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The Five-Factor Model of Personality in the Workplace

Sean P. Neubert
Rochester Institute of Technology

This paper investigates the correlation and validity of the five-factor model with job performance and other job-related activities. Motivation, deviation, absences, and job satisfaction are related to the five factors. Conscientiousness and agreeableness appear to be positively correlated with productivity in a team environment among peers and are more likely to aid in being selected for a job. Neuroticism and agreeableness are negatively correlated with leadership capabilities. Individuals who score high on conscientiousness tend to perform well at work, whereas individuals lacking conscientiousness and having neuroticism tend to perform poorly at work.

This is a review of the relation between the five-factor model of personality and performance in the workplace. Research in this field has yielded correlations between the five-factor model and aspects of job performance such as motivation, deviation, job satisfaction, and teamwork.

Motivation in the Workplace

Studies of sales representatives have defined two aspects of motivation--status striving and accomplishment striving--and they are correlated with extraversion and conscientiousness, respectively. These two subsets of motivation lead to sales performance, although the data imply that status striving leads to performance and accomplishment striving leads to performance only indirectly via a relation between accomplishment striving and status striving (Barrick, Stewart, & Piotrowski, 2002). This study is questionable in that it studied sales representatives, who are likely required to be extraverted in order to succeed at their job. To say that extraverted sales representatives perform better is a bit redundant; shy sales people do not go far. Because extraversion is such an integral aspect of being a salesperson, this study does not lend much support for a general model or theory correlating the five-factor model with job performance.

Job Satisfaction

The five-factor model is correlated with overall level of job satisfaction experienced by employees. In general, satisfied employees are more likely to remain in a position and to avoid absences than are dissatisfied employees.

Initial research indicated that neuroticism is negatively correlated with job satisfaction, whereas conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness are positively correlated with job satisfaction. Openness to experience has a negligible impact on job satisfaction. Additional research, however, has only been able to replicate correlations among the factors of neuroticism and extraversion, with extraversion being positively correlated with job satisfaction and neuroticism being negatively correlated. This could be due to the social nature of the workplace (Judge, Heller, & Mount, 2002).

This finding may be due to the low level of arousability for extraverted individuals (Hebb's theory). If the workplace is a social environment, then extraverted employees are more likely to be at a low level of arousal while at work, whereas at their home there is less stimulation. Introverts, on the other hand, are more likely at their optimal level of arousal outside of the workplace, where there is less stimulation, and therefore are more likely dissatisfied with the level of stimulation that they experience while at work.

Deviation in the Workplace

Workplace deviance occurs when an employee voluntarily pursues a course of action that threatens the well-being of the individual or the organization. Examples include stealing, hostile behavior towards coworkers, and withholding effort. Stealing and withholding effort are categorized as organizational deviance, whereas hostile and rude behavior toward coworkers are categorized as interpersonal deviance.

Workplace deviance is related to the five-factor model of personality. Interpersonal deviance is negatively correlated with high levels of agreeableness. Organizational deviance is negatively correlated with high levels of conscientiousness and positively correlated with high levels of neuroticism. This implies that individuals who are emotionally stable and conscientious are less likely to withhold effort or steal, whereas those who are agreeable are less likely to be hostile to their coworkers.

Another entirely different factor to consider is perception of the workplace. Employees who had a positive perception of their workplace were less likely to pursue deviant behavior. Research indicates that personality acts as a moderating factor: workplace deviance was more likely to be endorsed with respect to an individual when both the perception of the workplace was negative and emotional stability, conscientiousness, or agreeableness was low (Colbert, Mount, Harter, Witt, & Barrick, 2004).

Performance in the Workplace

Of the five factors, the single factor of conscientiousness is the most predictive of job performance (Hurtz & Donovan, 2000).


Job absence is very much a part of job performance: employees are not performing effectively if they do not even come to work. Introverted, conscientious employees are much less likely to be absent from work, as opposed to extraverted employees who are low on conscientiousness. Interestingly enough, neuroticism is not highly correlated with absence (Judge, Martocchio, & Thoresen, 1997). The Judge et al. (1997) study is interesting considering the Judge et al. (2002) research on job satisfaction and the five-factor model. The results of the latter research suggests that extraverted individuals are more satisfied in the workplace, because work gives them an opportunity to experience an optimal level of arousal, whereas introverted individuals are less satisfied in the workplace due to too much stimulation. Combining the results of these two studies suggests that conscientiousness is the deciding factor regarding job absence.

