So Many Constraints…Just Let Me to be Conscientious!

Topic: Job Performance, Personality
Publication: Journal of Organizational Behavior (NOV 2009)
Article: A meta-analytic investigation into the moderating effects of situational strength on the conscientiousness-performance relationship
Authors: R.D. Meyer, R.S. Dalal and S. Bonaccio
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger

Conscientiousness is a personality trait that predisposes employees to be well organized, attentive to detail, dependable, and goal/task-oriented. It’s not surprising then, that conscientious employees tend to perform well at work.  Despite the importance of conscientiousness for predicting job performance, Meyer, Dalal, and Bonaccio (2009) found that the relationship between  conscientiousness and job performance varies depending on the strength of the work situation (i.e., situational strength).

Situational strength refers to the constraints that are present within a work environment or occupation that restrict a person from expressing their true personalities. When defining how strong an occupation is, Meyer and colleagues considered the degree of constraints present within the job and the severity of consequences possible. In other words, they determined the degree to which employees have discretion over how their jobs are done and whether severe consequences are possible. For example, “curators”, “poets” and “personnel recruiters” are weak occupations whereas “subway operators”, “airline pilots” and “surgeons” are strong occupations.

Although conscientiousness is indeed a good predictor of job performance, Meyer et al.’s meta-analysis shows that it is a better predictor of performance for jobs in which employees have more freedom to engage in their job duties (i.e. weak occupations).

Overall, these findings suggest that organizations should consider the extent to which occupations are weak or strong before employing measures of conscientiousness in the employee selection process.

Meyer, R.D., Dalal, R.S., & Bonaccio, S. (2009). A meta-analytic investigation into the moderating effects of situational strength on the conscientiousness-performance relationship. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30, 1077-1102.