Do individuals’ personality traits affect performance?

Do personality traits affect performance? Such question is always relevant. Every rational employer is constantly looking for highly effective and productive individuals. At this point, personality can have implications no only on an individual performance level but also on a team level. Individual and collective dimensions are relevant because currently employees tend to combine both types, individual work and team work in their organizations.

Personality traits affect performance?

In order to drive discussion on this question we first need to understand what personality is and what are the different traits that individuals’ personality can have. It is possible to define personality as those set of traits that characterize an individual. Personality can be influenced by biological, cultural and life events, and virtually all personality measures can be condensed into the 5-factor model of personality factors (Big Five).

5-factor model of personality factors (Big Five)

  • Emotional stability: understood as the degree to which an individual can be anxious, depressed, angry, and generally emotionally insecure.
  • Extroversion: understood as the degree to which a person can be sociable, talkative, assertive, active, and ambitious and is able to openly express  feelings and emotions.
  • Openness to experience: understood as the degree to which an individual can be open to experience, is intellectually curious, appreciative of art, and sensitive to beauty.
  • Agreeableness: understood as the extent to which a person can be courteous, good natured, flexible, trusting, and liked by others.
  • Conscientiousness: understood as the degree to which a person can be dependable, responsible, organized, and a planner.

Why this is relevant? Because, as studied by scholars, this five traits can have a direct impact on what we can expect from the employee:

  • Emotional stability involves less negative thinking and fewer negative emotions. This leads to higher job satisfaction and lower stress levels.
  • Extroversion is usually linked to better interpersonal skills, greater social dominance and making the individual more emotionally expressive. This leads to higher performance, enhanced leadership and higher job satisfaction.
  • Openness is associated with increased interest towards learning, more creativity and more flexibility and autonomy of the individual. This turns into higher training performance, enhanced leadership and makes the individual more adaptable to change.
  • Agreeableness involves the individual being more compliant and conforming. This turns into higher performance and lower levels of deviant behavior.
  • Finally, conscientiousness is usually reflected in greater effort and persistence, more drive and discipline and better organization and planning. This leads to higher performance, enhanced leadership and greater longevity of the individual in the organization.

Personality dichotomy

It is also possible to look at this set of factors from different perspectives, like the personality dichotomy view of “type A – type B” personality (quite popular in Organizational Behavior field as well) being:

  • Type A personalities those that are associated to hard-driving, competitive individuals who are prompt but always feel rushed, are impatient, competitive and even hostile.
  • Type B personalities those that are associated to reflective, more relaxed individuals who feel more open to show their feelings.

Core self-evaluation, Machiavellism, Self-monitoring, Locus of control

Another possible way to classify the different personalities types can be by some of the following traits, that would be a mix of those factors that were already mentioned:

  • Core self-evaluation: in those individuals who are able to drive bottom-line conclusions about their capabilities, competences, and worth as a person. Having positive core self-evaluations tend to increase performance and job satisfaction.
  • Machiavellism: extend to which an individual can be pragmatic, maintains emotional distance, and believes that ends can justify means. Individuals with high machiavellism tend to perform better at persuasion. be good in face to face interactions, and potentially get advantage of others’ emotional involvement.
  • Self-monitoring: in those individuals who can adjust their behavior to external, situational factors. Generally they tend to be good at presenting themselves differently to different audiences and are more likely to emerge as leaders, receive better performance ratings, and tend to show less commitment to their organizations while being more mobile
  • Locus of control: being the extent in which people view causation in their own lives.

 Values

We should neither forget that apart from the personality traits, each individual has a set of values that combined with his or her personality can have an impact on performance.

When talking about values, here we understand them as those basic convictions that a specific type of behavior or end-state of existence is personally (or socially) preferable. Values tend to involve a judgmental base of what is right or wrong and tend to be stable and enduring, though as with personality traits, can gradually change over time.

To provide some further background on how values can be classified we can refer to the Rokeach Value Survey (as one of the most common ways to classify values) that divides values in terminal (preferable end-states) and instrumental (means of achieving those end-states). Another reference is the Hofstede Value Classification.

Hofstede Value Classification

  • Power distance: the individual tolerates hierarchical differences and unequal distribution of power.
  • Masculinity: the individual values achievement, assertiveness, control, power, etc.
  • Uncertainty avoidance
  • Individualism (vs. collectivism): the individual prefer to act as individual and don’t expect the group or community to look after him.
  • Long term orientation (vs. short term): the individual emphasizes the future, thrift, and persistence

It is also important to notice that values can vary across groups (e.g. employees of different hierarchies), generations, and across cultures. These considerations lead to understand individual’s values as moderation variables that have an impact on performance.

 Conclusion

Having reviewed some of the main concepts behind personality traits and briefly introduced the moderation effect that values can have on them. There is enough base to conclude that individuals’ personality traits can affect performance. Although intuitively the relationship between some individual traits and the impact on performance might look obvious, their relevance should not be neglected. Inertia inside the organizations might lead to skip going through these consideration when managers in a rush are trying to arrange a work team or looking for the right individual for a given job position. This is merely a heads up for managers to avoid burning employees putting them to do something that they are not meant to do. Let’s make sure we understand not only what are the core skills and competences of our employees, but also what are their personality and values. For the organization – there’s much more to gain if we look for the right fit between employees’ skills, competences AND personalities. We strongly believe that the output will worth the effort!

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