Perhaps another factor in absenteeism is that, although introverts may be less satisfied in the workplace, they go to work anyway. This behavior might imply either that introverts are more conscientious or simply that introverts have no compelling reason not to go to work (whereas extraverts may have friends who urge them to skip work and go see a movie). This conclusion is debateable, however, because introverts might be tempted to skip work to avoid the extra stimulation and might perhaps stay home and read a book (a book on psychology, no doubt). Judge and his colleagues will likely continue their research and perhaps provide answers in the future.


Oftentimes in the workplace the ability to be a team player is valued and is critical to job performance. Recent research has suggested that conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness are all related to cooperative behavior but that they are not related to task performance. Although this fortifies the case that job performance is related to the five-factor model via increased cooperativeness among coworkers, it lays siege to the role of personality by implying that actual job performance (task performance) is related to cognitive ability and not to personality (LePine & Dyne, 2001).

Leadership abilities are often essential in the workplace, especially for individuals who aspire to move up into the ranks of management. Studies of Asian military units have found that neuroticism is negatively correlated with leadership abilities. Contrary to what the researchers hypothesized, agreeableness is negatively correlated with leadership abilities as well. Openness to experience is unrelated to leadership abilities, but extraversion is positively correlated with leadership abilities (Lim & Ployhart, 2004). This evidence is consistent with the long-standing idea that in teams there are leaders and there are followers; the leaders make decisions and the followers abide by them. Although agreeableness is positively correlated with working with a team, it is negatively correlated with being a leader. Those followers who do not always agree and are willing to voice their own opinions end up moving up the ranks, whereas those who blindly agree are left as followers.

Personnel Selection

Research into the relation between the five-factors model and personnel hiring provides additional evidence that conscientiousness is the most valid predictor of job performance (Schmidt & Ryan, 1993). Given that conscientious individuals have a tendency to perform better as employees, it is easy to believe that employers will seek out that factor or the traits that coincide with it.


Job performance and personality (as measured in the five-factor model) are related. It appears that the relation between job performance and the five factors is more a consequence of the social aspects of the workplace than of ability. Research indicates that cognitive ability is more strongly correlated with task performance than any of the five factors are correlated with task performance. The five factors are strongly correlated with cooperating with others and enjoying the overall workplace experience, which are key components of long-term job success. Being absent from work or working as a team are correlates of personality that directly affect whether one will succeed in the workplace, and they are strongly correlated with the Big Five and not with cognitive ability.

It is worth noting that the majority of research has been on sales or other occupations in which interacting with people is required. Is it possible that these studies are skewed? Perhaps researching individuals in jobs that require very little human interaction (such as authors of fiction, like Steven King) would yield different results.

Conscientiousness and extraversion are the two aspects of the five-factor model that are always correlated with positive job performance, although conscientiousness is more positively correlated (extraversion is negatively correlated with job performance in that it appears to inspire more absence, but only when combined with low levels of conscientiousness). Agreeableness is negatively correlated with job performance within a leadership role. Openness to experience, in general, is unrelated. Neuroticism is negatively correlated with job performance.

Cognitive ability may allow an employee to complete a specific task, but the ability to work with others and to stay motivated are aspects of personality. The five-factor model is a valid predictor of workplace performance. Personality is an indispensable consideration for employers looking for quality employees.

Peer Commentary

The Five-Factor Model and Job Performance

Timothy M. Howell
Rochester Institute of Technology

"The Five-Factor Model of Personality in the Workplace" by Sean P. Neubert clearly showed a large correlation between elements of the five-factor model and job performance. But what is not entirely clear is what types of jobs show increased performance, and more importantly which types show little or no correlation. As stated by the author, most if not all studies on this topic were preformed on sales jobs or other jobs highly dependent on interaction with others. With a wider variety of research, an equally wide array of results might occur. Much of the research also seems to look at traits as either on or off, in that certain traits that seem to have negative effects on a certain aspect of job performance could be positive in lower amounts.

