How personality affects work behaviour and career success
Understanding one’s personality can help an employee modify behaviour at work, play to strengths, improve on weaknesses, interact with coworkers more effectively and ultimately lead to career success.
According to research by Dr Blaine Landis, a UCL School of Management assistant professor , personality plays a strong role in career success.
“Personality matters for many reasons. One reason has to do with fit – how well a person’s personality fits the job, the team, and the overall organization. Poor fit is a major cause of conflict and turnover,” Landis said. “Personality will affect whether people are hired, promoted, derailed, will help others, be seen as a leader, and so on.”
Gaining an understanding of different personality traits can help workers grow and managers engage more effectively with their employees.
What are the “big five” personality traits?
Psychology Today defines personality as “a person’s distinctive patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving. It derives from a mix of innate dispositions and inclinations along with environmental factors and experiences.”
The concept encompasses how someone behaves over time instead of during a single instance. Generally, a person’s core personality traits do not change drastically in adulthood.
“Sometimes people get fired because they make a bad decision, but oftentimes it’s what you’re repeatedly like across many situations —i.e., your personality —that drives a lot of the outcomes that we all experience in life,” Landis said.
There are different ways to measure personality, and popular personality assessments used in the workplace include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Caliper Profile and the Big Five Inventory. Landis’ research draws on the big five personality traits.
“Big Five” personality traits
AGREEABLENESS: compassion, respectfulness, trust and the tendency to go along with others.
CONSCIENTIOUSNESS: organisation, productivity, responsibility and the tendency to be careful and hardworking and to follow rule.
EXTROVERSION: sociability and assertiveness
NEUROTICISM: tendencies towards sensitivity, negative emotions, anxiety and depression
OPENNESS TO EXPIERENCE: curiosity, creativity and appreciation for new ideas, values, feelings and behaviours
“Big Five Personality Traits,” Psychology Today
Some personality patterns may be problematic if they lead to issues such as poor attendance, tardiness or inattention to details, Landis said. However, it is important for managers to remember that all personality traits carry both positive and negative consequences.
“It may seem that some traits are counterproductive in every job, but every trait has a bright side and a dark side,” Landis said. “Low conscientiousness , for example, is helpful in jobs requiring flexibility and a willingness to improvise rather than following the rules (e.g., jazz musicians). The same employee who lacks attention to detail may be excellent at improvising and coming up with new and novel solutions.”
How does personality affect work performance and career success?
Well-validated personality assessments can predict an individual’s work performance, according to psychologist Dr Robert Hogan, founder and president of Hogan Assessments. Landis’ research also supports that notion.
Not only does personality directly affect employees’ performance ratings, Landis said, but it also shapes employees’ positions in their social networks at work. Those positions help predict job performance, as well.
“Establishing yourself as someone who people go to for advice is especially important – that’s the position you want to achieve for maximum success,” Landis said.
As employees look to use what they know about their personalities to grow in their careers, the most important of the “big five” traits to focus on are conscientiousness and neuroticism. Highly conscientious, emotionally stable people tend to see more success at work, according to Landis.
“Some people have a larger challenge than others, but people can exhibit a remarkable ability to change specific behaviors, especially when given insight into how their personality patterns are perceived,” he said.
His research also indicates that being adaptable and adjusting how one interacts with others to fit certain situations – a concept known as “self-monitoring” – also helps fuel workplace success. According to Landis’ research on integrating personality and social networks (PDF, 280 KB), “high self-monitors” are approached more often for friendship, information and advice and are more likely to bridge gaps between disconnected friends. On the other hand, those who are inflexible (“low self-monitors”) may find it challenging to meet the different standards that people expect in various social scenarios.
“Not everyone may appreciate the one style that you present in every situation, ” Landis said. “You may have to present yourself in a slightly different light, engage others in a slightly different way, if that’s not your natural proclivity.”
How can personality insights help employees succeed at work?
Taking a personality assessment can provide basic information that helps employees better understand their own inclinations and their colleagues’ or managers’ personalities.
