The latest Big Five personality research

Welcome to our first feature on our new Big Five personality research series.

Work meeting

Personality research on the Big Five Model

Personality psychologists tend to divide personality into five core dimensions: openness to experiences, agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness, and emotional stability.

Any guesses as to which dimension might be most predictive of occupational performance? If you guessed extraversion, you’d be wrong. If you guessed emotional stability, you’d be wrong again.

The truth is that 100+ years of psychological research has shown conscientiousness – that is, the tendency toward self-efficacy, orderliness, achievement, and self-discipline – to be the best predictor of job performance. New research forthcoming in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers an in-depth examination of why this is the case, and when it might not be true.

Big Five personality research

A team of scientists led by Michael Wilmot of the University of Toronto conducted a meta-analysis of 92 studies. They explored the relationship between conscientiousness and various occupational variables. For example, on-the-job competence, procrastination, leadership, organizational commitment, adaptability, job satisfaction, and burnout.

Across variables, the researchers found strong evidence to support the view that conscientiousness is highly predictive of job performance.

The researchers identified some interesting caveats and boundary conditions. Conscientiousness is a weaker predictor of job performance in “high-complexity” occupations). Conscientious people excel in customer service jobs. And other low to medium complexity occupations.

Furthermore, the researchers found that individuals high in conscientiousness do better in Health Care than, say, Law Enforcement.

The graph below reveals the job sectors in which conscientious individuals are most likely to excel, with Health Care leading the pack.

Big Five personality research

Conscientiousness and job performance
“Summary of meta-analyses of conscientiousness and occupational performance […]. Diamonds … [+]WILMOT & ONES (2019)

The researchers suggest that organizations should do more to harness conscientious workers’ aptitudes and motivations. Conscientious individuals are motivated by status, acceptance, and predictability.

Few individual differences variables have occupational effects as potent and pervasive as conscientiousness. The researchers recommend that ‘…every individual, organizational, and societal decision maker to better understand, develop, and apply the valuable human capital resource that is conscientiousness.

Big Five personality research