How Personality Variability Impacts Your Work Performance

4 min read

Our personality impacts our lives in many ways. How agreeable we are influences our relationship satisfaction; how extraverted we are relates to our career success; and how open-minded we are defines our traveling preferences.

Your Personality Is Not as Stable as You Might Think

When we talk about personality, we usually focus on how personality characteristics differ between people. But what is often overlooked is that your personality is not as stable as you might think. In fact, personality also varies a lot within people.

There are countless examples of this. Procrastinating at work right now? You may experience a temporary dip in conscientiousness. Not feeling like going out tonight? Maybe you are not so extraverted at this moment.

This illustrates the concept of personality variability, which means that your personality varies across time and situations. Some people experience more personality variability than others, which may seem very intuitive. We can all think of people around us who act very consistently across different situations, whereas others adapt their behavior across a range of different contexts like chameleons changing colors.

Is Personality Variability a Blessing or a Curse in the Workplace?

In our recent study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, we examined how personality variability relates to employees’ work performance. Is personality variability beneficial or not?

Previous research painted a mixed picture. On the one hand, personality variability could be related to greater adaptability, more helping behavior, and better career adaptability. On the other hand, personality variability could also be associated with less positive interpersonal relationships at work and higher levels of counterproductive work behavior.

Adaptive Like a Chameleon… or Changeable Like the Weather

So, is this personality variability a blessing or a curse at the workplace? It seems to depend on whom you ask.

In our study, employees and supervisors rated employees’ momentary personality states multiple times daily for a few weeks. This allowed us to examine the extent to which employees’ personality varies across time. At the end of the study, both employees and supervisors rated the employees’ overall work performance.

Results demonstrated that employees view personality variability as beneficial for their performance, reflecting flexibility and adaptability in their daily work behavior. Supervisors, on the contrary, evaluated the performance of employees who varied more in their personality lower, possibly viewing employees’ personality variability as unpredictability in their behavior.

Different Effects for Different People

These findings may not be the same for everyone. We compared employees with more adaptive traits—for example, those who are emotionally stable, trusting, and open-minded—with employees who have less adaptive traits, characterized by, for example, emotional instability, distrust, and closed-mindedness.

Employees who have more adaptive characteristics seemed to benefit more from personality variability, showing flexibility to what the situation requires. Employees who have less adaptive characteristics, on the other hand, seem to be better off showing more stability in their behavior.

Why Personality Variability Matters

Taken together, both personality variability and stability seem to be key to a successful career. While flexibility is often seen as an asset, finding a balance with consistency and predictability in your interactions with others is equally vital.

Imagine yourself working in the hospitality industry. You would probably show elevated levels of enthusiasm and friendliness toward your customers, yet maybe less so when you’re interacting with coworkers. While you may perceive this as being customer-friendly and flexible toward what the situation requires, your colleagues—and maybe also the customers—might see you as unpredictable or inauthentic.

Moreover, it may be critical to consider both (future) employees’ personality traits and their level of personality variability (for example, in personnel selection procedures and coaching settings), as not everyone may thrive in highly dynamic and volatile work environments.

So, are you like a chameleon changing colors? You may want to give it a second thought next time.

You May Also Like

+ There are no comments

Add yours