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.

Why Try to “Fit” In at Work? The Importance of Work Engagement and Person-Job Fit

Publication: Journal of Vocational Behavior 84 (2014) 142–152.
Article: Does work engagement increase person-job fit? The role of job crafting and job insecurity
Reviewed by: Lauren Zimmerman

Today’s workplace can be precarious, with the increasing prevalence of organizational restructuring and downsizing leading to tougher competition for jobs. As a result, ensuring each employees’ person-job fit has become crucial to organizations as they strive to hire and retain top performing employees and avoid turnover.

But this begs the question, how can organizations and their employees improve person-job fit? The answer lies not solely in the hands of organizations, but also in the hands of the employees themselves.



In the new study, “Does work engagement increase person-job fit? The role of job crafting and job insecurity,” researchers examined the influence of employees’ work engagement on their person-job fit. They focused on personal job crafting, which involves employees actively changing the physical (i.e. task) and interpersonal attributes of their work.

Specifically, the authors were interested in how engaged employees alter their job tasks in order to enhance their demands-abilities fit, the match between employees’ job demands and their abilities to meet them.

The authors were also interested in examining the ways in which engaged employees change interpersonal characteristics of their jobs in order to achieve needs-supplies fit, which reflects the alignment between an employee’s job needs and the resources required to fulfill those needs.

Lastly, the authors explored the influence of job insecurity on employees’ work engagement, and the changes in the physical and interpersonal characteristics of their jobs.



The study revealed that highly engaged employees were considerably more likely to change their person-job fit than less engaged employees.

In particular, highly engaged employees altered the physical characteristics of their jobs to attain optimal demands-abilities fit, and modified the interpersonal features of their jobs to enhance their needs-supplies fit.

Moreover, highly engaged employees were also more likely to change the interpersonal aspects of their jobs when they perceived that their job environments were insecure, in order to ease the feelings of uncertainty about their jobs.



These results indicate that organizations should seek to hire and retain highly engaged employees. Not only because they are more dedicated and involved in their jobs, but also because they will likely enhance their own person-job fit, which can lead to increased job satisfaction and retention.

Through changes in both task and interpersonal features, these engaged employees are motivated to redesign aspects of their jobs to achieve optimal workplace fit. Therefore, it may be wise for organizations to provide employees with opportunities and resources to alter features of their work, so that they may tailor their work environment to feel that they “fit” in better.

Employee Voice: How to Find People who will Speak Up

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology, November 2013
Article: Doing Right Versus Getting Ahead: The Effects of Duty and Achievement Orientations on Employees’ Voice
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Organizations need corrective feedback when policies or practices are not working effectively. This feedback often comes from employees who notice something amiss, and have the guts to bring it to the attention of their employers.

I/O psychologists call this “employee voice.” New research (Tangirala, Kamdar, Venkataramani, & Parke, 2013) has helped employers understand how to maximize employee voice and encourage useful corrective feedback. Of course, not all employees are equally likely to speak up when problems arise in the workplace.

The researchers found that employees with a duty orientation– or those who put organizational goals above all else– are more likely to speak up when something is wrong. These people feel a moral responsibility to speak up, and consider it part of their job. They will often speak up even though bringing up unpopular or troubling information could expose them to backlash and personal harm. Employees with an achievement orientation– or those who place personal success above all else– are less likely to endanger themselves by speaking up. To these employees, speaking up when problems arise is not part of their job description. They are less likely to risk the personal harm that speaking up may cause them. So, if employers want people who aren’t afraid to rock the boat with corrective feedback, does this mean that they should only hire duty-oriented employees? Not necessarily.

The authors found that achievement-oriented employees were more likely to speak up when they felt a sense of psychological safety and perceived that they wouldn’t get in trouble for bringing difficult information to the forefront.

Also, duty-oriented employees don’t always speak up, although they are more likely to do so when they believe that they are capable of competently speaking up and making themselves heard. In practice, this research supports the notion of hiring more duty-oriented employees, which may also be known as “team players.”

Organizations can encourage “speaking up” among their current employees by doing two things. First, make sure employees have the confidence and ability to make themselves heard when they have something important to say. This can be done through coaching or training. Second, make sure the workplace climate encourages people to raise all concerns, even those that sound troubling.

