Here are just some of the choice descriptors associated with being a neurotic: uptight, anxious, self-doubting, emotionally volatile and self-critical. But given that neuroticism is a normally distributed personality characteristic, there must be an awful lot of us who fall into this camp. So surely there must be some upsides to neuroticism within the workplace? Gillian Hyde, Chief Psychologist at Psychological Consultancy Ltd., explores.

Bright Side of Neuroticism

A quick Google displays a long list of results portraying neurotics as poor employees, including – a source of team discord, a tendency to counterproductively transfer stress and anxiety onto direct reports and a disposition toward being fearful, anxious or worried. It’s hardly surprising therefore, that neurotics are given a pretty hard time. 

However, if we take these key descriptors – uptight, anxious, self-critical, always fearing the worst – there is some very interesting research to suggest that flipping these characteristics can have a positive impact on the workplace. 

1. Striving

Daniel Nettle, author of Personality: What Makes You The Way You Are, explores the concept of the ‘Striver’. The constant fear of failure, and the assumption that colleagues will perceive you in a negative light, can actually be an incredibly powerful motivator to drive neurotics to continually perform to the best of their ability. This fear, coupled with self-criticism, fuels the fire for persistent self-improvement (Iverson).

2. Rumination

In addition, Nettle evaluates the idea of rumination – the tireless dwelling. While this can have an obvious downside in terms of triggering possible anxiety, this trait can also be a particular advantage in a role where the objective is to be able to anticipate and mitigate problems, or where a deep understanding of a particular subject is required.

3. Ability to handle negative information 

With the idea that neurotics function more effectively when dealing with negative scenarios (Tamir and Robinson), there are obvious benefits to working with someone who is constantly aware of potential downfalls, and can prove invaluable when allowed the time to assess and mitigate costly mistakes. 

4. More realistic about self

With more realistic self-awareness and expectations, neurotics tend to have a more honest self-appraisal that can provide a refreshing change in managing expectations within the office, in comparison to a boastful or over-promising colleague.

5. Emotional depth

Neurotics also tend to have greater emotional depth and this can support team cohesion; as stated by Naragon-Gainey, ‘they have more experience handling negative emotions, which, though difficult, can also make them deeper, and facilitate empathy and understanding for other people’s struggles.’ 

Roles that best suit a neurotic

Playing on the rumination concept proposed by Nettle, roles that would suit a neurotic could include academics, entrepreneurs (think Steve Jobs), writers, artists, accountants, freelance roles – jobs that allow the time and space for a neurotic to work independently, to their own deadlines, without having to put on their best persona and mask inner anxieties. These types of role allow the flexibility to ponder, to circumnavigate possible disruptions, think reflectively, have room to create original ideas and avoid scenarios where their approach is likely to negatively impact others. A highly pressured, multifaceted role within an organisation, working to other people’s deadlines, is therefore, in my opinion, less likely to be such a good fit.

Advice to hiring managers

My advice to those in selection roles would be to focus on the passion that neurotics can bring to the workplace. They are the individuals continually striving to be their best self. They are prone to working hard to achieve the greatest success and to protect themselves from their harshest critics. They will drive projects they are passionate about with energy, spark and enthusiasm, and while a full personality assessment would be required to assess clashing derailers, a neurotic is likely to want to change the status quo if they see a better way to achieve a goal – acting as a catalyst in the arena of organisational change. Beneficial in today’s ever-evolving workplace environments where HR teams have been cemented into the forefront of riskier workplace decisions, which haven’t needed to be considered before. It’s also important to note that those with neurotic traits are likely to be at greater risk of reporting poor wellbeing during this period of remote work (Chidiebere Ogbonnaya) – so effective communication strategies to check-in on those struggling with working from home need to be implemented, rather than the adoption of a ‘one size fits all’ strategy. 

Advice to those with neurotic tendencies

Remember, as highlighted, there are LOTS of strengths that you bring to the table. Really think about the kind of job you would enjoy, and the type of environment you thrive in – remote, office based, independent or reliant on a team. Reach out to others to provide feedback on your performance in order to support your growth. As someone who is likely to undersell your achievements, this will help to overcome low career attainment. Lastly, be aware of your characteristics and the impact this may have on others, as this will support your success in building those all-important workplace relationships. 

You can listen to Gillian sharing her insights, alongside personality experts Ryne Sherman and Blake Loepp, of Hogan Assessment Systems, via Hogan’s Science of Personality podcast. 

How can you identify personality derailers?

The Hogan HDS tool identifies dark-side personality dispositions, which may be considered desirable attributes up to a point – but could switch into counterproductive mode if not managed well, or within times of increased stress. Click to learn more!