Diverse Personalities and the Workplaces that Support Them

By Keti Malkoski / February 7, 2013

Physical workplaces are developed to support the work needs of a diverse range of employees and teams, and different types of work require different types of support. The four work modes that need to be supported by workplaces include focusing, leaning, collaborating and socialising.

A recent Office Snapshots article highlights the debate regarding which work mode is most important and should therefore become a focus in workplace design.

To contribute to this debate, we need to first understand which work mode is most important to the workplace users, recognising that these will be different for different groups. There is no definite answer to this issue and evidence shows us that the importance of the work mode, and need for supporting workplace activity areas, depends on what users are working on and who they are.

Employees as workplace users differ on many dimensions, including personality. The below table identifies the five personality dimensions that we are all influenced by. Importantly, these personality dimensions will influence workplace needs and how employees react to certain workplace changes.

The Big Five Personality Dimensions

Openness to experience: Employees high on this dimension are curious, original, creative and open to new ideas. Employees low on this dimension are more conservative preferring the familiar to the novel.

Conscientiousness: Conscientiousness refers to self-control and the active process of planning, organising and carrying out tasks. Employees high on this dimension are organised, systematic, punctual, and achievement orientated.

Extraversion: Employees that are extraverts are generally outgoing, sociable, assertive, talkative, energetic and optimistic. Introverts are reserved, independent and even-paced.

Agreeableness: Employees high on this dimension are affable, tolerant, sensitive, trusting, sympathetic and eager to help others.

Neuroticism: Relates to emotional stability. Employees with high ‘neuroticism’ have a greater tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety and irritability. They are less in control of impulses and have difficulty dealing with stress.

With regards to Activity Based Working (ABW) workplaces, the above personality dimensions may influence the way employees react and adopt this new flexible way of working.

For instance, research demonstrates that Openness to Experience is related to success in the training required to shape new ABW attitudes and behaviours. Openness to Experience may also impact how employees adapt to this change and how willing they are to explore new flexible ways of working.

Agreeableness may impact the success of working in a team and with greater autonomy – a focus in ABW workplaces. Conscientiousness may impact the success of changing from a work process to a work output focus. Finally, neuroticism and extraversion may impact the success of employees adapting and being comfortable with different social and collaboration standards fostered in ABW workplaces.