“One insight is just getting a sense of how other people see you,” Landis said. “The areas that you want to focus on are when there is a discrepancy between how you see yourself and how other people see you.”
Some employees may misjudge their negative attributes, while others may underestimate their positive qualities.
“These misperceptions are very consequential for your reputation at work. If you see yourself as assertive and others see you as overbearing, it can perpetuate a pattern of behavior that hurts your credibility,” Landis said. “Similarly, if you see yourself as an insecure person whereas others see you as quiet and humble, that discrepancy is also important to know. ”
Identifying areas for improvement can help employees begin to make small changes towards improving their work performances.
“Can people change?” Landis said. “Yes, of course, they can. The first step to change is learning a new behaviour that, over time, becomes a part of who we are.”
Tips for better understanding your personality
Landis offered advice for employees to gain insight into their personalities and aim to improve on areas in which their personalities and job responsibilities do not align.
TAKE A PERSONALITY ASSESSMENT.
To begin, it’s important to have a baseline understanding of one’s personality for employers and employees. Landis suggests the Big Five Inventory-2 test.
ASK WORK FRIENDS FOR HONEST FEEDBACK.
Close colleagues can provide honest insight on how one comes across to others.
Self-observation during meetings and presentations (when appropriate and legal) can help employees find blind spots when interacting in different settings.
Once employees better understand how their personality affects their work habits and relationships, they can use those insights to discuss how they prefer to be managed.
“Everyone is sympathetic to the fact that we all have our preferred way of doing things, which is manifested in our personality ,” Landis said. “ Much in the same way that if I were to tell you that I’m right-handed and that therefore I like to shoot a basketball this way, everyone understands that if you’re extraverted, then you’re going to want to talk a lot and participate in social situations.”
How can managers work with different personalities to improve their teams?
Personality is not an excuse for poor performance, but managers can use what they know about a direct report’s personality to create growth opportunities and get more out of the employee.
Employees and managers can use what they know about their personalities to discuss opportunities for changing the nature of a worker’s tasks, providing team-building opportunities and placing employees in optimal positions that allow them to thrive.
“It can give you insights to have those conversations, so you can anticipate where they may want to make changes so that everyone is successful,” Landis said.
It is in managers’ best interests to incorporate a range of personalities on their teams. And understanding the nuances of different personalities can help managers bring out the best in their workers.
Tips for managing different personality types
The Chartered Management Institute and Growth Business offered the following recommendations for managers to get the most out of employees with different personalities.
BE CONSCIENTIOUS WHEN HIRING.
During recruitment, aim to hire people with varied personality types rather than employees who all fit the same mould.
For example: Employees of different ages, races, genders and backgrounds may offer more diverse perspectives that help your business grow.
GET FAMILIAR WITH YOUR EMPLOYEES.
Ask direct reports about their learning and communication styles. The more you know about their personalities, the better.
For example: Some personality types may learn best through hands-on experiences while others learn well through memorisation.
Understand your own personality and the personality types that you are likely to favour.
For example: Revealing your own biases can help you avoid only hiring individuals who share your personality type.
INCORPORATE PERSONALITY EDUCATION IN YOUR MANAGEMENT.
Include your employees in determining the personality makeup of the team.
For example: Team-building activities can include taking personality tests and discussing what the results mean for interactions between employees.
LEARN HOW DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES COMMUNICATE.
Understand how employees engage in and interpret different styles of messaging, and adapt to communicate with them more effectively.
For example: Some employees may prefer face-to-face communication while others communicate more clearly in written messages.
CREATE A WORK ENVIRONMENT THAT ALLOWS DIFFERENT PERSONALITIES TO THRIVE.
Physical spaces can affect how employees function at work.
For example: Offer a variety of workspaces, such as open seating, private rooms and team-oriented spaces, when safe and appropriate.
Landis recommends the following sources for those looking to learn more about how their personality and habits affect their life at work.
- Personality test: Big Five Inventory-2 personality test
- Recommended reading: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Recommended reading: Atomic Habits by J
Citation for this content: The UCL Online MBA.