Which Type of Personality Leads to Workplace Safety?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: A Meta-Analysis of Personality and Workplace Safety: Addressing Unanswered Questions
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Workplace safety is a major concern for organizations. Accidents involving employees can jeopardize the safety of everyone at work, and be enormously costly for employers, in terms of lawsuits, insurance, and lost productivity. Research has long extolled the virtues of creating a safety climate, which means setting organizational policy to reflect the fact that safe behavior is important, expected, and will be rewarded. But there is another way to make sure that employees engage in safe practices on the job. We can hire “safer” people in the first place. The authors of the current study (Beus, Dhanani, & McCord, 2015) wanted to identify the personality traits that are associated with safe behavior.



In this study, the authors didn’t just consider workplace accidents as an outcome. It’s because accidents can be caused by a variety of factors that are beyond an employee’s control. For example, perhaps a machine was built with a fatal flaw that only became known after an accident. Or perhaps an employee was following the proper protocol leading up to an accident, but the people who designed the training made an error. For this reason, it makes more sense to study the safe or unsafe behavior itself, in addition to the outcomes. Which people were more likely to engage in workplace behavior that is defined as safe, and stay away from behavior that is considered unsafe?

The authors conducted a meta-analysis, which means compiling results from many different previous studies. The logic here is that results are more reflective of the truth when they are averaged across many different scenarios. They first ascertained the relationship between safety behavior and the “big five” broad personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience.

People who had higher amounts of extraversion and neuroticism had higher levels of unsafe behavior. The authors say that extraverted people have a need to “get ahead” and achieve higher status, and may compromise safety in order to accomplish this. They say that neurotic people have a propensity to be consumed with worry and anxiety, and they may become distracted as a result. They also are more likely to let anger lead to impulsive and irrational choices, which can easily be problematic when safety protocols need to be followed carefully.

On the other hand, people with higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness had less unsafe behavior. The authors say that agreeable people are more cooperative and more easily see the need to benefit the team as a whole. For this reason, they refrain from unsafe behavior which may compromise the safety and productivity of the entire organization. Conscientious people are naturally meticulous about following rules, and also understand that compromises in safety will not improve the organization’s likelihood to achieve in the long run. That makes them more likely to avoid risky or unsafe behavior.

Openness to experience is the need to be adventurous and individualistic. Interestingly, it was not found to be related to unsafe behavior. This was the case despite the authors’ prediction that it would lead to more unsafe behavior.



This study shows that certain types of people are safer than others. If that’s the case, organizations can design selection systems to identify these safe people and hire them instead of the unsafe people. In short, four of the five major personality traits seem to predict safety-related behavior. In direct comparison, it was agreeableness and conscientiousness that had the strongest ability to predict (these are the safe people), whereas extraversion and neuroticism had a somewhat weaker ability to predict (these are the unsafe people). That being said, organizations should primarily look for people who are conscientious and agreeable if they want to cut down on workplace accidents. In addition, avoiding extraverted or neurotic people may also help a little bit.

Another finding from this study was that the effects of a safety climate (or the organizational practices) were more influential in predicting behavior than the personality traits, although the personality traits did still matter. This means that organizations are not resigned to firing all of their unsafe employees and starting over. By showing that the organization values safe behavior through training, feedback, and rewards, an organization establishes a safety climate, which is actually the biggest predictor of a safe workplace.

How to Design a Resume That Will Get You Hired

Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology
Article: Effects of applicant personality on resume evaluations
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin


When writing your resume, you probably thought about how potential employers might perceive you. Many articles and books give advice regarding what to include and how to design a resume, but many of those authors don’t actually agree on what method works best. A recent exploratory study discovered what personality traits people attribute to different parts of your resume, and how hirable they might make you appear.



This probably comes as no surprise, but past research suggests that people viewing your resume will make personal judgments about you based on what they see on your resume. In addition, parts of your resume are related to individual differences, like extraversion or conscientiousness. However, there is little research that has been conducted to understand what aspects of your resume lead to certain judgments.



