Proof that bosses are nastier than their staff?

A report suggests that a disagreeable personality is one of the reasons managers become managers...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

If you’re trying to recruit a new person, assessing their personality type might be a more fruitful approach than scrutinising their exam results, according to researchers at the University of Western Sydney in Australia. Their study found that personality is a better indicator of a candidate’s career preference than their academic or even their social background – and in doing so, even appears to prove that bosses really are nastier than office staff. Well, Australian bosses are, anyway. 

The UWS researchers looked at the prevalence of five different characteristics – openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and emotional stability – in various different occupations, and found that different personality types do tend to correlate to specific jobs. Managers, for instance, were more open to experience and conscientious than most, but were also more antagonistic and had ‘lower agreeableness’ – possibly because this helps them slide up the greasy pole at the expense of their more agreeable colleagues. Clerical workers, by contrast, were more conscientious but also more neurotic and more vulnerable to stress (perhaps because they’ve got nasty bosses shouting at them), while office workers were more stable but less conscientious.

The study argues that this information can prove useful to ‘policymakers, employees and employers alike,’ because ‘the broad personality traits of the five-factor model have a significant, relatively strong, persistent and expected effect over occupational outcomes.’ In practical terms, the idea is this insight can help recruiters; rather than relying on exam results to assess suitability, they should make more use of personality and psychometric testing. Equally, it could come in handy to candidates – rather than worrying about doing that MBA, they might want to focus on honing their nasty streak instead.

However, we can’t help being a bit sceptical about all this. For one thing, it’s not as though employers currently ignore personality. It’s a brave recruiter who hires someone based purely on their CV; the point of the interview is to get a clear idea of a candidate’s personality and their ‘fit’ for the company. So we suspect the researchers may be preaching to the converted.

Equally, we know that clichés exist for a reason, but the study’s findings that salespeople are all loud and extrovert and that labourers tend to be lazy and disorganised sound a bit like gross generalisations to us. There are lots of people who don’t fall into the standard personality types who still manage to be perfectly effective in these jobs – so why should they be screened out? Unless of course nastiness is a particularly important trait for managers in Australia?

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