Profit Minded

Why you should give neurotic colleagues a chance

Personality types at work

Workplace mangers and team leaders tend to have higher expectations of extraverts. People with more outgoing personalities are more likely to be stronger contributors on the job, employers assume. But when it comes to teamwork, UCLA business school professor and researcher Corinne Bendersky says that’s not necessarily the way things pan out.

In a recent study, Bendersky and Neha Parekh Shah found that people with neurotic traits exceeded their colleagues’ expectations, while extraverts more often disappointed them.

“A lot of staffing practice over-weights extraversion as a positive performance signal and sees neurotic cues as a negative performance signal,” Bendersky says. Her research shows that “those signals are not very accurate and the behaviors might not actually persist.”

Bendersky notes: neither “extravert” nor “neurotic” is used as a derogatory label here, but as an academic terms. They’re just two of the “big 5” personality dimensions that scholars rely on to describe people. Other “big 5” types are agreeable, open, and conscientious. To be sure, “there is a continuum and many of us fall in the middle,” Bendersky says.

Her work is concerned with understanding workplace status—how an individual’s prestige within a work group impacts pay and ranking—and how that status can change over time. Her study, therefore, did not look at actual performance, just at how colleagues’ perceptions of each others' performance impacted status.

She discovered that neurotic workers’ performance tends to exceed the low expectations that colleagues have of them, while extraverts underwhelm their colleagues’ expectations.

So what? Bendersky says her results imply that employers should “not be making staffing decisions for interdependent teams based on intuition about how people are going to perform as a function of personality traits.”

Of neurotics, she says, “There is an assumption that anxiety and low emotional regulation means that people are going to be disruptive in groups and that this personality trait will be OK if they don’t have to work with other people. But our study shows that they do very well in group settings and are not disruptive.”

Bendersky’s research reveals, in fact, that neurotics’ concern about not wanting to disappoint their peers leads to a high level of engagement in group tasks.

To managers, she says, “Check your gut intuition if you’re hiring people to work in a group.” And to small business owners, Bendersky says, “To the extent that there’s going to be a lot of interaction and not a whole lot of contributors, you really do want to have a mix of personality traits. You don’t want to rely too heavily on extraverts.”

Bendersky adds that, while extraverts “sell very well and come off as very confident and enthusiastic, we may overhire them.” Small business owners would be well-served to have a mix of employee personalities that includes more neurotics and fewer extraverts, she says.

Of course, there’s a place for extraverts. “For jobs that are client-facing with a lot of public interaction, the signals the extravert sends are going to be more accurate of those situations,” Bendersky says.

To find out which “big 5 dimensions” best describe you, take the test.

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