In this paper, Burns et al. (2014) attempted to extend the previous research to better understand specific resume cues and how they are perceived. They actually conducted two related studies. In the first, they had participants view resume cues (e.g., GPA, job titles, extracurricular activities) and link them with personality adjectives (e.g., hardworking, creative). Participants also rated each cue regarding its importance in determining hirability. Not surprisingly, the majority of the cues that participants rated as being important to hirability came from the experience section of the resume. Participants also seemed to easily link cues to personality traits, especially conscientiousness.



In the second study, the researchers had actual HR professionals evaluate real resumes and give their impressions regarding the applicants’ personality and hirability. The HR professionals had low levels of agreement about hiring recommendations. The applicants’ self-ratings of personality only contributed slightly to the hiring recommendations, but the HR professionals’ ratings of the applicants’ personalities was a major contributor to the hiring recommendations. In other words, what the HR professionals thought about the applicants’ personalities was very influential in their hiring recommendations.



The researchers gave several important recommendations for job seekers based on the results of these studies. First, job seekers should provide detailed information about their education and be sure to include honors and awards. Second, job seekers should use a school email address (or other formal email address) instead of a personal email address, and they shouldn’t use any unusual fonts or formats. Third, job seekers should put their educational information before their past job information, and include any information about leadership roles or ways they financially benefited an organization. Finally, it seems to be good to include extracurricular or volunteer experiences. Following these tips will make sure that your resume gives you the best chance to land the new job.

Intelligence Testing: Is It Always the Smartest Thing to Do?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: A Meta-Analysis of the Relationship Between General Mental Ability and Nontask Performance
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Smart employees tend to be better at doing their jobs. This is considered one of the most important findings in the history of I-O research. Meta-analysis, which is a method of compiling results from many different researchers and studies, has shown that intelligence (or general mental ability) is associated with better job performance for basically any job. But there are other important components that make organizations successful besides narrowly-defined task performance (parts of a job that are in the job description). New research (Gonzalez-Mulé, Mount, & Oh, 2014) investigates whether intelligence can also predict other measures of workplace success.



The authors conducted a meta-analysis to determine if intelligence is related to two major measures that are important to organizations: Counterproductive work behavior (CWB), and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB). These terms sound fancy but they are actually quite simple. CWBs mean anything that employees do that breaks organizational norms or expectations. This behavior can be directed at a coworker (i.e. bullying or harassment) or at the organization (i.e. stealing from the employer, unnecessary absences). OCBs refer to anything that employees do that are not formally recognized in their job description, for example helping out a coworker or suggesting a new way of doing things that can help the organization save resources.



The meta-analysis found that intelligence was associated with more OCBs, meaning that smarter employees also went beyond their job descriptions more frequently. The authors explain that smarter people are typically better at seeing the big picture, for example they may understand that helping a coworker has benefits for the organization in the long run. Also, smarter employees may sometimes have greater capacity to help out others. They may be the only ones who are capable of devising a solution to a problem that eventually helps out the organization.

However, when it came to CWBs, there was no real relationship with intelligence. The authors had predicted that smarter employees would engage in less bad behavior because they are more readily capable of seeing the dangerous outcomes, such as harming the company or harming themselves by getting caught. But the data didn’t support this conclusion.



The authors also compared intelligence testing with personality testing to see which was generally more useful for predicting success on the job. As predicted, intelligence testing predicted better than personality testing when the outcome was task performance, or the parts of a job that are listed in a job description. When using the other outcomes of job success (OCBs and CWBs), the authors found a different story. First, when it came to OCBs (going above and beyond job descriptions) intelligence and personality were about equally useful in predicting which employees will go above and beyond. When it came to CWBs (the bad behavior), personality was actually a better predictor than intelligence.



This study supports the idea that the best predictor of job success is general intelligence, specifically because it has the ability to predict good old fashioned task-performance. It pays to hire smart employees. But that’s not the entire story. The conclusions here also indicate that intelligence isn’t the be-all and end-all of how to hire employees. Organizations should also have the foresight to care about extra effort and misbehavior at work. If you want employees who strive to make the workplace better for everyone, intelligence testing may still help, but it is not any better than personality testing. But if you want employees who don’t misbehave, personality testing may be the way to go.

