Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Personality similarities between people who share an employer are as strong as between those who share a nationality

Is bigger better when it comes to data? After all, a well-designed study can demonstrate powerful and meaningful effects even within a modestly sized sample. Still, if you get your hands on a large enough data set - and you know what you are doing - you can potentially get a lot out of it.

In our penultimate report from the DOP 2014 conference, Prof Dave Bartram - someone who certainly knows what they are doing - presented work from a data set clocking in at a formidable 92,561 job applicants. At a previous conference Bartram reported on how countries have more homogenous personalities: two British people will be slightly more similar than a Brit with another nationality.

Evidence suggests a similar thing happens with organisations, and Bartram's team was interested in using this mammoth data set, with individuals in 35 countries applying to 490 different organisations, to look at how these effects interact. Can we make a better guess to your personality based on the country you work in, or the organisation you work in? How much of the organisation effect is explained by the industry you work in? Are country and organisation effects distinct, or interrelated - perhaps through the industries that a country focuses on?

The personality measure used was the Occupational Personality Questionnaire, which takes a fairly fine-grained approach that reports across 32 personality traits. A multi-level modelling analysis showed that 12% of the personality variance was explained by country and organisational membership, each accounting for a similar proportion. With 88% of the variance unaccounted for, there is still a range of personality within any given organisation or country, but the commonality is definitely present. Industry effects, meanwhile, were very small: around 2%. So the specific organisation you are in or applying to says more about your personality than the broader industry does.

Follow-up analysis showed that these country/organisation effects varied from trait to trait. Some, such as persuasiveness, competitiveness, and appetite for busy work conditions, were highly sensitive to country and organisational membership, which explained up to 20% of their variance; other traits far less so.

The organisation and country effects didn't tend to turn up for the same traits, either: the correlation between the two was close to zero. Instead, each environmental factor tended to target different types of traits. For instance, traits related to extraversion and conscientiousness were up to four times more related to organisation, whereas those related to emotional stability were up to five times more related to country. This suggests that the aspects of personality that comprise a 'national culture' are generally distinct from those that translate to an organisational culture.

Research has shown that organisations can develop a typical personality type, often shaped by their founders, whose own personality traits directly influence how the organisation operates. This big dataset shows that organisations attract people who are as similar to each other as are national compatriots. The ways in which people cluster due to organisation is different from countries, focusing more on traits that relate to entepreneurial, creative, and communication styles that clearly differ from workplace to workplace. Personality is multifaceted, and those facets appear to have a different relevance for the different aspects of our environments.  This kind of large-sample research is one means for us to get a better understanding of how we are different, and how we are similar.

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