Research Brief

Conscientiousness is top personality predictor of positive career and work-related outcomes, has broad benefits

Office workers talking
Credit: M_a_y_a

A study from the University of Minnesota, recently published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), found that conscientiousness — a family of personality traits that combines being disciplined, focused, tenacious, organized and responsible — is the personality trait that best predicts work-related success across the board in life. This includes everything from performing well at work, to managing work-life balance, to being successful in training and learning, and even leading a happier life.

Researchers analyzed more than 100 years worth of previous research on conscientiousness at work. From this, they compared conscientiousness’ relation to 175 occupational variables such as job performance, counterproductive work behaviors, commendable behavior, job satisfaction, leadership, career adaptability, life satisfaction, and quality of life, among others.

The study found: 

  • conscientiousness is related to motivation for goal-directed performance, interpersonal responsibility for shared goals, organizational commitment, perseverance, and proficient job performance, along with avoiding counterproductive, antisocial and deviant behaviors;
  • the value of conscientiousness for job performance peaks when employees aim to accomplish conventional goals through persistence and operate in predictable environments;
  • regardless of job or setting, conscientiousness is the key to understanding motivational engagement and behavioral restraint at work. 

"Conscientiousness is much more than being orderly and neat,” said Deniz Ones, study co-author and a distinguished professor of industrial-organizational psychology in the College of LIberal Arts. “It reflects motivational tendencies — tendencies to set goals, work towards them, in a consistent, reliable manner. Organizations would do well if they measure conscientiousness in hiring and talent management decisions." 

Ones further notes that people can benefit by considering their own conscientiousness in making career plans and that, at the societal level, it is important to invest in interventions and programs that target development of conscientiousness in educational systems.

Dr. Mike Wilmot, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto-Scarborough, was co-author on the study.

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