Proactive Employees Need Political Skills to Succeed

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Are Proactive Personalities Always Beneficial? Political Skill as a Moderator
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.


Employers assume that proactive employees are important for job success. Indeed past research shows that proactive employees, those who take initiative and champion change, perform better and earn more. However, proactive employees typically push the envelope, control their environment, and bring unexpected changes which may be viewed as threatening and distracting by others. A new study by Sun and van Emmerik (2014) introduces political skill as a factor that may reduce such concerns.



Politically skillful individuals are good at understanding others and their social environment, monitoring their behavior to influence others, and developing alliances to access resources. They also create good impressions because they are perceived as sincere in what they say and do. According to the researchers, proactive employees need political skills to express their change-oriented patterns in a more socially sensitive and acceptable way. This way, supervisors don’t think that they are challenging the status quo or imposing control based on a hunch.

To test their assertion, the researchers surveyed full time employees and their supervisors from 12 companies in various industries in China. Employees reported their political skills while their supervisors rated the employees on their task performance, helping, and learning behaviors. Results showed that highly proactive employees were rated lower by their supervisors, as long as employees’ political skills were low. However, when employees had high levels of political skill, there was no relationship between proactivity and supervisor ratings. When employees were not politically skilled, it seems that their proactivity was a detriment to themselves.



This new study shows that without high levels of political skill, proactive employees run the risk of being negatively evaluated in terms of performance by their supervisors. Proactive employees who are politically skillful are likely to frame work-related changes as serving the needs of others and garner supervisor support by appearing sincere and influential. This study highlights the importance of developing political skill to be able to identify organizational needs and adopt a socially sensitive approach in bringing change. By having the right amount of political skill, employees can avoid the potential negative influence of their proactive tendencies. From the perspective of employers, proactive employees might seem important, but if these employees aren’t politically savvy as well, employers might find themselves appreciating them less than they expected.

Death Anxiety is Related to Burnout and Other Organizational Problems

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Don’t Fear the Reaper: Trait Death Anxiety, Mortality Salience, and Occupational Health
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

The typical workplace has many different personality types: Happy employees, charismatic employees, ambitious employees, egotistical employees, and many others. But have you ever thought much about employees who fear death? It’s not the kind of personality trait that you’d think has relevance in the workplace, but new research by Sliter, Sinclair, Yuan, and Mohr (2014) has shown that death anxiety has important implications on employee success.


Death anxiety refers to how much a person fears death. It is considered a personality trait, which means that people basically maintain the same level of it over time. A little bit of death anxiety is probably good, because it might prevent someone from doing something risky or dangerous. The problem happens when people have too much death anxiety. This is when it can get in the way of normal behavior, especially at work.



In the current study, the authors found that death anxiety has several negative outcomes in the workplace. Employees who have higher levels of death anxiety had higher levels of burnout, higher levels of absenteeism, and lower levels of work engagement (meaning they were not as dedicated to their jobs).

Why do all of these bad things happen? The authors hypothesize that people who worry about death more often will have fewer emotional resources to deal with other problems at work. According to many researchers, this lack of resources is how job burnout begins. This also helps explain why employees who fear death are not as dedicated to their jobs. It’s difficult to be absorbed in your work when your mind is preoccupied with something else. Finally, when employees fear death and experience burnout at work, it eventually leads to missing work entirely. This can be because of illness, or in order to avoid the unpleasantness that the employees associate with work.



The authors also found another downside to fearing death. Mortality cues are reminders of death that can pop up anywhere in daily life. Some jobs have more mortality cues than others. For example, an ER nurse might have recently seen a patient die, or an actuary might have to calculate mortality expectancies. Because these reminders of death are inherent in many jobs, it is important to understand how people react to them. In this study, the authors found that mortality cues are related to an increase in burnout among employees, but the association was especially strong when employees already had high levels of death anxiety. Working in a job that reminds employees of death is hard enough for ordinary people. When these employees enter with a pre-existing fear of death, it goes from bad to worse!