The author rightly stated that the five-factor model's relation to job performance is most likely due to the social aspects of the workplace rather than an individual's ability. Cognitive ability is the major factor in job performance, and outside of jobs that are based on social interaction, the model's effect is merely a product of background environment in the workplace. The social aspects of most jobs are unnecessary to the actual work one is required to do. Granted this social aspect can almost never be removed--and is a must for many people due to personal needs for interaction--the model will have its affect in a large number of cases.

In a large company, I believe that the five-factor model has much less impact. With a larger company usually comes an impersonal relation between employee and employer. This means that as long as employees have all the required cognitive abilities, provided they have a job that does not involve teamwork or customer interaction, they will perform just as well as those who have a favorable personality. In a smaller company, by contrast, the relation between employee and employer is usually much more personal, and in some cases the line between employee and employer is very small. In this case a non-favorable personality could have a very large effect on a person's job performance. Cognitive ability seems to be a concrete factor in all cases, but the effects of personality on job performance seem to vary greatly depending on the importance or prevalence of social situations in the workplace.

The research cited on the five-factor model seemed to consider someone as either having a factor or completely lacking it. This is most obvious in the statement that agreeableness is negatively correlated with job performance in leadership positions. I agree that an unusually large level of agreeableness, such that one would allow oneself to be "used as a door mat," would have a negative effect on leadership performance, but the trait is definitely necessary to succeed as a leader. If one's boss were completely disagreeable, would one willing follow his or her requests, or would one do everything in one's power to slow or impede the completion of one's assigned work? A good leader needs to be well-rounded in all the "positive" social aspects of the five-factor model, without any traits being so pronounced as to reduce performance, such as high levels of agreeableness impeding one's will to put forth one's own ideas.

The author cited many interesting points, and I agree with most of his conclusions. I would like to see more research on a boarder range of professions to truly see how large a role the five-factor model plays in one's job performance. I thought that certain aspects of the model could be further explored to reveal varying level of certain factors being more or less influential on job performance. The five-factor model may be a good indicator of job performance, but I am not convinced that it is as big of a factor as the author portrayed.

Peer Commentary

How Good Teamwork Leads to Job Satisfaction

Andrew Z. Milinichik
Rochester Institute of Technology

Good teamwork is essential to job satisfaction. If workers are a part of properly functioning teams, then they feel that they are needed. Furthermore, along with the sense of belonging is a sense of accomplishment. Team members need to feel that they are actually contributing to the collective goal of the team. If a team member feels as though he or she is doing trivial work while others are doing more meaningful work, then team unity will deteriorate. This is a situation in which the team leader needs to step in and properly distribute tasks so that each team member is challenged by his or her assignments. Leaders with proper skills in motivation, who stimulate and challenge subordinates, are referred to as transformational leaders.

Transformational leadership consists of four constructs: charisma or idealized influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualized consideration (Lim & Ployhart 2004). These are leaders whose teams always outperform everybody else. These types of leaders are the ones whom everyone wants to be like or to have on their team. How do transformational leaders relate to job satisfaction? Transformational leaders take time to answer the questions of an individual worker. They make the worker feel needed. When team members feel as though they are needed by the team, they are more likely to be satisfied with their job. Transformational leaders act toward other employees like coaches and mentors, and many times are seen more as the person with all the answers then as a a higher-ranking employee. The transformational leader does not have to be the appointed leader either. The transformational leader can be a normal team member with all the traits of a transformational leader, acting to mitigate the diminishing effect that a non-transformational leader has on the team.

Transformational leaders also contribute to workers' sense of accomplishment. When an employee goes to a transformational leader with a problem, not only does the leader take the time to help the worker on a one-to-one level but also pushes the worker to achieve the most with the solution. Another important quality of transformational leaders is modesty. When commended on a job well done, a transformational leader oftens directs the credit to his or her workers. This lets the workers know that they are valued, which also contributes to their sense of accomplishment.

Overall, transformational leaders not only seek to improve the functioning of the team by using only the brightest individuals but also work with all staff members to improve their skills. The transformational leader knows that teams are often together for only a single project. Thus, by helping the individual feel needed, the transformational leader gives him or her a sense of accomplishment when the goal is reached. More importantly, the transformational leader instills confidence in his or her employees. This translates into not only better job satisfaction for employees but also better productivity for the company.

