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The Big Five Personality Traits Model

Gallup's 2023 report on U.S. workplace engagement reveals a concerning stagnation, with only 33% of employees feeling engaged, resulting in an estimated $1.9 trillion loss in productivity (Harter, 2024). Challenges like unclear expectations and disconnection from organizational missions are prevalent, often attributed to structural changes, increased job responsibilities, and inadequate training for managers in hybrid work setups. This is especially pertinent given the rise of hybrid work environments, with nearly one-third of companies currently adopting this model and a projected 22% of the workforce expected to work remotely by 2025 (Haan, 2024).

As employee satisfaction declines and hybrid workplaces increase, prioritizing the discovery of talent that excels in the current work environment is paramount. This article delves into the Big Five Personality Traits Model, analyzing how specific characteristics impact virtual work performance and how understanding the model can help business leaders in hiring and managing remote teams.



The Big Five Personality Traits Model

The Big Five Personality Traits Model, widely acknowledged in contemporary psychology (Lim, 2020), emphasizes five key personality dimensions. This model provides a comprehensive framework for understanding various aspects of human personality by categorizing traits into these five distinct groups. The traits include:

  1. Openness: willingness to try new experiences

  2. Conscientiousness: ability to be self-disciplined

  3. Extraversion: desiring the company of others

  4. Agreeableness: level of cooperativeness and compassion

  5. Neuroticism: prone to anxiety or other negative emotions (Lim, 2020 & Boundless, n.d.)

The Big Five Personality Traits model evaluates individuals across a spectrum within five distinct categories. For instance, someone might have a moderately high openness score, indicating a general preference for spontaneity. Conversely, a low openness score suggests a preference for strict routines or schedules. The accompanying graphic serves as an illustrative example of how one might be assessed using the Big Five Model.



(Lim, 2020)

Support for the Big Five Model

While the Big Five Model is a widely accepted approach in psychology, its capacity to fully capture an individual's personality, especially across different cultures, has been debated (Lim, 2020). In corporate settings, employers and executive coaches often prioritize traits linked to professional success rather than the nuances of an individual's personality, making the Big Five Model a practical tool for evaluating key characteristics for success in virtual roles. Research, including studies by Sackett & Walmsley (2014) and Nießen et al. (2020), supports the model's effectiveness in predicting career success through traits like conscientiousness and agreeableness. The following sections will further explore each trait's relevance to virtual work environments, backed by research findings.


Personality traits to look for when hiring remote employees


Openness

Ensures adaptability during periods of change

In refining virtual employment strategies, it's vital to consider the trait of openness to experience. Studies, such as Luse et al. (2013), suggest that individuals with higher openness are more adaptable to virtual work. This trait is crucial for both employers selecting staff for remote roles and executive coaches advising clients on managing virtual teams. Openness impacts the ease of transitioning to virtual environments and the ability to adapt to evolving work policies. Therefore, assessing openness is key in hiring and managing virtual employees to ensure a smooth transition and adaptability in the ever-changing landscape of virtual employment.


Questions to consider when addressing openness

  • How do you feel when corporate policies that affect your job change?

  • Are you open to trying new communication platforms or programs?

  • How well do you adapt to new technology?


Conscientiousness

Boosts productivity


Conscientiousness is a key trait for success, especially in virtual employment (Nießen et al., 2020; Sackett & Walmsley, 2014; Wilmot & Ones, 2019). Research indicates that virtual employees tend to exhibit higher levels of conscientiousness, likely due to the self-motivation and independent schedule management required in remote work (MacRae & Sawatzky, 2020). This trait is crucial in virtual settings where oversight is limited, and employees must self-regulate. Therefore, when hiring or training for virtual roles, business leaders and executive coaches should focus on enhancing conscientiousness to boost productivity and adaptability.


Questions to consider when addressing conscientiousness

  • Can you share an example of a time you showed self-discipline?

  • How do you organize your work schedule?

  • Do you feel that you are able to function effectively on your own?


