Managing personality at the workplace

Are you introverted or extraverted?

Personality is recognized as “a dynamic and organized set of characteristics possessed by a person that uniquely influences his or her cognitions, motivations, and behaviours in various situations” (Krauskopf & Saunders, 1994). Experts recognize five personality dimensions, on each of which each one of us can differ.

These Big 5 personality traits, comprising conscientiousness, agreeableness, neuroticism, extraversion, and openness, are assessed through psychometric tests (test yourself here). And these traits have been found across cultures in numerous industrialized communities.

That’s a somewhat different concept of personality described elsewhere, such as the qualities which characterize the ideal employee. For example, this Forbes article lists among others, intelligence, autonomy (independence), detail orientation, and conscientiousness. Or the five qualities most sought after when hiring employees: professionalism, high-energy, confidence, ability to self-monitor, and intellectual curosity (read that article here).

Psychometric tests can be useful to give employers insight into candidates’ aptitude for particular roles — extroverts are more likely to thrive in jobs which require them to interact regularly with other people (e.g., sales positions) than introverts. Well, that’s not exactly rocket science. People who do not feel energized (and in fact feel overstimulated) by social interactions are less likely to gravitate towards sales or PR jobs (for those not in the know, read this illustrated guide, the “23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert“, and the “15 Unmistakable, Outrageously Secret Signs You’re an Extrovert“). No need for a psychometric test.

But these personality assessment tools can provide invaluable insights into employees’ strengths and therefore be useful in working out issues concerning team dynamics and productivity. That would be true, at least if candidates and employees were subjected to a psychometric test shown to test what it aims to test (external validity) and shown to produce results when administered more than once (test-retest reliability). But personality tests commonplace at the workplace may not live up to expectations (read this Guardian article and this academic review).

Assuming conscientious (see, knowing your personality traits can be useful) employers and HR managers implement valid and reliable psychometric tests, there remains the question of how these five dimensions impact the workplace:

1. Conscientiousness
This trait is highly associated with academic success and professional performance (Psychology Today explains why). That hardworking people are more productive at the workplace is both a robust finding and an intuitive one.

2. Agreeableness
While among women, this trait does not have a reliable relationship with employee performance. However, men who say they are less willing to get on with others and who are more willing to be critical of others appear to be more successful career-wise. Getting ahead as a guy therefore appears to be equated to being less “nice” (read this blog and this review). At least in a US corporate setting, according to the research by Judge and colleagues.

3. Neuroticism
It appears that being in a negative emotional state often (individuals who have high neuroticism scores) is associated with lower job satisfaction. Which may explain a lot of things about that co-worker who never seems to be happy about anything.

At the same time, it’s important to get those colleagues who are experiencing emotional distress to get help. And they’re not only in the financial industry.

4. Extraversion
No surprises here: Extroverts are more likely to be in jobs with social interactions. But extroverts are also found to express job satisfaction and associated with leadership positions (but that is not to say it is impossible to find introverts in CEO positions).

5. Openness
Open individuals are associated with positive training outcomes: They are more likely to say that they benefitted from a training course. Which makes sense of course. Being open to new experiences (including new ideas and new ways of doing things) likely makes one more receptive to being trained for new skills or for receiving new knowledge.

Given that personality traits are stable across the lifespan, except neuroticism which on the whole declines as we age (we’re less grumpy as we get older), it pays to get the right employee in the first place. And when working stuck with Disdainful, Disparaging and Derisive, it’s useful to know that it’s probably not about you. It may just be all about them.