Personality tests are frequently used as part of the selection process and are fairly well-known to hiring managers and human resources personnel. Many assessments measure the Big Five personality traits: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, openness, and neuroticism. Of these five factors, many researchers have staked their claim on extraversion.
When thinking of an extravert, we may picture that one person at work who can’t stop talking at the water cooler, or someone action-oriented and outgoing. Perhaps this person might also be a little attention-seeking or easily distracted. But does that personality specifically relate to any work outcomes?
To determine what role extraversion plays at work, researchers (Wilmot et al., 2019) reviewed results from 97 meta-analyses (compilations of many previous studies) that encompassed 223 variables. After thoroughly parsing the data, the researchers synthesized it into four extraversion “advantages,” and also discussed the limits of extraversion at work.
THE ADVANTAGES OF EXTRAVERSION
The first advantage that researchers named was the motivational advantage. This is an amalgam of attributes including pursuing developmental opportunities, self-confidence, taking a positive approach to achieving goals, and seeking rewards. Motivation itself includes energy and engagement, and extraversion is linked with these behaviors, as well as pursuits like influencing others, seeking rewards, and achieving success, status, and recognition. These characteristics of extraversion provide a motivational advantage and make it easier to accomplish goals.
Speaking of positivity, larger amounts of positive emotions creates a second advantage, the emotional advantage. Like motivation, this advantage relies on positive traits associated with extraversion. It helps at work because positivity can act as a “buffer” to work-life challenges and burnout, as well as help people adjust to stressful circumstances.
It will come as no surprise that social interaction is rewarding to extraverts, and that contributes to an interpersonal advantage. Because extraversion is related specifically to verbal and nonverbal communication styles, as well as the ability to pay attention and be sensitive to the needs of others, having an interpersonal advantage can carry employees far in the workplace.
So far, we have seen that an extraverted people who are motivated, positive, well-adjusted, and have impressive social skills are likely to succeed on the job. There is still one important factor left, and that is being able to perform job duties well. The performance advantage is made up of being proactive at work and receiving rewards for work. As extraversion is partly measured by innovation, adaptation (including adapting to different job functions), advocating for change, and taking career opportunities, extraverted people are more likely to perform well at work and receive rewards like promotions, commendations, and higher pay.
LIMITS TO EXTRAVERSION
While extraversion sounds great so far, there are still a few other considerations. The first is considering the context. For example, extraversion is not as helpful in pursuit of education as it is in the workplace. As far as work goes, introversion is still superior to extraversion when working in a team if there is more task conflict or if social interaction is lower.
The authors also suggest that too much extraversion might not be a good thing—particularly when it comes to leadership and managerial performance. However, this has not been fully tested yet.
Extraversion tends to stabilize around adulthood, which means that there are not many changes for employees—once an extravert, always an extravert. However, one study did show that there was a modest decline in extraversion above age 60. Also, important work and life events can change the levels of traits associated with extraversion. Adverse events like unemployment can lower levels of these traits, while success in life can raise levels of these traits.
It appears that being extraverted is advantageous to career goals and work life, and organizations might consider a personality assessment to measure extraversion (while considering the context of the job). Harnessing the power of extraversion could pay large dividends for organizations.
Wilmot, M. P., Wanberg, C. R., Kammeyer-Mueller, J. D., & Ones, D.S. (2019). Extraversion Advantages at Work: A Quantitative Review and Synthesis of the Meta-Analytic Evidence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(12), 1-25.