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Workplace stress can change our personalities

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Negative workplace experiences can lead to changes in our personality, new research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has revealed.

The research, published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, found that workers who felt they were placed under excessive strain in their roles reported higher levels of neuroticism, becoming more worried and irritable, and became less extroverted, showing signs of shyness and speaking less often.

Conversely, the study showed that workers who experienced greater control within their jobs reported increases in personality traits like cooperation and warmth, alongside creativity and imagination.

Dr Chia-Huei Wu, Assistant Professor in the Department of Management at LSE and author of the research, said: “The message from this study is that personality is shaped by our everyday experiences in the workplace.

“Managers and employers can be aware of the effect that job stress can have on their staff and ensure that they allocate sufficient resources to create a supportive environment to boost mental welfare.”

The study is one of the first of its kind which shows that negative experiences in the workplace can shape the personalities of employees. It analysed changes in the ‘big-five’1 personality traits — openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism — against changes in workplace time pressures, levels of job control and job stress.

The results showed that increases in time pressure and job control increased job stress; over the period of the study, this was associated with increased neuroticism and decreased extroversion by employees.

Notes to editors

Personality change via work: a job demand–control model of Big-five personality changes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 92 . pp. 157-166. ISSN 0001-8791, Chia-Huei Wu, (2016).

The study looked at a nationally representative sample of 1,814 Australian workers between the ages of 15 and 76 years from a number of employment sectors (not including self-employed).

It used 2005 to 2009 data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, a panel study which began in 2001 and consisted of self-completion and face-to-face interviews.

  1. The big five personality traits is a theory that uses five dimensions to describe the human personality. The five dimensions have been defined as openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism, with a number of correlated and more specific primary qualities beneath it. For example, neuroticism is said to include qualities such as “envious,” “moody,” “touchy,” “jealous,” “temperamental,” and “fretful.”

For more information

Peter Carrol, LSE Press Office, telephone: + 44 (0)207 955 6939, email: p.carrol@lse.ac.uk

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6 April 2016