Anyone who’s ever had to manage multiple employees knows how challenging it can be to engage vastly different personality types within an office environment. Although there’s certainly no “wrong” personality type, conflict can and does occur in the workplace when employees approach the same set of problems from very different psychological perspectives.
But while no amount of psychology research is going to help you to completely change a “slack off” worker or get your picky employee to suddenly work harmoniously with the office slob, understanding major personality traits and how to balance differentworkstyles within the office can be hugely helpful.
One such model of different personality types that can be useful in managing discord between employees is the “Five-Factor” model, popularized by Drs. Robert McCrae and Paul Costa in the early 1990s. Essentially, this theory states that there are five major components that play a role in personality, as represented by the acronym “OCEAN”:
● Openness – How open and receptive a person is to new experiences and thoughts.
● Conscientiousness – Whether a person tends to be more disciplined or spontaneous when handling set tasks.
● Agreeableness – Whether a person reacts compassionately or antagonistically when confronted.
● Neuroticism – How quick a person is to have an emotional reaction to a given stimulus.
Each of these factors can be thought of as a continuum – essentially, people rarely fall on the extreme end of any one characteristic (for example, being completely agreeable or completely antagonistic). In addition, it’s important to keep in mind that no one position on these continuums is inherently better than another – responding to situations in different ways is what makes our world interesting and leads to a greater diversity of thoughts and ideas.
However, despite the fact that there’s no “wrong” personality type, there’s no doubt that different personality traits influence both the office environment and the success of each employee on your staff. As you might expect, employees who are in positions that match their emotional skill sets are more likely to be successful, while pairing an outgoing, spontaneous employee with a guarded introvert is going to lead to trouble.
The key, then, lies in understanding how to apply these five factors to your staff and use your findings to create a more positive, supportive work environment. According to a researchpaper written by Sean P. Neubert of the Rochester Institute of Technology:
“Job performance and personality (as measured in the five-factor model) are related. The five factors are strongly correlated with cooperating with others and enjoying the overall workplace experience, which are key components of long-term job success.”
If you can afford it, paying to have each employee in your organization take a standardized personality test (for example, the WonderlicFive-FactorAssessment or the CleaverProfile) can be a great way to gather objective data on where each member of your staff falls on the spectrums described above. But even if you aren’t able to shell out the money for these tests (or simply don’t want to), you can perform your own assessments by rating your employees on each of the five factors based on their past actions.
As an interesting exercise, you can also ask your staff to rate themselves according to the five factors, using questions culled from online resources like Wikipedia or unofficial personalitytests. In some cases, the disparity between how you would classify an employee and how he rates himself can be quite large, providing even more information to use when understanding the role different personality traits play in your office.
Once you have a better idea of how each of your staff members falls on the five-factor spectrums, it’s time to apply this newfound knowledge to your workplace. There are two different aspects of work life you’ll want to address – how each employee’s personality profile influences his or her own success, as well as how to prevent interpersonal conflict between employees with different emotional styles.
First, as a manager, use the information you’ve uncovered throughout this process to determine what makes each of your employees “tick”. What motivates your workers, and how might the personality traits you’ve uncovered shape their opinions on ideal work environments, progress reporting and feedback, work/life balance and more.
Glaring inconsistencies between an employee’s current position and his or her personality traits should be obvious – for example, someone who ranks highly in extraversion shouldn’t be confined to a position with limited human contact. However, you can use this information in more subtle ways as well. Say, as an example, you’re trying to decide how to give your employees useful feedback. Someone who rates on the five-factor scale as being more neurotic might require more “hand-holding” to feel confident in his or her job, while someone who comes up as less conscientious may need more reminders in order to meet important deadlines.
These types of considerations can also be used to encourage positive working relationships between groups of employees. If, for example, you need to form a cross-departmental team to launch a new project, consider forming a group of people with varying scores on the agreeableness spectrum – too many “compassionate” responders may prevent progress from occurring, while too many “antagonists” can stall a project from ever getting off the ground.
By taking the time to understand how each employee falls on the five-factor personality spectrums, you’ll be able to better tailor your work environment to individual employees’ and teams’ success. Although there may be some investment up front to truly gauging how your team is built from a psychological perspective, you’ll find the costs well worth it when it comes to overall employee motivation and satisfaction.