In the end, if employees are too scared to say what needs to be said in order to fix problems in the workplace, the whole organization may suffer.

How Gender and Personality Contribute to the Wage Gap

Publication: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2012)
Article: Do nice guys-and gals-really finish last? The joint effects of sex and agreeableness on income
Reviewed by: Scott Charles Sitrin

Do you have a soft heart, take an interest in the well-being of others, or have a tendency to sympathize with the hardships of your friends? If you answered yes to any of these questions, it could be adversely affecting your income. It turns out that the old expression “nice guys finish last” may have some truth to it.

Through a series of four studies, Timothy Judge of Notre Dame, Beth Livingston of Cornell, & Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario found that agreeable individuals and women had lower incomes than disagreeable individuals and men. This relationship between agreeableness and wages was more pronounced among men. Evidence further supported that there is social backlash against agreeable men. Disagreeable men had greater incomes than agreeable men, and highly agreeable men suffered even more.

When it came to women, the income discrepancy between disagreeable and agreeable individuals was smaller. It appears that gender is the primary factor affecting women, with agreeableness being merely another dynamic in the well-documented wage gap that currently exists between the salaries of men and women.

However, don’t take these results as carte blanche for rudeness at the office. It is important to note that further research will be needed to determine exactly why this connection between disagreeableness and higher wages occurs. One possibility is that less agreeable individuals are simply more able to pursue career opportunities, due to having fewer social or familial ties. Until then, we will simply have to gather more data and keep our eyes open for unexpected or unjustified inequities of opportunity and salary.

Genuine Leadership: How sincerity is the key to successful organizational leadership

Publication: Harvard Business Review (Oct 2013)
Article: Be Yourself, but Carefully
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

By now surely everyone knows that the key to successful organizational leadership is sincerity. Genuine Leadership — that is, leadership by individuals who make an effort to be open and honest in their dealings — has become the gold standard for successful team building and a basic expectation for professional advancement. No one wants to work for someone who is cold or aloof. Master networkers and business leaders earn their titles by being authentic and real. However, there’s a fine line between being genuine, on the one hand, and over-sharing or talking about yourself in a self-deprecating manner, on the other. If you ever hope to be seen as a credible source, you want people to be able to trust in you and take you seriously. That means you must be able to walk a tightrope between the two extremes. Not an easy task. Fortunately, the authors, Rosh and Offerman (2013), have explored this issue and bring us new information regarding leadership psychology that provides some helpful tips and advice on how to balance along that line.

  1. Build a Foundation of Self Knowledge’- Take a good, hard look at yourself and reflect on how your experiences have enabled you to become the person you are today. Ask for some feedback. Think about which stories portray you in the best light or show healthy growth, and which ones you might want to keep to yourself.

  3. Consider Relevance to the Task’- Share anecdotes related to the task at hand. Don’t simply make small talk in an effort to ingratiate yourself to others. Genuine leadership is about building a strong, functional team, not about shoring up personal insecurities by becoming everyone’s pal.

  5. Keep Revelations Genuine’- This one is simple: Don’t make anything up. Successful organizational leadership is based on trust. Need I say more?

  7. Understand the Organizational and Cultural Context’ – Be aware of cultural norms, and consider how others from different countries, companies, or functions will react to what you’re saying. When in doubt, err on the side of caution and sensitivity. It isn’t mere political correctness to respect the feelings and experiences of others.

  9. Delay or Avoid Very Personal Disclosures’- Ummm… Not everyone has to know that you fell flat on your face in the elevator this morning, or that your skirt is being held together by some strong masking tape and a couple of push pins you found in the supply closet. Those kinds of stories should be reserved for friends, after the work day is done.

Step Aside Extroverts! Introverts and Neurotics Comin’ Through

Publication: Academy of Management Journal
Article: The Downfall of Extraverts and Rise of Neurotics: The Dynamic Process of Status Allocation in Task Groups
Reviewed by: Susan Rosengarten

Currently, the I/O community seems to be abuzz dispelling myths and commonly held misperceptions about individual differences as they relate to “the Big Five” personality dimensions. The recent release of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has now made it cooler than ever to be an introvert, and I/Os are stepping up their efforts to provide emperical proof that introverts indeed “have got it goin’ on.”