We want employees who don’t suffer from burnout, who are productive and engaged in their work, and who don’t have unnecessary absences. What can we do? First, this study has important implications for selection. If employees can be screened for death anxiety, the workplace will be better because of it. This is especially true when jobs contain mortality cues, or reminders of death. But what happens when employees who are already on the job suffer burnout or absenteeism due to their death anxiety? In this case, an organization can still provide employees with coping strategies or counseling programs that may be useful in helping them combat their fears. This is an emerging area of research, and future studies will provide further guidance to employers in making sure that fear of death doesn’t negatively impact the workplace.

Teamwork- How Team Personality Influences Individual Behaviors


In most work places, teamwork is a common feature that can have many benefits for organizational productivity and competitiveness.

But not all group dynamics are helpful or add value, so a fair bit of research has been done on the behaviors that produce desired outcomes. Much of it has looked at how someone’s personality affects whether they would be helpful or not. But few researchers have looked at the impact “team personality” has on individual actions.

The team of researchers behind a new study on teamwork and cooperation sought to examine the extent to which group dynamics ultimately influence individual behaviors.



Group norms are the accepted, unofficial standards that members of a group follow, which help to evaluate the behavior of individuals. These norms help individual group members identify which behaviors would be permissible within a certain situation and which would not.

Some groups have norms that promote greater interdependence, and therefore appreciate helping behaviors more that groups which don’t adopt these norms. In general, groups with co-operative norms have higher performance and satisfaction.

This study investigated the influence Team Personality (i.e. those characteristics that define a group) would have on encouraging these norms and its subsequent impact on individual helping behaviors.



Researchers were interested in examining two primary traits at the group level– extroversion and agreeableness.

Agreeableness is essentially about cooperation with others, while extroversion concerns the sociability of the individual. Given the social characteristics of individuals with these traits, teams that are characterized by such individuals tend to show greater cohesion and work-load sharing, but less friction.

The researchers believed that a group with a large number of individuals who ranked high on extroversion and agreeableness would have high levels of cooperative group norms, which is a strong predictor for an increase in individual helping behaviors.



Researchers found that the level of extroversion within a group’s team personality impacted the adoption of cooperative norms, even when there was quiet a difference in extroversion levels amongst individual members.

A high level of extroversion implies a greater degree of assertiveness and influencing of others to accept certain norms. So, even if there are only a few team members who rank high on extroversion, they’re still influential. The norms accepted within this group then influence individual helping behaviors.

Agreeableness was different. Only where there was little difference on agreeableness between team members would it quickly facilitate the adoption of co-operative norms. If there was a lot of difference between team members, then the emergence of co-operative norms was often hampered.



Cooperative norms and high levels of helping behaviors can greatly enhance a team’s output. This study showed that team personality does affect these aspects.

The results have implications for managers wanting to facilitate the change of group norms, as well as those bringing a new individual on to a team.

In short, understanding both the team personality and the individual personality are important for finding a good fit, and also important for influencing helping behavior outcomes.

Employee Start Time: Does the Early Bird Get the Worm?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Morning Employees Are Perceived as Better Employees: Employees’ Start Times Influence Supervisor Performance Ratings
Reviewed by: Soner Dumani, M.A.


We have plenty of adages emphasizing the positive implications of starting the day early. Past research seems to suggest that elevated morning activity is seen as an indicator of being responsible, dutiful, and a hard worker.

In a series of three new studies, lead researcher Kai Chi Yam and his colleagues examine whether this pro-morning bias actually exists by examining how employee start time influences supervisor ratings of their job performance.

They also question how the supervisors’ own preference for morning or afternoon activity might play into that relationship.



Past empirical research found that employees’ level of morning activity is usually associated with positive traits such as being conscientious and having a solid work ethic.