Peer Commentary

How Much Does Personality Influence Job Performance?

Kory Sinha
Rochester Institute of Technology

A person's personality may not necessarily have a very high impact on a person's job or productivity per se, depending on the type of work being done. As discussed by Sean P. Neubert, the notion that salespeople who exhibit high levels of extraversion will have better overall job performance is pretty evident, for being a salesperson requires a lot of social interaction, and an introverted salesperson would obviously be less effective than an extravert. Given that point, another point brought up is about conscientiousness in addition to extraversion and its positive correlation with job performance in terms of the social atmosphere present in most workplaces: a conscientious person is obviously more likely to be a more productive worker and an extraverted person will experience an optimal level of arousal in a social workplace. Personality influence would perhaps become less palpable if an individual's place of work is not a highly social arena or the job is non-traditional.

If one's job does not require constant or high levels of social interaction, then one's cognitive ability can become a much greater factor. Depending on the type of job one holds, one's personality may have very little impact on the quality of work being done or other job performance indicators. As mentioned by Neubert, a job such as a writer may not necessarily require high levels of extraversion. Other types of jobs that do not require direct social interaction are probably similar in terms of cognitive abilities or other factors affecting overall job performance.

Openness to experience has not been shown to correlate significantly with job performance. This may seem counterintuitive, because openness to experience is sometimes also referred to intellect, and cognitive ability and intellect are presumably related. One's openness to experience should be indicative of creativity and originality; consequently, there may be a direct but unobvious connection to job performance in terms of creating and trying new things that may improve personal productivity or otherwise maybe even affect general productivity on a greater scale--for example, a new way of doing things may improve operation of an entire company. Openness would also then tie into working with other people--for example, a person who is more open to experience would be willing to try out new and different ideas presented by coworkers. Openness may not relate to job performance due to limitations in the methodology of past research, lack of a high enough correlation to reach statistical significance, or even perhaps because there really is no direct relation between openness to experience and overall job performance.

People's personalities obviously have an impact on many, many things that they do, if not everything. How profound the effect of personality is on job performance depends of course on the unique facets of an individual's personality. Does personality have a great impact on overall productivity in a social workplace? Yes, it does. Cognitive ability, however, has been shown to be more positively correlated to actual task performance. From this fact, one can argue that personality comes into play again, because if one is unwilling to perform the task and lacks conscientiousness, then the job will not get done, regardless of potential ability. Social aspects of many traditional work environments may overshadow some other unseen factors that affect overall workplace productivity. More research needs to be conducted on other types of work environments.

Peer Commentary

The Five-Factor Model is Not Enough to Explain Successful Job Performance

Noah J. Stupak
Rochester Institute of Technology

Although job performance may be related to the personality factors of conscientiousness, agreeableness, and extraversion, these measure only whether a person will show up to work and get along with his or her co-workers. Although important in the workplace, the more important concept of task performance is only briefly mentioned in the paper "The Five-Factor Model of Personality in the Workplace." In the eyes of management and human resources professionals, a worker who is able efficiently to finish tasks is much more valuable to a company than a worker who is everyone's friend. Therefore, the goal of any worthwhile workplace study is successful performance.

Although only mentioned in a few sentences in the paper, cognitive ability is one of the few, if not only, predictors of successful completion of tasks. Cognitive ability plays a significant role in jobs that require decision-making and individual work. It is obvious that more intelligent persons will be able to complete tasks assigned to them faster and better than less intelligent co-workers. Because of their success at the tasks assigned to them, intelligent workers will be able quickly to rise up the corporate ladder to positions suitable to their skills.

The second and equally important predictor of long-term career performance is emotional intelligence. Employees who are the best in their field, whether it is psychology, law, medicine, engineering, or banking, are not just good at their jobs and friendly with their co-workers. They are resilient, optimistic, and confident. Thus, it takes more than traditional cognitive intelligence to be successful at work--it also takes emotional intelligence, the ability to restrain negative feelings such as anger and self-doubt, and instead focus on positive ones such as confidence and optimism. Emotional intelligence is positively correlated with happiness at work, life success, and career salaries. This shows a strong relation between personality and workplace success. People with more emotional intelligence are more successful at work.