Extroversion vs. Introversion

Determines satisfaction with a virtual environment

Current research indicates that personality traits, such as extraversion and introversion, influence individuals' preferences for virtual employment. Extroverted individuals tend to favor in-person work due to their reliance on personal interactions, but their success in virtual roles hinges on their openness to the experience (Jarrett, 2020). The key distinction lies in the preference for virtual teamwork among extroverts and individual virtual work among introverts (Luse et al., 2013). When hiring for virtual positions, aligning job requirements with candidates' extroversion or introversion tendencies is essential. Additionally, executive coaches assisting businesses in adapting to virtual employment should acknowledge these personality differences to craft strategies that cater to the needs of both extroverted and introverted employees.


Questions to consider when addressing extroversion/introversion

  • Do you prefer teamwork or individual work?

  • Do you enjoy working with a team of individuals or do you find that stressful?

  • Do you feel that your employees are more likely to be introverted or extroverted?


Agreeableness

Best for roles with minimal direct interaction


In virtual employment roles that heavily involve teamwork, research by William Swart and Judy A. Siguaw (2020) suggests that high agreeableness may not be the most desirable trait. Their study on students engaged in intensive virtual teamwork revealed a decrease in agreeableness levels, attributed to the need for virtual collaboration and idea sharing (Swart & Siguaw, 2020). It's important to clarify that agreeableness isn't merely about getting along with others but relates to a tendency to trust and follow others' ideas (Lim, 2020). Agreeable individuals may prioritize others' ideas over their own, potentially hindering effective brainstorming and idea sharing in virtual teams.


Business leaders should consider this when hiring for teamwork-intensive virtual positions, aiming for a balanced team with individuals who contribute diverse perspectives. Similarly, executive coaches should factor in the value of constructive disagreement in virtual peer groups. However, in roles with minimal direct interaction, higher agreeableness can be beneficial, as it enables employees to handle constructive criticism via email more effectively, reducing stress and conflicts within virtual organizations (Clark, Karau, & Michalisin, 2012).


Questions to consider when addressing agreeableness

  • How likely are you to share your ideas, even if they are different from others?

  • Do you consider yourself a follower or a leader?

  • How likely are you to confront others’ ideas if you disagree with them?


Neuroticism

Linked to anxiety and stress, but could result in achievement


Neuroticism, characterized by emotional instability, is linked to higher stress, depression, and worry. Surprisingly, research indicates that individuals with higher neuroticism levels tend to have more favorable attitudes toward virtual employment, as it offers a refuge from interpersonal anxieties in traditional office settings (Clark et al., 2012).


While neuroticism might raise concerns, it can also be beneficial. High-functioning individuals with anxiety (closely related to neuroticism) often exhibit a drive for perfection and fear of failure in their professional lives, leading to impressive results (Cuncic, 2020). Providing remote employment opportunities can enable these individuals to work effectively without the added stressors of social interactions and commuting.


When hiring for virtual roles, it's essential to consider how the position aligns with the individual's needs and preferences, rather than focusing solely on neuroticism levels. Executive coaches, well-versed in neuroticism and anxiety, can guide business leaders in offering virtual employment options to maximize the productivity of individuals with higher neuroticism or anxiety ratios.


Questions to consider when addressing Neuroticism

  • Would you say you are more stressed than the average individual?

  • What about virtual employment suits your personality?

  • How often do you worry about things out of your control?


Other important traits

Although the Big Five Personality Trait index is a valuable and scientifically proven tool for personality assessment, there are other characteristics that can be helpful for remote employers as well.


Honesty

Related to the personality trait of conscientiousness, honesty is also important for remote employees. Research shows that those with higher rates of conscientiousness are more likely to be honest (Horn, Nelson, & Brannick, 2004). Honesty is a vital part of remote employment because of the increasing trend of over-employment. This trend involves remote employees manipulating their employers into thinking that they are working for them full time, only working part-time—doing the minimal work possible, and taking on a second, or even third job. Honest employees are less likely to manipulate their employees in this wasteful and deceitful practice. For more information on this increasingly manipulative trend, read our insight article on over employment here.


Communication

Due to the nature of virtual employment, virtual employees need to be able to communicate effectively over email, Zoom, and other virtual platforms. This skill can help employees keep their managers and bosses in the loop on their project completion and productivity (Parris, n.d.).


Problem-solving

Because managers and co-workers may not be readily available to help employees when they face technical issues, it is important for remote employees to have the ability to solve their own problems. Problem-solving skills can prevent standstills in employee productivity that can occur due to technical issues (YEC, 2018).


