This Trait May Be the Key to Workplace Success

Conscientiousness is the supreme personality trait in the workplace, says new research. But not all workplaces are created equal.


New year, new job? With resolutions still fresh, many will be updating résumés in the hope of snagging a new role.

So what makes a good employee? The magic combination of cognitive ability and personality is something that hiring managers are fine-tuned to spot.

But now research from the University of Toronto’s department of management suggests that one personality trait rules the roost when it comes to predicting success: conscientiousness.

There’s no doubt that conscientiousness — a tendency to be hard-working, orderly, responsible and rule abiding — is valuable to an employer. But the benefits stretch much further. In fact, conscientiousness has been linked to everything from academic and work performance to physical health, marital stability and general well-being.

To find out more about conscientiousness and its role in the workplace, researchers have conducted the most comprehensive, quantitative review and synthesis on the topic to date. Led by Michael Wilmot, a recent post-doctoral researcher at the University of Toronto Scarborough, the team reviewed 92 meta-analyses capturing over 1.1 million participants.

Drawing on these data, the team evaluated the impact of conscientiousness against 175 variables from communication and collaboration, to leadership and procrastination.

The result? Being conscientious had a positive impact on 98% of the variables tested. In short, conscientiousness is king.

“Conscientiousness is the most potent, non-cognitive predictor of workplace performance,” Wilmot explained to U of T News.

While traits like extroversion and openness are also influential in predicting success, conscientiousness has a much stronger effect. In today’s world of constant distraction, being conscientious has another important benefit: a lower likelihood of procrastination and absenteeism.

But before you write conscientious into your résumé, it’s worth considering the potential role in more detail. While conscientiousness is great for well-structured jobs, it’s not as beneficial in complex and unpredictable environments.

As Wilmot explains, although conscientiousness predicts success across most occupations reasonably well, the effect appears weaker in high complexity jobs. In these complex roles, the values associated with conscientiousness can conflict with those needed when adapting to unique and unexpected problems.

Of course, traits like conscientiousness don’t exist in isolation. Plus, anyone can say they are conscientious in an interview, but demonstrating it is another matter. But if you can, you could be on to a winner.

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Amy Noise is a science communicator who is fascinated by how and why the world works. Always learning, she is passionate about science and sharing it with the world to improve and protect our health, society and environment. Amy earned her BSc (biology and science communication) at the University of Manchester, and MSc (nutrition science and policy) at King’s College London, UK. She tweets sporadically @any_noise