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Neuroticism: What is it and why your business should care

January 10, 2024
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In the quest to consistently make the perfect hiring decision, businesses are delving into personality and soft skills as a way to indicate fit as well as performance. But quantifying personality is difficult — and understanding which traits in particular are important for each role or company can present its own challenges.

One of the traits that are central to the understanding of people is neuroticism, or specifically, low neuroticism. But what is it, and what can it tell you about your candidates and employees?

What is the Big Five model?

According to scientific research, there are five continuums of traits that are central to a  personality, and therefore, their performance at work: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism (also referred to as OCEAN). This theory is referred to as the Big Five model, which is considered the most reliable out of the personality models for employment contexts. These clusters of personality are measured on a spectrum — that means that each individual gets a unique score for each of the traits, rather than get boxed into an overall ‘personality type’.

Further reading: The Big Five model — overview, origins, and use in human resources

What is neuroticism?

Neuroticism is integral to the Big Five model, so it is considered one of the clusters of traits that define an individual’s personality. However, when it comes to job performance, it is believed that lower levels of neuroticism usually indicate better performance. In other words, they are inversely correlated. This is unlike the other clusters, where the correlation is positive (meaning that high levels of openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness are usually associated with better performance).

Neuroticism relates to a person’s emotional regulation and control, their level of stability, and ability to handle emotional and mental challenges without being overwhelmed. Those with high levels of neuroticism will be more prone to stress, anxiety, and emotional reactions. They are more likely to suffer from self-doubt, moodiness, and irritability, and be risk-averse.

On the other end of the neuroticism spectrum, those who score low in this trait thrive in stressful situations without feeling overwhelmed. They appear calm, composed, and confident, and are capable of dealing with negative feelings well. They require little reassurance, and are self-sustained, optimistic, and stable.

What traits are related to neuroticism?

Below are the main traits that relate to neuroticism in the Thrive platform. Note, however, that a high score in any of these indicates a low score in neuroticism.

  • Emotional control: Calm and composed in challenging situations, and less likely to show their emotions.
  • Autonomy: Acts independently without seeking support, and does things in their own way.
  • Resilience: Perseveres with challenges, and recovers quickly from mistakes and setbacks.

Other qualities that may fall under the umbrella of neuroticism are:

  • Confidence
  • Optimism
  • Easy-going
  • Stability
  • Self-esteem
  • Calmness
  • Sensitivity

On the other hand, some traits that could be associated with high neuroticism are:

  • Moodiness
  • Pessimism
  • Stress-prone
  • Irritability
  • Risk-aversion

How do emotionally stable people act in business situations?

Those who score lower in neuroticism are those you turn to in times of crisis. They appear confident and sure of themselves, they can make decisions quickly, and adapt to changes without much difficulty. If there’s a fire to put out, they’d know how to do it efficiently. For example, an employee with a lower score in neuroticism is more likely to:

  • Communicate clearly and logically
  • Remain positive and upbeat in difficult circumstances
  • Work well alone without reassurance from bosses or colleagues
  • Approach challenges calmly and methodically
  • Inspire other team members
  • Willing to take calculated risks
  • Focus on the present rather than worrying about the future

People with higher neuroticism scores, however, are more likely to clam up in times of crisis, ask for validation from colleagues and superiors, and act irrationally or erratically.

What roles would benefit from low neuroticism?

Some roles, especially those that require a high level of instability or stress, would not be suitable for those who score higher in neuroticism. Some of the careers that low neuroticism is vital for are:

  • Crisis management
  • Police officer
  • Fire fighter
  • Soldier
  • Diplomat
  • Social worker
  • Surgeon

However, people who score higher in neuroticism could still be great employees, particularly in more stable environments that require less boldness. For example:

  • Meditation instructor
  • Artist
  • Designer
  • Florist
  • Accountant

It’s important to note, however, that one trait on its own is not enough to provide a reliable answer to an individual’s suitability for a role. Only a fuller assessment would reveal real insights.

How can emotional stability be developed?

While we are mostly born with a certain set of qualities, it doesn’t mean we can’t develop our soft skills. If you want to lower your neuroticism score you could try to:

  • Train yourself to be optimistic: When you feel frustrated at work, think of the specific reasons for your frustration and identify one positive aspect of the current scenario. For example, if a meeting is delayed, use the extra time to prepare or relax.
  • Fight anxiety: If anxiety strikes, try deep-breathing exercises to calm yourself. Take slow breaths in and out for five seconds each, focusing solely on your breathing. Repeat this process at least five times.
  • Say your opinion: Start small and try to express your opinions more in low-stakes situations, such as with close friends or family members. As you become more comfortable, gradually expand to other settings. Participate more in discussions or debates on various topics, whether in person or online, to help you refine your arguments and grow more comfortable defending your opinions.
  • Get resilience training: This involves engaging in interactive exercises and discussions to explore resilience-building techniques and self-paced learning. Coaching or one-on-one sessions with resilience experts can help you address specific challenges in a personalised manner.

Wondering how neurotic your staff or candidates are? Book a demo with Thrive today to learn more about how we can help you to identify this trait in potential employees and how to nurture it within your current team.

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