The main takeaways

According to the research above, the Big Five Personality Traits relate to virtual employment as follows:

  1. Openness to New Experiences: Supports a smooth transition to virtual work by fostering openness to new opportunities.

  2. Conscientiousness: Vital for self-discipline in the absence of direct supervision in virtual work.

  3. Extroversion: Extroverts prefer face-to-face work but can excel in virtual groups, while introverts thrive in more individualized remote roles.

  4. Agreeableness: Less beneficial for virtual teamwork but advantageous for independent tasks.

  5. Neuroticism: Provides an opportunity for high neuroticism individuals to excel in virtual work, free from additional stressors.


Business leaders and executive coaches should consider these insights when confronting the challenges of developing engaged, virtual workplaces. Understanding how different personalities are expected to react to virtual employment gives business leaders the opportunity to address these personality differences when creating virtual employment policies.


References

Boundless. (n.d.). Boundless Management. Retrieved from https://courses.lumenlearning.com/boundless-management/chapter/personality/


Clark, L. A., Karau, S. J., & Michalisin, M. D. (2012). Telecommuting Attitudes and the ‘Big Five’ Personality Dimensions. Journal of Management Policy and Practice, 13(3), 31-46. Retrieved from http://www.na-businesspress.com/JMPP/ClarkLA_Web13_3_.pdf


Cuncic, A. (2020, November 18). What High Functioning Anxiety Feels Like. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-high-functioning-anxiety-4140198#citation-6


Haan, K. (2023, June 12). Remote Work Statistics And Trends In 2023. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/business/remote-work-statistics/


Horn, J., Nelson, C., & Brannick, M. (2004). Integrity, Conscientiousness, And Honesty. Psychological Reports, 95(5), 27. doi:10.2466/pr0.95.5.27-38


Harter, J. (2024, January 23). In New Workplace, U.S. Employee Engagement Stagnates. Gallup.com. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/608675/new-workplace-employee-engagement-stagnates.aspx


Jarrett, C. (2020, June 2). The personalities that benefit most from remote work. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200601-the-personalities-that-benefit-most-from-remote-work


Leigh Anne Clark, Steven J. Karau, Michael D. Michalisin, (2012) "Telecommuting Attitudes and the ‘Big Five’ Personality Dimensions," Journal of Management Policy and Practice, Vol. 13, Iss. 3, pp.31 - 46


Lim, A (2020, June 15). The big five personality traits. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/big-five-personality.html


Luse, A., Mcelroy, J. C., Townsend, A. M., & Demarie, S. (2013). Personality and cognitive style as predictors of preference for working in virtual teams. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(4), 1825-1832. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.02.007


MacRae, I., & Sawatzky, R. (2020). Remote Working: Personality and Performance Research Results. Retrieved from https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b045109c258b4052b14cd0d/t/5e28792a6b8c1a130743bec1/1579710768235/Remote Working - Personality and Performance Research Results.pdf.


Nießen, D., Danner, D., Spengler, M., & Lechner, C. M. (2020). Big Five Personality Traits Predict Successful Transitions From School to Vocational Education and Training: A Large-Scale Study. Frontiers in Psychology, 11. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.01827


Parris, J. (n.d.). 8 Characteristics of Successful Remote Employees: FlexJobs. Retrieved from https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/5-traits-you-need-to-work-from-home/


Sackett, P. R., & Walmsley, P. T. (2014). Which Personality Attributes Are Most Important in the Workplace? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9(5), 538-551. doi:10.1177/1745691614543972


Swart, W., & Siguaw, J. (2020). The Transformational Impact of Intense Virtual Teamwork Experiences on Team Member Psychometrics: An Exploratory Study. American Journal of Management, 20(1). doi:10.33423/ajm.v20i1.2756


Wilmot, M. P., & Ones, D. S. (2019). A century of research on conscientiousness at work. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(46), 23004-23010. doi:10.1073/pnas.1908430116


YEC. (2018, February 06). Council Post: 10 Traits To Look For When Hiring A Remote Employee. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2018/02/06/10-traits-to-look-for-when-hiring-a-remote-employee/?sh=4d2bbfc663df


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