How the Big Five Personality Traits Influence Work Behavior

People have often researched what it is that makes us behave the way we do. Behaviors can come from different influences like environmental factors or personality traits. Many different theories and models on personality traits exist, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator that separates people out into 16 different personalities. Another model is the Big Five Personality Model (OCEAN), which puts forth the idea that human personality is made up of five basic dimensions.

According to Essentials of Organizational Behavior: 14th Edition, much research exists to support this personality model, and test scores have been a solid predictor of how people will behave in real life. A 2015 study published in the Academy of Management Journal found that all the traits were “more predictive of performance for jobs” when the work was performed in an unstructured environment with freedom to make choices and that the traits also indicated how a person’s specific traits would act in a situation.

What Are the Big Five Traits?

The best way to remember the Big Five Personality Model traits is to remember the acronym OCEAN: openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

Openness to Experience

This trait is often referred to as the depth of someone’s mental experiences, or imagination. It encompasses someone’s desire to try new things, be open and think creatively. People who score high in this area are generally artistic and curious, while those who score low tend to be conventional and stay in their comfort zones.


This trait measures a person’s reliability and dependability. Someone who scores higher in this area is more goal-oriented, tends to control impulses and is usually very organized. They are likely to see success in school and excel as a leader. Those who score lower in this area are more likely to be impulsive and procrastinate on assignments.


The extroversion trait indicates how social and talkative a person may be. Those scoring high in extroversion are generally more assertive, socially confident and recharge from interacting with people, while those who score lower are more likely to seek solitude and introspection.


Agreeableness shows how well someone can get along with other people. People scoring high in this trait are usually well-liked, sympathetic and affectionate, and those who score lower are perceived as blunt, rude and sarcastic.


The last OCEAN trait is also known as emotional stability. It measures how well a person can control emotions like anxiety and sadness. Scoring high in this area indicates that someone may be prone to those emotions and may also have low self-esteem. Those receiving a low score are probably more confident and adventurous.

The Big Five Personality Traits in the Workplace

Many studies have been conducted on the OCEAN model and behavior, and how these traits can somewhat predict a person’s workplace social behavior and performance. Having a deeper understanding of these behaviors can help coworkers and managers create trust, better relate to one another and cultivate a stronger workplace culture.

Which of the Big Five Personality Traits Has the Biggest Influence on Job Performance?

According to Essentials of Organizational Behavior: 14th Edition, the big five personality dimension that has the biggest influence on job performance is conscientiousness. Those who score higher in this trait are likely to have higher levels of job-related knowledge as those who are highly conscientious learn more. They’re likely to have the aspects of a strong leader. However, they’re also more likely to put work first over anything else and aren’t as likely to adapt to changing situations. They may face issues over learning a complex skill early on because they tend to focus on their performance instead of the learning process, and they are generally not as creative.

How Do the Other Traits Play a Role?

Neuroticism high scores may indicate a higher propensity toward employee burnout, as those employees have a tougher time managing their emotions. A high emotional stability is linked to high life and job satisfaction, as well as lower stress levels. Additionally, those with emotional stability have a better chance of dealing with workplace demands, especially fast-paced change.

Extroverts are people who take charge of situations. Typically, a high extroversion score shows that that person may have a strong leadership ability. They are more likely to behave impulsively than introverts, however.

People who are open also have an easier time with workplace changes and are more adaptable. They are also usually effective leaders and are “less susceptible to a decline in performance over a longer time period,” according to Essentials of Organizational Behavior.

Agreeable people are generally liked more and tend to follow the rules. They also demonstrate higher job satisfaction and are less likely to be involved in workplace accidents. Those who score low on agreeableness are more likely to behave in a way that creates counterproductive work behavior and may have less career success over the long term.
Infographic displaying how the big five personality traits, or OCEAN, function in the workplace.

How Can Leaders Use the Big Five Traits to Motivate Employees?

According to a 2016 paper published in Science Direct, “leaders who have an understanding of how individuals’ personalities differ can use this understanding to improve their leadership effectiveness and lead to improve employees’ job performance.”

If leaders know their employees’ tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, they can use these to help their employees and keep them motivated.

Leaders can also use the Big Five on themselves to assess their behaviors and demonstrate to employees how to not only maximize their strengths, but also learn from their weaknesses as they drive the organization to success and continue to evaluate organizational behavior. A master’s degree in organizational leadership can provide leaders with an even deeper understanding of what goes into effective business interactions.

Related Reading:

Hard Skills vs. Soft Skills: What’s the Difference?

Emotional Intelligence and Its Importance in the Workplace

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