Conscientious employees are typically rated as higher performers because they tend to display stronger work motivation when compared to employees who are low in conscientiousness.

Across two different samples, Kai Chi Yam and his colleagues found that employees who report later start times are perceived as less conscientious by their supervisors, and this negative stereotype ultimately results in lower performance ratings for those employees.



The authors found that the negative implications for employees who start the work day late largely depend on their supervisors’ own preference for morning or afternoon activity.

That is to say that late-starters are rated as low performers due to being perceived as less conscientious only among supervisors who prefer morning activity themselves.

For those supervisors who are more night owls than day larks, the morning bias doesn’t usually translate into negative repercussions.



The current study highlights the potential consequences of using flexible work arrangements, such as starting the work day late.

Given that performance ratings may largely depend on the supervisors’ own chronotype, it is recommended that managers are reminded of potential negative consequences of morning bias, and encouraged to remain objective in their performance evaluations of employees.

The Pitfalls of Inconsistent Leader Behavior

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Supervisor Support: Does Supervisor Support Buffer or Exacerbate the Adverse Effects of Supervisor Undermining?
Reviewed by: Ben Sher


Bad boss alert! Let’s say your supervisor was incensed with the results of yesterday’s baseball or football game. As a result, today he’s been condescending, hypercritical, and an all-around sourpuss. Can he make up for it by being extra nice and helpful to you tomorrow?

When your boss behaves in a way that makes your job difficult (like being overly critical or short-tempered), it’s called supervisor undermining, which can negatively impact employee health and well-being. After a good night’s sleep, the boss feels bad about the inappropriate behavior and poor management, and tries to make it up to you by providing extra assistance at a later time.

New research by Nahum-Shani, Lim, Henderson, and Vinokur (2014) has found two situations in which Inconsistent Leader Behavior can work well, and two others in which this approach can backfire and make things even worse.



When supervisors undermine their employees and then try to make up for it by being extra helpful, the inconsistent behavior creates uncertainty for the employees.

Three bad things can happen as a result. First, employees will lack a coherent picture of how well they are doing at their job, which can be confusing and/or frustrating. Second, employees will lose a sense of control over their work environment. And third, employees will have doubts about the quality of their relationship with their supervisor.

But the current study shows that, if the employees can overcome these three obstacles, the supervisor’s strategy can actually work.



The researchers found that two types of employees can overcome the challenges associated with supervisor inconsistency: Those with high self-esteem and those who perceive a high “quality of work life.” High quality work life occurs when the resources, relationships, and outcomes of their work satisfy the employee’s needs.

The study found that when high self-esteem and high quality of work life employees were exposed to inconsistent leader behavior, they used coping skills to mitigate its harmful effects. When supervisors tried to rectify poor behavior with considerate behavior, these employees benefited from the turnaround, experiencing better health and fewer job strains.

On the other hand, employees who had low self-esteem or experienced poor quality of work life didn’t have the coping skills to deal with inconsistent leader behavior. With this group, bosses who tried to rectify poor behavior with considerate behavior actually created more problems by being inconsistent. These employees experienced worse health and more job strains.



Oftentimes managers are trained to provide careful attention and consideration to their employees, especially when they know they have previously messed up.

But this study warns against this one-size-fits-all approach, suggesting the strategy only works if employees can handle the negative effects of inconsistent supervision. If they can’t handle it, managers are only making things worse.

New research like this is helping I-O psychologists determine how to maximize the benefits to all employees by recognizing that employees are unique and don’t all respond the same way.

Taking control back: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: Surviving an Abusive Supervisor: The Joint Roles of Conscientiousness and Coping Strategies
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

Abusive supervision is a serious issue, and much more prevalent than you might realize.

A lot of research has been done on this topic– partly because it is on the increase, but also because of its devastating effects on morale and productivity.

In looking at personality and the choice of coping strategies, new research reveals insights that can help employees maintain performance while surviving an abusive supervisor.



The transactional stress model details a 2-step process in individuals confronted with a stressful event: First, they decide how this event impacts their general well-being; secondly, they decide if something can be done to minimize negative effects, choosing an appropriate coping strategy to deal with the situation.