The present research by Bendersky & Shah (2013) not only builds on research regarding ‘the dark sides of extraversion,’ but also adds to existing literature on “the bright sides of neuroticism.” Yes. You read that correctly. For all of you highly emotional, anxious people out there, this one’s for you.

As we all know, extroverts crave attention, exude confidence, and love to dominate conversations, which often earns them high status within their workgroups and election to leadership positions. Neurotics on the other hand tend to be anxious, emotionally volatile and withdrawn at times, which earns them lower status within their groups and makes them considerably less likely to emerge as group leaders.

However, Bendersky & Shah (2013) found that in the long term, the qualities that make extroverts, well extroverts, make them poor team players. As a result, they often fail to meet group expectations and ultimately lose some of their hierarchical status. On the other hand, the bar is usually set pretty low for those with a high level of neuroticism, so there’s really nowhere for them to go but up. Neurotics’ anxious tendencies and concerns about how they are perceived by fellow group members make them prepare more for and persist longer at tasks, enabling them to exceed group expectations and earn respect and greater status within the group hierarchy over time.

Turns out being a bit neurotic may not be as bad as we once thought!

Emotional Labor: The True Cost of Service with a Smile

Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (July, 2013)
Article: Affect Spin and the Emotion Regulation Process at Work
Reviewed by: Ben Sher

Talk about demanding work! In addition to their typical job duties, like waiting on tables, making sales, or assisting customers, customer service professionals must also perform emotional labor. When employees smile cheerfully at the end of a grueling shift, they are performing something called surface acting, which is a type of emotional labor. Research has shown that emotional labor can lead to psychological strain and fatigue. The current study (Beal, Trougakos, Weiss, & Dalal, 2013) has made advancements in this area of research by scrutinizing a new variable, called “affect spin”.

The authors define “affect spin” as the extent to which people experience a variety of different emotions throughout the day. For example, some people might fluctuate between two or three emotional states throughout the day, while others fluctuate between six or seven. Why does this matter? The authors conducted a study of restaurant servers in multiple restaurants, and found that levels of “affect spin” influence the degree to which the servers experienced psychological strain and other negative outcomes due to the emotional labor they performed.

When individuals experience many different emotions during the day (high “affect spin”), they also tend to react more strongly to emotionally charged events. Indeed, the study found that these servers experienced more psychological strain as a result of their surface acting. Additionally, people who experience many different emotions may find it harder to predict how they will feel at any given time. This unpredictability makes them exert more effort in forcing themselves to display the “right” emotions on the job. The study also found that people high on “affect spin” experienced more fatigue as a result of their emotional labor.
However, the authors also found that people with high levels of “affect spin” may also have the ability to experience higher levels of psychological strain without it leading to fatigue. This is because they may have more experience with feeling “stressed out”, and therefore handle it better. In other words, being high on “affect spin” has its advantages in addition to its disadvantages.

So yes, servers and other customer service professionals are at risk for psychological strain and fatigue due to the emotional labor required of them. However, thanks to this study, we better understand that not all individuals respond to those job demands in the same way, and why. Although this sheds light on who may be best cut out to do customer service work, as always (say this with a smile), more work is necessary.

Conscientiousness and Job Performance: Is Conscientiousness Always King?

Publication: International Journal of Selection and Assessment (2013)
Article: The validity of conscientiousness for predicting job performance: A meta-analytic test of two hypotheses
Reviewed by: Megan Leasher

Conscientiousness is a predictor of job performance in many jobs, job levels, and industries. But does being conscientious still predict job performance as strongly when characteristics and requirements of the job change? Is conscientiousness the Holy Grail of employee traits?

To learn more about this, the authors conducted a meta-analysis across 53 research studies where conscientiousness was a predictor of job performance. They then rated the jobs that were included in these studies on a number of factors including the level of worker autonomy, how much of the work followed a routine, how much thought and mental ability was required, and so on.

Overall, there were two big takeaways:

  1. Conscientiousness was a stronger predictor of performance for jobs that required more routine, structured work.
  2. Conscientiousness was a weaker predictor of performance in roles that required high levels of cognitive ability, possibly suggesting that intelligence in some way suppresses the influence of personality on job performance.