Finally, the fields of work that the paper discussed are very narrow. Depending on the job, each of the five factors could be the most important. For example, a highly neurotic accountant who fusses over every detail would be an extremely beneficial addition to a company. A person high in openness to experience would succeed easily in a job that places the person in a variety of situations, such as actor, doctor, or soldier. Extraversion would really only be positive in a job that requires a lot of interpersonal contact; in jobs that are mostly based on individual tasks, the importance of extraversion would be negligible.

Finally, the paper neglected to mention creativity as having a viable place in the workplace. Creative people at work are often the most useful. The creative worker is the one who will innovate and try to move the company forward or come up with new ideas for products. Creative workers will also come up with solutions that other people might not consider. A creative solution could potentially save a company vast resources, including money, manpower, and supplies. In jobs that involve independence, like artists, designers, advertisers, and inventors, creativity is intrinsically necessary to the profession.

Author Response

The Combination of Conscientiousness and Cognitive Ability

Sean P. Neubert
Rochester Institute of Technology

I would like to thank the authors of the peer commentaries for providing good points for discussion with regards to my paper. Among the commentaries there appeared to be a consensus that cognitive ability is a more crucial factor than personality in workplace performance. Although it is indeed true that cognitive ability has been more strongly correlated with completing a specific task, every study has found that conscientiousness is strongly correlated with workplace performance. Conscientious employees are less likely to be absent from work and are less likely to steal from the organization. Although cognitive ability relates strongly to the ability of an employee, conscientiousness relates strongly to how an employee applies that ability.

Howell reiterated that most of the research has been on persons who are in work environments that require interaction, and that research into different professions, which may not require so much interaction, may lead to different results. Despite over a decade of research regarding this topic, there is not a prolific number of studies that have attempted to find differing degrees of influence of personality in separate professions. Every research sample has included sales representatives, convenience store clerks, managers, or another occupation that requires social interaction. Future studies should address this issue by looking at occupations that allow telecommuting and professions that do not require working with other people directly.

Sinha questioned why openness to experience has not been positively correlated with workplace performance. Studies have found positive correlations between this trait and performance, but the findings were not replicated universally, nor were they strong enough to be beyond chance.

Stupak suggested that emotional intelligence plays a key role in workplace performance, whereas the five-factor model is not important for measuring actual performance. Although emotional intelligence may be a part of workplace performance, research indicating positive correlations between workplace performance and conscientiousness have been more abundant.

Milinichik elaborated on the role of transformational leaders within a team environment. If I were to revise my paper, I would include this topic.

This paper was an attempt to find correlations between personality and work performance. With research on this topic spanning only the past 10 years, this is a relatively new field of research. Although the question of whether different professions are affected differently by the personality of an employee is a question for future research, current data conclusively indicate that conscientiousness and cognitive ability are two characteristics of an employee that strongly predict positive workplace performance.


Barrick, M. R., Stewart, G. L., & Piotrowski, M. (2002). Personality and job performance: Test of the mediating effects of motivation among sales representatives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 43-51.

Colbert, A. E., Mount, M. K., Harter, J. K., Witt, L. A., & Barrick, M. R. (2004). Interactive effects of personality and perceptions of the work situation on workplace deviance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 599-609.

Hochwater, W. A., Witt, L. A., & Kacmar, K. M. (2000). Perceptions of organizational politics as a moderator of the relationship between conscientiousness and job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 472-478.

Hurtz, G. M., & Donovan, J. J. (2000). Personality and job performance: The Big Five revisited. Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 869-879.

Judge, T. A., Martocchio, J. J., & Thoresen, C. J. (1997). Five-factor model of personality and employee absence. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82, 745-755.

Judge, T. A., Heller, D., & Mount, M. K. (2002). Five-Factor model of personality and job satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 530-541.

LePine, J. A., & Dyne, L. V. (2001). Voice and cooperative behavior as contrasting forms of contextual performance: Evidence of differential relationships with big five personality characteristics and cognitive ability. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 326-336.

Lim, B., & Ployhart, R. E. (2004). Transformational leadership: Relations to the five-factor model and team performance in typical and maximum contexts. Journal of Applied Psychology, 89, 610-621.

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