If you hire neurotics make sure that they are conscientious
If you are interested, our free 2 hour session on “Have you hired a Psychopath lately” is running shortly, click here to register. One of the ways in which people’s personalities differ from one another is the dimension of Emotionality, sometimes referred to as Neuroticism. Everyone on earth is somewhere on a continuum from highly emotionally stable to highly emotionally unstable. Your location on this continuum has a significant effect on your life satisfaction, health and a range of other outcomes. Here is a snapshot of a few research findings on this topic:
- Emotionally unstable people get sick more often (eg. Brickman, Yount, Blaney, Rothberg, & De-Nour, 1996)
- Emotionally unstable people imagine that they are sick more often (Goubert, Crombez, & Van Damme, 2004)
- They suffer from depression more often (Fanous, Neale, Aggen, & Kendler, 2007)
The tendency for the naturally emotionally unstable person is to find the world threatening and uncomfortable. For them, what seem like small issues to their colleagues can be the end of the world. People who are highly emotionally unstable tend to personalise things. When something happens they regularly perceive that it was targeted against them, leading them to feel marginalised and perhaps even bullied.
Emotionally unstable people also have the tendency to seek other emotionally unstable people with whom to share their woes. You may have seen these “emotional wallowing holes” form in your own organisation. This, of course, can be a big problem for change management activities or during times of significant stress. Emotional contagion ensures that these negative emotions tend to spread more widely through the workforce.
So, is it all bad news for the emotionally unstable? Well, for practical purposes the more emotionally stable your workforce the better it will be in terms of productivity, engagement, and practical issues such as staff turnover and absenteeism, but some recent positives have been discovered for emotionally unstable employees.
If the person is emotionally unstable – neurotic – and conscientious at the same time, they may well fret and worry about things but their conscientiousness will motivate them to do something about it rather than just worry. It has been discovered for instance that conscientious neurotics tend to have better health than average because although they fret about their health they have the conscientiousness to do the remedial things such as exercise, watch what they eat and take care of themselves generally.
So, the advice is, try not to hire people who are emotionally unstable but if you have to do so – say if they have an extremely rare skill set – then make sure that they are conscientious. They still may be somewhat taxing to be around but they can be good at spotting a risk and then doing something about it. Fortunately these are characteristics which are easy to measure in prospective hires.
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Personality traits and long-term health status. The influence of neuroticism and conscientiousness on renal deterioration in type-1 diabetes. Psychosomatics. 1996 Sep-Oct;37(5):459-68.
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Turiano, N. A., Moynihan, J., Mroczek, D. K., Chapman, B. P. (2013). Big 5 personality traits and interleukin-6: Evidence for “healthy neuroticism” in a U.S. population sample. Brain, Behavior, & Immunity, 28, 83-89.