide organisations in supporting their employees’ wellbeing.

Originality/value: This study extends comprehension of active procrastination in stressful situations and highlights the potential positive coping consequences of stress attributes. By exploring the mechanisms involved, the study sheds light on how perceived stress can influence active procrastination, with ego depletion serving as a mediating factor, which helps to explain how individuals may experience reduced self-control and subsequently engage in active procrastination as a coping strategy.


perceived stress; active procrastination; ego depletion; Big Five personality traits; the conservation of resource theory; the ego depletion theory.

JEL Codes

D23: Organizational Behavior • Transaction Costs • Property Rights; D91: Role and Effects of Psychological, Emotional, Social, and Cognitive Factors on Decision Making

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions


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