Is employee engagement just a reflection of personality?

By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Lewis Garrad & Didier Elzinga

Most people would like to have a job, a boss and a workplace they can engage with, as well as work that gives them a sense of purpose. But how much of engagement is actually just personality? A recent meta-analysis provides some much-needed data-driven answers.

Although the authors examined only the impact of personality on engagement—without considering the known contextual influences on it—their results were rather staggering: Almost 50 percent of the variability in engagement could be predicted by people’s personality. In particular by four traits: positive affect, proactivity, conscientiousness and extroversion. In combination, these traits represent some of the core ingredients of emotional intelligence and resilience.

So if you want an engaged work force, perhaps your best bet is to hire people who have an “engagable” personality? There are four important caveats to consider:

For starters, being more resilient to bad or incompetent management may be helpful for an individual employee’s well-being, but it can be damaging for the wider performance of the organization. Frustrated employees are often a warning sign of broader managerial and leadership issues that need to be addressed.

Second, at least half of “engagement” still comes from contextual factors about the employees’ work; issues or experiences that are common to all employees in an organization. So while one employee’s opinion might be heavily biased by the personality of that individual, a collection of views (like those often captured in organizational surveys) are more representative of the shared issues and challenges that people face.

Third, the most creative people in your organization are probably more cynical, skeptical and harder to please than the rest. Many innovators also have problems with authority and a predisposition to challenge the status quo. This makes them more likely to complain about bad management and inefficiency issues, and potentially more likely to disengage.

Last, anything of value is typically the result of team rather than individual performance, and great teams are not made of people who are identical to each other, but of individuals who complement each other. If you want cognitive diversity—variety in thinking, feeling and acting—then you will need people with different personalities.

If we can combine what we know about engagement with what we know about personality, then we can help each person more effectively navigate their organizational reality—leading to better, more effective organizations for all.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup. Lewis Garrad is the growth markets lead for Mercer|Sirotat. Didier Elzinga is the CEO and founder of Culture Amp.


1 comment

  1. With productivity steadfastly maintaining its lackluster position, it has become apparent that employee engagement means more than a ‘fluffy’ strategy championed solely by HR managers. Increasingly, successful businesses are those who leverage communication and productivity-enhancing tools like

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