Why Personality Matters in the Workplace
Personality is at the center of how we interact with each other on a daily basis. It provides a framework for understanding why our lives look like our own, and not like our neighbors. Whether we’re choosing a job, a partner, or even a home, our personalities drive our choices and shape the paths that our lives take.
Health Implications of the Big Five
Psychologists tend to focus a lot of their work on the Big Five personality traits. These traits - extraversion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism - are key to understanding the “true you.” They give a person insight into why they make decisions the way they do and how they manage time and expectations.
Understanding how the Big Five play a role in your life could be important to understanding future health issues. Recent research from the Duke University Medical Center suggests that being conscientiousness is a key factor in better health. Of those participants with low levels of conscientiousness, 45 percent went on to develop major health problems compared to 18 percent of those with high levels of conscientiousness.1
Further research has also shown that people who have higher levels of openness and conscientiousness tend to be more protected against diseases. Additionally, participants with higher levels of openness showed decreased odds of high blood pressure (31 percent), heart conditions (29 percent) and stroke (17 percent), while those with higher levels of conscientiousness were 37 percent less likely to have a stroke.2
These findings suggest that, yes, personality can have positive and negative implications on your health, which means that recognizing the Big Five traits that apply to you can be an important step for staying healthy. Conscientious people, for example, are more likely to engage in behaviors that may be unpleasant at the time, but have long-term rewards in the future—including behaviors key to optimal health, like exercise and healthy eating. If you’re not naturally conscientious, it may take a little more work to stick to healthy habits, but it’s still doable with practice.
Knowing Yourself Can Help You in the Workplace
Instead of ignoring personality factors, employers and employees should be embracing this information in the workplace.
Author David Little suggests that “When we construe ourselves or others as being a particular type of person, we have really set limits on our and their capacity to develop.” However, this is not a problem with personality testing per se, but how people use the results of these tests.
Little’s outlook suggests that being aware of an individual’s personality confines them within a rigid box that limits development and growth (even though, paradoxically, he also suggests that personality is fluid). But in fact, learning about personality allows us to find our strengths and weaknesses, making us more aware of how we interact with one another and how we care for ourselves.
Little’s idea of “restorative niches” is a perfect example of this. In order to understand when, as an introvert, we need time away from a group at work or when, as an extravert, it is time to get up and “make the rounds” at the office, we need to first know that we are either introverted or extraverted. Without understanding what traits drive us, we cannot understand how to manage being out of our comfort zones.
Understanding why you react the way you do to different situations and stressors will help you develop the social, professional and life skills you need to thrive in the workplace.
Employers, Know Your Employees
Communication and flexibility are important aspects of being a leader, and understanding the personalities of your employees can help you improve both. Knowing how your employees are likely to adapt in different situations will allow you to put them in positions where they are primed to succeed.
Not only will your team be more successful, but you will have a better grasp on when employees are reaching out of their comfort zones, which can help you determine what projects they care about. For example, if a typically introverted employee becomes more extraverted on a certain project, it may be a clue that she cares about the project enough to step outside of her comfort zone. This can start an important conversation about her priorities and preferences, and allow you to draw out her best work in the future.
Understanding our personality, our co-workers’ personalities and our employees’ personalities is an indispensable part of being a good manager, a good teammate, and just the best human being possible. Awareness of personality helps us reduce stressors in our environments, cultivate healthier working relationships and develop healthier lifestyles.
1. Israel, S., et al. (2014). Translating Personality Psychology to Help Personalize Preventive Medicine for Young Adult Patients. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 3, 484-498.
2. Weston, S., et al. (2014). Personality Traits Predict the Onset of Disease. Social Psychological and Personality Science.