So what coping strategy would you employ in dealing with the stress caused by an abusive supervisor? Either you would directly address the issue and take initiative to solve your problem (i.e. active coping strategies), or you may prefer avoiding the issue until the worst passes (i.e. avoidance strategies).

The question is, is one of these strategies better than the other, or is there more complexity involved in effectively handling such a situation?



A new study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests personality has a more significant effect on performance than the choice of coping strategy when dealing with an abusive supervisor. However, the research does suggest that avoidance strategies will negatively affect employee performance in the long run.

That being said, researchers found that conscientiousness (one of the Big 5 personality traits) influences how well you work under such circumstances, no matter you choose to deal with it. In this case, conscientiousness refers to how people control themselves, preferring planned behavior over more spontaneous expressions.

The work performance of employees who ranked high on conscientiousness and used various coping strategies wasn’t affected nearly as much as those who were low on conscientiousness and using various strategies. This highlights the major role conscientiousness plays in helping people maintain their performance, even when choosing different ways of coping with an abusive supervisor.



This research can be useful for an organization’s selection criteria, as it seems that certain kinds of people are naturally more adept at maintaining their performance in the face of stressful work environments and demanding superiors.

But, on a more personal level, those employees struggling with an abusive supervisor may want to stop avoiding the issue, as the study shows that their work performance will inevitably suffer.

Can your personality effect how well you adapt to changes in the workplace?

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology ( Jan, 2014)
Article: Personality and Adaptive Performance at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation
Reviewed by: Andrew Morris

The business world is always evolving, from technology to everyday work requirements. So being able to adapt to changes in the workplace quickly is incredibly valuable for employers.

Evolutionary theory has put forward certain personality traits as better predictors of effective adaptation in various areas of our lives. But the difficulty in evolving within the organizational environment lies in the fact that adaptation in a work setting isn’t about adjusting to a stable environment, but to one that is constantly changing.

A new study on “Personality and Adaptive Performance at Work: A Meta-Analytic Investigation” examines what kind of person was better able to handle novel work challenges and an environment of constant change.


Reactive and Proactive Adjustments to Change

Adaptive performance at work is basically about how one tackles unforeseen changes and shifting demands. Researchers found that emotional stability and ambition were the traits that had the greatest positive influence on an employees’ ability to adapt effectively.

Personality traits also seemed to influence the strategies that employees use in dealing with change. People tend to display either a reactive or proactive style: A reactive style is highly responsive to the demands of the situation, whereas a proactive style concerns the individual taking initiative at the outset and seeking opportunities for improving things.


Are Some Better Equipped to Handle Change Than Others?

The study found ambition to be associated with proactive strategies. Ambitious individuals seem to fare better when it comes to adaptive performance because they take more initiative and embrace change to a greater extent than others, making the necessary adjustments to continue meeting their goals. Ambitious people see changing with the circumstances as a way to climb the corporate ladder and get ahead.

Emotional stability (which involves keeping your cool even when things are in state of flux) is more closely related to reactive strategies. This trait indicates a person’s ability to remain steadfast in the face of challenges or changes, dealing with whatever curve-balls have been thrown at them in a rational and emotionally appropriate way.


The Role of Job Level in Adjusting to Change

Being able to adapt effectively is not solely dependent on one’s personality, but also the situation and circumstances. An example of this used in the research was the connection between job level and adaptive performance.

Managers generally tend to show more proactive styles, perhaps because they have more opportunities to take various initiatives as a result of being managers. Regular employees showed more reactive styles to change, perhaps due to their limited control over situations in the workplace.


Other Applications of the Research

Why is understanding the connection between personality and the ability to adapt to changes in the workplace important? Because knowing how specific personality traits affect the way people adapt when confronted with change could help organizations become more efficient in hiring the right person for certain jobs. But on a deeper level, outside of the work context, this kind of research could also help solve some of the most pressing social adaptation issues we face.