Wednesday, 22 February 2012

What kind of personality helps you engage with work?

Job engagement is one type of wellbeing at work, where an engaged worker is one who both feels positive about work and invests a great deal of energy into it. Engagement has taken the stage from the more passive notion of 'job satisfaction', grabbing the attention of organisations and those who study them. Research has focused on how a job's features make it engaging, but another line of study has begun to understand how personal attributes add to the mix.

In this vein, Ilke Inceoglu and Peter Warr will soon publish analysis of three data sets comprising some 700 English-speaking employees. Theirs is the first engagement study to look across the 'Big 5' personality traits, using data from the Occupational Personality Questionnaire (not a Big 5 tool, but the frameworks have been aligned through previous research) collected online from participants keen to get insight about job assessment processes. The site also presented a short six-item job engagement scale, asking participants to rate how much they feel e.g. "I get absorbed in my job" over the past two months.

Previous, less comprehensive investigations of personality separately found engagement related to 'Big 5' Conscientiousness and in another study to Extroversion and Emotional Stability. Looking across their datasets Inceoglu and Warr replicated these relationships as well as others, but then used multivariate analysis to see which personality components were unique predictors. (The interrelatedness of personality traits can otherwise falsely colour results.) The analysis showed that besides Emotional Stability the only significant factors were the 'Social potency' component of Extraversion, and the 'Achievement orientation' facet of Conscientiousness. This was as they had predicted: these are the energetic components of the traits, contrasting with their quieter siblings in 'Affiliation' (Extraversion) and 'Dependability' (Conscientiousness).

Other wellbeing measures like job satisfaction depend on a combination of environmental and personality factors, so it's appropriate we understand engagement in these terms. This approach could explain anomalies: why do we tend to feel more engagement when we feel our job has the wrong amount of a given feature - too much travel, or too little autonomy? Shouldn't we feel less? The authors note that personality might be the hidden causal variable: maybe Achievement orientation drives both high engagement and high expectations for a job. Either way, it's clearer and clearer that workforce engagement isn't just down to job design, or organisational culture, but is influenced by the personal attributes of its members.

If you're interested in accessing a preprint of the paper, try this link (pdf) courtesy of the University of Sheffield where Prof Warr is based.

ResearchBlogging.orgIlke Inceoglu, & Peter Warr (2012). Personality and Job Engagement Journal of Personnel Psychology

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