Employee-job personality match linked with higher income

November 29, 2017, Association for Psychological Science
Employee-job personality match linked with higher income
Credit: Association for Psychological Science

An employee whose personality traits closely match the traits that are ideal for her job is likely to earn more than an employee whose traits are less aligned, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Our findings show that looking at the combination of and job demands is key to predict important outcomes, like income," says lead researcher Jaap J. A. Denissen of Tilburg University. "This updates the notion that you only have to look at the traits of an individual to predict his or her life outcomes. Our results indicate that it's more complex: You also have to take that person's environment into account."

Findings from previous research have indicated that some personality traits are generally beneficial when it comes to a work environment. Being highly conscientious, Denissen notes, is associated with being hard-working, well-organized, and rule-abiding, qualities that are typically prized in employees.

But Denissen and coauthors questioned the notion that there is an "ideal" personality type. They hypothesized that the match, or mismatch, between an individual's traits and job demands might be critical when it comes to important outcomes like income.

The researchers developed a novel strategy for directly comparing the fit between a given employee and a given job, using the well-established Big Five personality traits to quantify the traits that a job requires.

Analyzing data from the nationally representative German Socio-Economic panel, the researchers examined personality profiles, annual income, and of 8,458 individuals living in Germany. Due to the fact that men were more likely than women to be employed full-time in Germany at the time of the data collection, the sample was 68% male and 32% female, with a mean age of 43.7 years old.

Each individual in the sample completed a brief version of the Big Five inventory in German, rating the degree to which they thought 15 personality-related statements applied to them (e.g., "I see myself as someone who has an active imagination" for openness to experience.

Participants' jobs were classified using the International Labour Organization's International Standard Classification of Occupations. Two psychologists with extensive expertise in occupational issues (but who were unaware of the researchers' hypotheses) then assessed each job for its ideal levels of Big Five traits. They determined, for example, that a bookkeeper required the lowest level of extraversion, whereas an actor or director required the highest level.

The researchers used a statistical technique called response surface analysis to create a 3D model that identified how each employee's personality traits and the ideal personality traits for each job contributed to employee income.

The results showed that fit really does matter, at least when it comes to extraversion, agreeableness, and openness to experience. For these three traits, greater congruence between an 's own personality and a job's demands was linked with higher income - what the researchers call a "fit bonus."

Importantly, the data also revealed that it's possible to have too much of a good thing: Employees who were more agreeable, more conscientious, or more open to experiences than their jobs required actually earned less than people who had congruent levels of those traits.

The model showed that, in some cases, having too little of a given trait was actually less costly than having too much:

"Personality characteristics that have long been thought of as universally adaptive were not very beneficial or even detrimental, given particular job characteristics," says Denissen. "For example, highly conscientious individuals whose jobs did not demand such levels actually had lower earnings than individuals who were low in conscientiousness and had jobs that demanded high levels."

The researchers note that additional studies will be required to understand how individual job experiences, job satisfaction, and job performance might sway the association between individual-job personality fit and income. The results of the current study do suggest that achieving the right fit requires a more nuanced approach to assessing both individual traits and job-related traits than previously thought. Paying attention to these nuances could have important implications for both employees and employers.

"From a practical perspective, companies should be interested in these results because they imply that it's really important to invest in solid personality assessment," Denissen explains. "And individuals should care because our findings suggest that if they manage to find jobs that fit their personalities, they can earn more money."

Explore further: People can correctly infer some personality traits from online profile

More information: Jaap J. A. Denissen et al, Uncovering the Power of Personality to Shape Income, Psychological Science (2017). DOI: 10.1177/0956797617724435

Related Stories

People can correctly infer some personality traits from online profile

October 9, 2017
Job-related social networking sites (such as LinkedIn) are often used by recruiters to find new employees, because the profiles on these sites contain information on people's education level and work experience. Is it possible ...

The best hedge fund managers are not psychopaths or narcissists, according to new study

October 19, 2017
When it comes to financial investments, hedge fund managers higher in "dark triad" personality traits - psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism - perform more poorly than their peers, according to new personality psychology ...

Conscientious people are more likely to have higher GPAs

March 19, 2013
Conscientious people are more likely to have higher grade point averages, according to new research from psychologists at Rice University.

New personality model sets up how we see ourselves—and how others see us

January 7, 2017
A new model for identifying personality traits may help organizations save money by improving the hiring process and with evaluating employee performance.

Personality traits 'contagious' among children

February 3, 2017
When preschoolers spend time around one another, they tend to take on each others' personalities, indicates a new study by Michigan State University psychology researchers.

Personality traits and psychiatric disorders linked to specific genomic locations

December 8, 2016
A meta-analysis of genome-wide association studies (GWAS) has identified six loci or regions of the human genome that are significantly linked to personality traits, report researchers at University of California San Diego ...

Recommended for you

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.