Emily Marsh

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The link between personality traits and resilience at work

August 8, 2018

At work, resilient people are better able to deal with the demands placed upon them. And in an environment of constant change, resilience has never been more critical.

As HR and L&D professionals, we have a responsibility to provide an environment that facilitates resilient employees.

But people have different needs and motivations, and organisations are realising that a one-size-fits-all approach to employee experience just won’t work.

In this blog post, we take a look at the personality traits that align with resilience, and how we can help less resilient individuals develop better coping strategies.

What personality traits are closely aligned to resilience?

Much research has been carried out into the relationship between resilience and the big five personality traits.

A recent meta-analysis of thirty studies with a total sample size of 15,609, revealed a negative correlation between resilience and neuroticism (or 'Emotionality' in Facet5). This is hardly surprising given individuals with high Emotionality tend to experience a lot of stress, worry more, and are more easily upset and anxious.

The research also indicated that those with high 'Control' (higher levels of self-control and motivation towards accomplishments), high 'Energy' (higher levels of engagement with social activity) and low 'Emotionality' (greater emotional stability), also show greater resilience.

Several other studies have explored the relationship between resilience and personality amongst people in high pressure job roles. One study of paramedics showed that those with higher levels of resilience scored lower on neuroticism/'Emotionality'. A similar study with doctors found that resilience was associated with a personality trait pattern that is mature, responsible, optimistic, persevering and co-operative.

Another study examined the relationship between resilience, personality and burnout in police personnel. Those who scored higher on extraversion ('Energy' in Facet5) and agreeableness ('Will' in Facet5) were less likely to burnout. High Energy individuals often build better social networks, which can be important in providing support through stressful periods. Likewise, people with high Will are more optimistic and cooperative and may therefore be better able to cope with stressful situations.

How can those less resilient develop better coping strategies?

Although an individual’s personality is fairly stable and has an important influence on how they respond to pressure and the demands of daily life, it doesn’t mean their behaviour is fixed.

Anyone can learn habits and strategies to increase resilience and hardiness. Through suitable training and development, we can help people overcome the limitations of their personality and develop attitudes and skills that allow them to survive and thrive under stress.

From an HR perspective, we need management systems in place to prevent and reduce stress at work, we need to use learning and development to help managers and the workforce develop resilient behaviours, and we need to build a positive workplace culture that fosters resilience.

We can help people build greater personal resilience by helping people to;

  • Build and maintain positive working relationships
  • Shift their mindset to see problems as a potential learning process rather than another obstacle to overcome
  • Keep things in perspective and avoid blowing problems out of proportion
  • Take time to recharge when needed and maintain a healthy work-life balance
  • Find ways to manage stress, such as mindfulness.

At a time when companies are facing constant disruption, a resilient and adaptable workforce has never been more important for success. Resilience not only helps people survive in this environment, but it also helps them to grow and develop.

Research shows that the big five factors of personality play a significant role in resilience. Individuals who score high on Emotionality and low on Will and Energy are most at risk of stumbling under the pressure. HR and L&D have a responsibility to understand these individual differences and help people develop coping strategies to become more resilient at work, as the pace of change is only going to accelerate.

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