The role of personality and values in engagement levels

If engagement determines wellbeing at work, can organisations recruit people who are more likely to be engaged?

As it turns out, there are both genetic and learned traits that affect someone’s levels of engagement, and thus wellbeing.

Businesses can use personality testing and values assessments to identify candidates who are more likely to be engaged, with a relatively high level of accuracy.

Let’s take a closer look at the specific personality traits and values that enhance wellbeing, and what you need to recruit for to create a highly engaged workforce.

Watch the next video in this series here:

Part 5 – Ten Key Leadership Behaviours for Engagement and Wellbeing

And watch the previous video here:

Part 3 – How to Measure Wellbeing at Work: Engagement Matters

And if you know of anyone who would benefit from this video, please share it with them.

Video Transcript

Recruiting for engagement and wellbeing

Hi, Andrew from SACS, and welcome to video number four in our series on wellbeing at work.

Right now we’re talking about the idea of engagement and engagement as a proxy for wellbeing.

Early in this video series, we talked about issues like happiness, and we talked about physical wellbeing.

But we talked in the last video about the whole concept of engagement, a positive psychology concept. It’s all about being energised and committed to work.

Now what we want to talk about in this video is whether you can recruit for engagement.

And subsequently, we’re going on to talk about leading for engagement and also giving you some stats on engagement and showing you how engagement relates to resilience.

But the topic for today is recruiting for engagement.

I want to talk to you about the concept of nature and nurture, because some of the aspects of engagement are really genetically determined and tend not to change much over the course of life.

But other aspects of engagement are heavily affected by the way people are supervised at work and also their experience and skills at work.

And so we’ll talk to you about those two components.

Nature vs nurture

The concept of nature and nurture, not a new one invented by a gentleman by the name of Francis Gaulton in the late 1800, the nephew of Charles Darwin, which I guess is one of the reasons why he was very interested in such matters.

So the concept is that you can recruit for engagement in a range of different ways.

Matching cognitive ability

One of the things that you may like to consider is recruiting people who are appropriately smart for the work that they do.

Which is to say, if you want people to be vigorous, dedicated and absorbed in their work, well, clearly they have to be not too smart to do it so that it’s boring, or perhaps not smart enough so that the work is not something that they can feel confident about.

So cognitive ability has to be matched to people’s levels of work in order to be able to be satisfied with the work that they’re doing and find it neither too easy nor too challenging.

Personality and wellbeing

I want to talk about the relationship between personality and wellbeing. Now this applies at work, but it also applies in life.

My colleague Jeremy Anglim from Deakin University undertook a very significant meta analysis recently on the relationship between personality and wellbeing.

And the highlights of that were that people who have the right personality, tend to have much higher levels of wellbeing.

Which is kind of sobering when you think of it, isn’t it?

That if you’re lucky enough to be born with the right personality because it appears to be somewhere between 50 and 70% genetically determined, if you’re born with the right personality, you’re just suited to be happier?

So I think that’s important from a recruitment point of view, because if you want to have a workforce with high levels of wellbeing, what I’m suggesting is that you can recruit a workforce that’s more likely to have high levels of wellbeing and that will contribute to the outcomes that you get at work.

And then there’s the question of how nurture affects people’s levels of engagement at work.

Skills and engagement

And the first thing we’ll talk about is skills. So if I’m doing work which I am appropriately skilled for, I’m much more likely to be engaged.

And engagement research shows that as the person’s level of confidence in their skills decline, their level of engagement declines at the same time.

The second component is experience. If what I’m doing is something that I have experienced success with in the past, then I’m far more likely to be engaged with it than if I don’t feel that I’ve had this success.

Or maybe I’m fearful, or maybe it’s something very different from anything I’ve done in the past.

And so this is important from a change management point of view, if you want to keep levels of engagement high.

Attitudes & values

The third component is a person’s attitudes and values. And values are not quite what many organisations think they are.

Virtually every big organisation has a list of values, which are things like integrity and teamwork and those kinds of things.

But it’s perhaps not widely known in the general public, it’s certainly known in the research world, that there is empirical research on values.

In particular, a researcher by the name of Shalom Schwartz has researched across the world for values. And values, unlike personality, are largely learned.

They’re acquired in the course of life and they also can change quite markedly in the course of your life.

So the values that you have when you’re, let’s say 18, will often be very different from the values that you have when you’re 40 and have dependents and responsibilities, much higher than you would have when you’re 18, for instance.

So your values can change, but they are also very important because they are goals. There are things where you pursue certain things in life because you believe that they’re important.

Now, from an engagement point of view, let’s say you’re working for an organisation that’s a philanthropic organisation.

It contributes to the community in some way. I mean, maybe it’s a government entity, or maybe it’s a not for profit.

If you are a highly ambitious person who has, as a very strong value, the desire to get ahead in life, then you may well be disappointed with an organisation that doesn’t accommodate that.

If, on the other hand, you’re somebody who is highly philanthropic and you’re working for an organisation that has a very driven, commerce orientation and does provide opportunities to advance commercially, but perhaps not in a generous sense or in a philosophical sense.

Again, you’re likely to be less engaged.

So a person’s values has an impact on their levels of engagement. But the point that I’d like to make is that the impact is not as strong as personality.

Predicting engagement from personality & values

Let’s look at a piece of research that we undertook going back three or four years ago now, where we measured the levels of engagement of a very large sample – about 2700 people across Australia and New Zealand.

And we measured their personality and we measured their values.

This is the personality model of the HEXACO, which I’ll show you in a little bit more detail in just a second. And also values using the Schwartz model of values.

And what we discover is that we could predict the levels of engagement of people in their work with about 30% accuracy, purely and simply by knowing their values and personality before they walk in through the front door.

