Gary Cattermole: Personality trait mapping and employee engagement

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A survey of nearly 400,000 people carried out by Cambridge scientists to analyse the way different personalities cluster across Great Britain, has found that Londoners rank among the least welcoming and most lazy people in the country. It also shows that the Welsh tend to be more anxious and depressed and that Scots are the most emotionally stable.

As an employee engagement specialist, one of the most interesting facts to come out of this survey is that while some long-held regional stereotypes have been reinforced, others have been almost completely overturned.

This highlights what I have always told employers, which is that in order to engage fully and effectively with their workforce, they need to understand what makes each employee tick – what drives them, which factors influence them, what they are afraid of, what they embrace – organisations need to be able to formulate a complete picture of their workforce in order to engage properly.

Naturally we should never rely on stereotypes or assumptions alone and while patterns do emerge, there is nothing more changeable than human beings, which is why the engagement process should be viewed as an ongoing practice and not just a flash in the pan exercise. Organisations need to view their workforce as an ever-evolving part of their business that has equal potential for risk and benefit – the outcome depends greatly on how staff are managed.

Behavioural traits and location

The Cambridge survey quizzed nearly 400,000 people across Britain on five key personality traits – extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and openness and revealed some very interesting patterns that could offer organisations a great insight into the likely behavioural traits of their employees dependent on their location.

Unsurprisingly, personality types tend to cluster, like attracting forces. This will most certainly prove useful in terms of workforce engagement because the five major personality traits the survey investigated are all significant factors in how people perform and interact with one another at work.

In Wales, where there is a higher prevalence of anxiety, staff could perhaps benefit from more engagement to assure them of job security, as one of the factors that will probably have affected their perspective of life is the areas long history of high unemployment and under investment from government.

In cities, where extroverts tend to cluster, organisations perhaps need to manage relationships with staff in consideration of the traits that often run alongside more effervescent personality types, such as issues with ego, status anxiety, office size and so on.

Using the outcomes to improve staff retention

One of the main drivers for engaging effectively with your workforce is to improve staff retention, naturally a small turnover of staff is beneficial, but keeping staff long term benefits organisations on so many levels – it reduces recruitment and training costs, improves performance, productivity and profitability and decreases absenteeism.

In order to retain staff, you need to understand what it is they need from you as an employer. This will help you to identify the risks and which of them you can overcome. Information is most definitely power and the findings of this survey reveal some very interesting patterns that could be used to great effect.

For instance, extraverts are more likely to move away from their home town to obtain a better education and therefore improved employment prospects. With that in mind, city-based organisations would be well advised to investigate whether training and development programmes are considered more valuable in these office locations in order to keep their workforce interested and to show an investment in their career progression.

It could certainly be safe to assume that these more outgoing individuals would be much more likely to move to pastures new if they are disengaged or feel their prospects are better elsewhere. Change is not a barrier to them – it is an opportunity.

On the flip side, less extroverted, more agreeable people tend to move around less, and opt to stay with the family and friends they grew up with. Could it be that this type of person will also stay in a job that perhaps isn’t satisfying them? Could they be less productive as a result because they are staying in the job for the wrong reasons? If engaged with in the proper way, this type of person can become happier and more productive to produce a win-win outcome benefiting both parties.

Discussion about more agreeable personality traits brings me to another important factor in employee engagement – which is that it is never safe to assume that your quieter or less ‘visible’ staff members are more satisfied than those who are vocal about their issues.  People deal with dissatisfaction in different ways – continual effective engagement will reveal this and enable you to keep your eye on the ball at all times.

What this survey shows is that employee engagement cannot be approached with a one solution fits all attitude. Organisations need to fully engage with staff to establish the differences in their workforces before putting strategies in place that will play to their strengths and mitigate against, or perhaps even overcome, their weaknesses.

The value of this survey and others of its kind is that they provide us with a greater understanding of what makes people ‘tick’ and show possible patterns of behaviour. What they don’t offer is a blueprint for productive staff engagement – the only thing that can produce that is your own research and its analysis.

For further information about employee engagement, staff surveys and internal communication, visit www.surveyinitiative.co.uk.

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