Taken together, conscientiousness may be more useful in roles with a lot of routine, which are more likely to be hourly and/or entry level roles. Alternatively, conscientiousness may not be as useful for higher-level roles that require more thought and mental ability. Thus, spending on assessments to determine conscientiousness may only be selectively useful. It’s a good lesson in not only what predicts job performance, but what is worth spending your budget on for successful hiring decisions.

What do you think about conscientiousness and job performance? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.

Aberrant personality and career performance (IO Psychology)

Previous research has shown that personality traits – such as being conscientious, open to experience, and outgoing – predict job performance 1. What about uncommon (i.e., aberrant) characteristics such as being obsessive-compulsive, antisocial, and narcissistic? According to a study by Bart Wille , Filip De Fruyt, & Barbara De Clercq of Ghent University, aberrant personality characteristics also predict job performance. Specifically, borderline features, which includes having unstable interpersonal relations and poor impulse control; schizotypal traits, such as odd thoughts and disorganized thinking; and avoidant tendencies, such as social inhibition and hypersensitivity to criticism, were related to negative career outcomes. In contrast, antisocial traits, such as superficial charm and a disregard for others, and narcissistic features, such as a strong sense of self-importance and a need to be admired, were related to positive career outcomes. As an illustration of how antisocial and narcissistic traits may have a positive affect on career outcomes and allow people and companies to achieve great success, think of Gordon Gecko from the movie Wall Street. Or, if you prefer non-fiction, think of the various leaders of organizations who are charged with insider trading (e.g., Raj Rajaratnam), fraudulent accounting (e.g., Enron), or creating a ponzi scheme (e.g., Bernie Madhoff).

Overall, these results were found through a 15-year study of 247 Belgian college students. In 1994, participants responded to a personality questionnaire, and 15 years later, their career performance was evaluated. The NEO PI-R, a comprehensive personality questionnaire, measured personality. Income, number of subordinates, and managerial position served as indicators of extrinsic career success, and job satisfaction, career satisfaction, and perceived job stress served as indicators of intrinsic career success.

When Reading Research Leads to a Brain Full of “What?!” (IO Psychology)

Publication: International Journal of Selection and Assessment (MAR 2013)
Article: Personality types and applicant reactions in real-life selection
Reviewed by: Megan Leasher

When you read scientific research, you should be left feeling as though you gained knowledge and/or have something new and shiny that can be applied to the real world. But once in a while you finish an article and there is nothing but unpoppable “What did I just read?!” bubbles floating in your brain.

This article focused on how applicants’ personality types might impact their reactions to assessment tests within a hiring process. Specifically, candidates for firefighter, dispatcher, and rescue management roles had to complete a series of personality and cognitive assessments as a part of the selection process. Immediately after, they were asked to complete a voluntary survey asking about their reactions to the tests. The researchers found that personality types had no impact on applicants’ perceptions that the assessments were related to the job and that the tests could predict future job performance. One personality type did perceive the tests as less fair than those with other personality types, but the difference may not have been large enough to have real meaning.

As I kept reading the article, I kept wondering how this information would be applied, or even how it would be useful. I kept wondering this because the authors never told me. The authors briefly mention previous research stating that applicant reactions can impact whether or not a candidate might accept a job offer and/or impact their future performance on the job. Yet they never relate their own findings to this previous research. I was left hanging.

The study also had a number of confounds, a few of which the authors acknowledged. Looking solely at rescue applicants isn’t representative of most jobs and applicants. Candidates had to first pass a physical test before they were allowed to begin the personality and cognitive assessments. The reactions survey only asked for their reactions to the personality and cognitive tests, but wouldn’t their perceptions of the physical test muck up their thoughts a bit?

Also, participants voluntarily completed the reactions survey, and not everyone completed it. Wouldn’t the thoughts of those who did NOT want to share their reactions be critical? Finally, their research found different reactions to the assessments based on gender and age, but they never investigated further, which I found disappointing.

Now I have to be fair and say that no research is perfect. All research has confounds. But when you feel as though you don’t get the “so what?” of the entire study and there are also lots of confounds, how are you supposed to react?

After reading this article I was left feeling a little icky inside. But it reminded me that reading research with a discerning amount of skepticism is not only healthy, it is mandatory. It reminded me of a wonderful quote by the philosopher George Santayana: “Skepticism, like chastity, should not be relinquished too readily.”