So what that means is that you can recruit to increase levels of engagement in your workforce. And interesting, I find that very few clients have thought of this.

They’ve thought of engagement as being something that you do with leadership or coaching or organisational development, but not so much from recruitment.

But the point is, if you recruit people who are inclined to be engaged, you give yourself a head start.

Is 30% accuracy meaningful?

Now 30%. How much is 30%? Well, 30% is a lot.

I mean, most recruitment methods are accurate to the tune of what, 10, 12 percent? I mean, most interviews are accurate to the tune of 10 or 12%, reference checks are accurate to the tune of probably 7%.

The absolutely best interviews ever constructed at 25% accurate. And I mean accurate in terms of better than chance.

And so 30% is a lot.

And anybody who’s ever undertaken engagement measurement in an organisation will know that if you can increase your levels of engagement in a workforce, a substantial workforce by 30%, that’s worth doing.

That’s a really significant improvement. Recruitment practise can do that.

What to recruit for – six key characteristics for engagement

But recruitment for what?

So this diagram here (refer to the video) shows you beta weights. Beta weights are relationship strength measures. So something with a big beta weight predicts engagement accurately.

And you’ll see that diligence is a very big predictor of people’s levels of engagement.

Diligence is just about the degree to which somebody is prepared to work hard and be committed to what they do.

So a diligent person is much more likely to be engaged in their work.

The second is liveliness. Liveliness is an extroversion characteristic. That’s what the little e means.

And liveliness is down here. And liveliness is the tendency to be chirpy, cheerful and optimistic.

So if you’re recruiting hard-working people who are naturally cheerful and optimistic, you’re giving yourself a head start from an engagement point of view.

The third characteristic is an honesty / humility characteristic – that’s one of the HEXACO personality characteristics – which is all about greed avoidance in this case.

People who are high in greed avoidance are people who are naturally generous. They’re not greedy.

Isn’t that interesting? Engagement has a kind of a philanthropic component to it, a giving component.

The fourth is the value of conformity.

So this is from the Schwartz portrait values questionnaire (refer to the video). And conformity is just here. And conformity is the tendency not to be sheepishly obedient, but to be respectful of the rules around us.

So they might be organisational rules, but they’re very often social rules and people who are highly conformist in the definition of what Schwartz was talking about with this measure, people who are like that tend not to be mavericks, they tend to be respectful of the people around them.

Also, high conformity is a predictor of low levels of bad behaviour, like bullying and harassment. So it’s a good thing.

And then you have social boldness. Now, social boldness is an extraversion characteristic.

And so this really shows us what has been shown in a range of other research that extraversion is a driver of people’s levels of wellbeing.

It’s sometimes said that a problem shared is a problem halved.

And extroverts tend to have all their problems by sharing them with other people and in effect, building their own support networks.

Introverts, sadly, do tend to be a little more gloomy and have lower levels of wellbeing because they don’t avail themselves of the social network that extroverts do.

That’s not to say that introverts don’t have a range of very positive characteristics. They do, but they do tend to be a little cheerful – a little less cheerful – on balance, across large populations.

And then we have altruism, which is another measure of generosity, if you want to put it that way.

Altruism is the degree to which people want to help other people and be kind to other people. It’s sort of like a soft-heartedness measure.

How to recruit for wellbeing

So what does this say from a recruitment point of view?

Recruit people who are smart enough, recruit people who are emotionally stable and can get on with other people, recruit people who are cheerful and hardworking, recruit people who are generous.

Now, if you want a high level of wellbeing in your workforce, that’s a good thing. But people like that make good employees anyway, don’t they? So it’s not a bad thing to adopt.

And certainly if you’re interested in this, we can show you a little bit more about how you can tailor your psych testing methods to achieve this.

What the wellbeing research shows

We go on to see this study that I hinted at earlier.

This is Jeremy Anglim’s study with his colleagues from a range of different universities looking at the relationship between wellbeing in life and personality (refer to the video).

And ultimately what was concluded in this study is that if you’re lucky enough to have the right personality, you’re lucky enough to be likely to be a high wellbeing person.

He and his colleagues identified from a range of studies across the world that people who are low in emotionality tend to be higher in levels of wellbeing.

People who are hard-working and conscientious tend to be higher in levels of wellbeing.

Certainly extroverts tend, particularly if they are lively and cheerful, tend to be higher in levels of wellbeing.

And also if what we’re factoring into our definition of wellbeing is a sense of growth and development, openness to experience is the tendency to be broad-minded and to like new things.

There is no doubt that if you’re talking about personal growth people who are naturally higher in openness to experience, tend to feel more satisfied with the way that they’re growing, the way that they’re learning in their life and in their work.

That’s what we have to say about recruiting for engagement. Particularly if you factor psych testing into your recruitment methods, you can optimise the levels of wellbeing in your workforce at your recruitment stage.

But then of course you need to lead for engagement.

Many of you will have the workforce that you’ve got and you’re not able to turn that workforce out and recruit a new one that’s highly engaged.

But think of it this way. Most organisations have staff turnover of between, let’s say a minimum of 10% and up to 25%.

Imagine if your staff turnover is 15% and from now on you start recruiting people who are dispositionally inclined to be high in engagement.

Imagine in two or three years time you will have diluted the workforce very heavily with people who are inclined to be engaged in their work and inclined to have high levels of wellbeing.

Why not start now?

To find out more about how to lead for engagement, click on the link below and follow to the next video.

Watch the next video in this series to find out more about wellbeing at work:

Part 5 – Ten Key Leadership Behaviours for Engagement and Wellbeing

And watch the previous video here:

Part 3 – How to Measure Wellbeing at Work: Engagement Matters

And if you’d like some help to measure and improve your staff wellbeing, contact us about our Employee Wellbeing Surveys and our Employee Engagement Surveys.

SACS Consulting
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