Extraverts may have the edge when it comes to balancing work and family, according to a new study by two Wake Forest University professors that looks at the role of personality in the work-family experience.
The researchers examined how an individual’s personality traits contribute to conflict, as well as to positive influence between work and family.
Extraverts—individuals who are outgoing, sociable, and talkative— experience the most positive connections between their work and family roles, says Julie Holliday Wayne, adjunct assistant professor of business at Wake Forest.
For example, more extraverted individuals reported that having a good day on the job makes them better companions when they get home, Wayne says. Extraverts also said that the things they do on the job make them more interesting people at home, she says.
Wayne, who studies workplace issues, teamed up with William Fleeson, an associate professor of psychology at Wake Forest who studies personality, to conduct the study. The study appears in the February issue of the Journal of Vocational Behavior.
The study used a large, diverse national sample. Extraversion was just one of the five key personality factors the researchers considered.
“We know that situational factors, such as hours worked and parental status, influence how much interference people experience between their work and family lives,” Wayne says. “But, in this study, after we eliminated these factors, we found that an individual’s personality contributed to the degree of conflict and facilitation they experienced.”
Conscientiousness, another of the key personality factors, was related to less conflict between work and family, presumably reflecting efficient time use and organizational skills, she says.
“Conscientious individuals—those who are efficient, organized, and thorough— may be better able to successfully complete work tasks in less time so that they are less preoccupied with work while at home and vice versa,” she adds.
Those with the neurotic personality trait—think Woody Allen or Jerry Seinfeld’s characters—experienced the greatest amount of work-family conflict, Fleeson says.
“If something goes wrong, they tend to exaggerate the negative,” he says. “These are the people who regularly experience high levels of anxiety.”
For example, people higher on the neurotic personality factor were more likely to report that stress at work makes them irritable at home. They also report that job worries or problems distract them when they are home and personal or family concerns distract them when they are at work.
People exhibiting two other key personality factors, agreeableness and openness, tend to experience slightly more positive influence from work to family.
“Individuals who reported that work positively influenced their family lives were more satisfied with their jobs and put more effort into their jobs,” Wayne says. “That relates to organizations’ bottom lines.”
The study’s findings suggest the need for organizations to help employees achieve work-family balance, and that to do so, they should consider the individual’s personality traits as well as factors of the work situation. For example, Fleeson suggests that Employee Assistance Programs and other programs could be developed to help neurotic individuals understand their tendency to view experiences negatively and to coach them on how to view work-family conflict as less threatening.
In addition to shedding light on the importance of personality factors, this is one of a few published studies that shows that work and family roles can benefit each other, Wayne says.
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