Personality And Employee Engagement

July 27, 2010

Are some people more likely to be engaged at work than others?

Yes, according to recent research. An important new study with the best evidence yet that employee engagement might indeed facilitate performance also suggests that value congruence, perceived organizational support, and core self-evaluation (CSE) might be engagement enhancers.

Core self-evaluation is a personality trait that represents an individual’s self-esteem, self-efficacy, emotional stability, and locus of control. Employees with a positive CSE had previously been shown to perform better, deal with adverse conditions, and just be more satisfied at work then those with a negative CSE.

This new link between CSE and engagement is significant because it’s the only suggested cause of engagement that a company or supervisor cannot directly control. Personality is relatively stable – we can’t change people’s personality at work so we shouldn’t even try.

The obvious suggestion from this new research on engagement is that we should try to hire people with a positive CSE. That’s easier said than done because the most common selection tool is an interview, and according to Robert Hogan, narcissists and psychopaths excel at interviews. Unfortunately, I find that most people do not even know how to recognize personality and distinguish it from other psychological states like attitudes, emotions, moods, and values. That is a big problem.

I like to listen for internal locus of control (LOC) and healthy self-esteem.

Someone with a healthy self-esteem can speak in a matter-of-fact way about both their strengths and weaknesses. They don’t embellish their strengths and don’t feel threatened to admit a weakness. They believe their strengths far exceed their weaknesses, and they pursue a strategy of exposing themselves to situations where they can excel and avoiding situations where they know they can’t contribute significant value.

Individuals with an internal LOC have a characteristic tendency to assume responsibility for the things that happen to them. Individuals with a more external LOC will always find something or someone else to blame when things go wrong. People with an internal LOC can see the systemic causes of their behavior, but they assume responsibility for taking action to change those causes so they don’t experience the same failure over and over again.  They don’t dump on their leaders (this sucks and so do you!); instead, they partner with them to fix the crappy system that was the main cause of the problem.

Do your best to hire, retain, and promote employees with a positive CSE. Learn what they value at work, and never expect them to behave in ways that would violate those values. Demonstrate your respect and care for them as individuals through interdependent relationships and supportive management practices.

This is a reasonable path to employee engagement. If you find yourself making excuses or blaming employees for their lack of engagement, take an honest look in the mirror at your own personality.

Related Posts:

Secure Attachment: Another Positive Personality Trait

The Importance Of Understanding Personalities And Attitudes

I Can Empathize With Others That Are Also Imperfect

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Comments (9)

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  1. Dr. Bret, I found it interesting the idea of focusing in on the interview and hiring process to find/retain employees that have a positive CSE. It makes me wonder how that should be used in my own industry where Engineers are notoriously stereotyped for lacking soft skills and might be seen as having low self esteem but have high self-efficacy.

    Patrick E. McDermott

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    good question, Patrick. I think your point about the stereotype is very relevant. I’ve never thought of engineers as having low self-esteem, but most do lack interpersonal skills. That is not a personality issue. Thanks! Bret

  2. davidburkus says:

    So…we’re back to Hogan…this time in a different light. ; )

    I have yet to work through this article in its entirety, but I’m loving how much discussion its creating.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    You should read that AMJ article, David. It is an excellent synopsis of motivation in general. Thanks! Bret

  3. davidburkus says:

    Working my way through it. I’m a slow reader when it comes to research articles.

  4. Jen Turi says:

    Great article Bret. I love how at the end you mention taking a look in the mirror. I tend to believe that a good dose of humility can do wonders for solving most issues. Thanks for the info!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Jen. Great point about humility. Someone that thinks they “have arrived” has nowhere else to go. Change it tough, admitting we are not all we could or should be, but there is no real change without that step. Thanks! Bret