How Personality Affects the Way People Do Their Jobs
Many businesses regularly use personality tests and behavioral assessments to better determine which candidates to interview, to enable more successful job placement, to further develop existing employees, to assess and enhance listening and communication skills and to screen for conscientiousness and emotional reactions.
The following article, entitled "Square Holes for Square Pegs," written by Professor Adrian Furnham, looks at the "Big Five" Model of Personality and makes sound arguments for personality assessment, or success profiling. This article is followed by a link to an amusingly-presented online personality assessment solution.
The "Big Five" Model of Personality
According to the "Big Five" model of personality, the most important dimensions of people's personality in the workplace are:
- "Natural Reactions".
Note: The model is sometimes also known as the OCEAN Model, after the initial letters of these elements.
Some people are curious, imaginative and artistic, while others are practical and focused.
This dimension is called openness to experience. The more open people are, the more prone to boredom they are. They think outside the box too much.
So you don't want creative airline pilots whose job it is to sit in small, dark, cool spaces watching computers for hours. And nor do you want openness in those dealing with rule-enforcement in security and safety. But you want it in "shovels-full" in marketing and design.
One of the most important characteristics is conscientiousness; the work ethic, diligence, and prudence. Some people are hard working, self-disciplined and well organized. Others are (alas) disorganized, easily distracted and undependable.
Conscientious people have self-discipline, drive and a sense of direction. They stay on and come in when required over and above what it says in their contract. They just need a direction and an appropriate reward.
Some people are talkative, sociable, and socially self-confident.
They like other people and tend to be socio-centers. They are comfortable in groups and teams and enjoy intensive and extensive people contact. Others are quiet, retiring, and apparently shy. They prefer to work alone and have a much lower need for social contact of all kinds. This, of course, is introversion-extraversion.
The salient question here is about social contact at work: with colleagues and total strangers (i.e. customers). People can be excited, enlivened and energized by social contact, or frightened and exhausted by it. Long-distance lorry drivers, authors, and gardeners tend to be introverts; sales people, cabin crew, and hotel receptionists tend to be extraverts.
Next, some people tend to be sunny, cheerful, warm and empathic while others are dour, unsympathetic, and grumpy.
This is about being hard or softhearted. It's about sensitivity to and interest in the feelings of others. This dimension is called agreeableness. Nurses, social workers and primary school teachers, indeed all those dealing with the vulnerable, need to be agreeable.
However agreeableness can be a handicap when agreeable managers have to deal with recalcitrant, difficult and disagreeable staff. Their natural warmth and kindness may prevent them from ''kickin' ass'' as frequently as they should.
Some people are calm, contented and placid. They are stable under fire, resilient and emotionally robust. Others are easily upset, tense, anxious, moody and highly-strung. It is, in short, the ability to handle pressure and stress – we call this "Natural Reactions", and it ranks up there with Conscientiousness as a very important characteristic.
Most jobs have some sources of stress. Tight deadlines. Disgruntled customers. Competing demands. Indolent staff. Tough performance standards.
At the extreme, people who can't handle stress cave-in with psychosomatic illness, depression or erratic behavior. They can be a menace to themselves, their colleagues and the business.
- Do a job analysis: understand what and how people are required to do things and then search for those best fitted to the job.
- Conduct a validation study – that is, test a group of your best employees to establish benchmarks against which to compare job applicants. This is called Success Profiling.
You can also find a popular free version of the 'Big Five' test (with an enjoyably different, UK-flavored, James Bond spin to it).
Article reprinted with permission from the author, Prof. Adrian Furnham, Psychology Dept., University College London.