Personalities at Work

    Paula Fulghum

    Personality can be quite a “hot topic” in the workplace. Clashes in personality might erupt into disputes. Companies may use personality tests in screening for new job hires. An abrasive personality of a supervisor might trigger mass turnover in the organization. Issues with personality can come up in practically all matters of the organization. So what exactly is personality, and why does it matter? In an early conception of personality, Murray and Kluckhorn (1953) stated that “every person is like all other persons, like some other persons, and like no other person”. This is an interesting thought in that some basic innate human tendencies unite humans while we also have traits and characteristics that make us each unique. Our personality is that unique combination of traits and characteristics. While we know our personality will affect what we do, how we get along with others, or who we choose to associate with, what aspects of personality matter in relation to work? Personality has been found to be related to job performance, career success, and leadership, among other variables. So personality is obviously relevant to a person’s work-life. So what should managers do about that?

    Opinions on whether or not to use personality tests in selection are quite varied. Some people find personality questionnaires completely useless for selection. On the other hand, some companies swear by personality tests. Several issues can come up in deciding if personality screening would be worth it for your company. First, is it necessary for the job? For some jobs, having a very lively, extraverted, and open individual could be critical for success in that role. For other jobs, personality may be fairly irrelevant. You have to be careful to make sure that what you’re testing for is applicable. Using bogus personality tests could not only be costly, but could even lead to discrimination issues if the tests are inappropriately excluding certain groups of people. It is important to know when personality information matters, and don’t rely on that information alone. Key information like experience, knowledge, and skills will probably be more important for most jobs. Also, if you are using a personality test in screening for applicants, make sure it is a good test. Some of the most popular tests used really may not be all that great. Be sure you have checked current research on how valid that measure actually is. Many personality tests can make mistakes such as boxing people into one category or another when they would really be more in the middle of the two.

    You may also benefit more by trying to see someone’s personality in action. If the job requires someone with an outgoing and agreeable personality, why not give them a realistic simulation or preview of a job task and see how they do.  In addition to seeing if a person naturally fits well with the task, remember that personality may be fairly constant in your workers, but you can still train for skills. Someone that is more extraverted may be naturally good at public speaking or social networking; however, that does not mean that an introverted person can’t be good at those same things. In fact, many of the best public speakers were probably not always so confident. Being well practiced and trained in certain skills can override some personality aspects. People can learn skills to react to certain kinds of situations.

    Lastly, the biggest lesson we can learn is that people are different. Whether or not you officially consider personality in your selection or organizational activities, you need to acknowledge personality and use individual differences to your advantage. As a manager, when you know that a person fits perfectly with a job or task, capitalize on that. And if you know someone has certain traits that make a task harder for them, don’t be surprised when performance suffers. Get to know your employees’ traits, attitudes, and characteristics. Know their unique strengths and weaknesses. Making the most of natural individual differences and diversity in personalities of workers will be extremely advantageous for organizational success.

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