A new study by PCL and researchers at University College London (UCL) sheds light on why some people appear more altruistic than others. Delving into the personality traits linked to altruistic behaviour can help identify employees who value altruism and assist those organisations that consider altruism to be an important ethical value.

The research by Adrian Furnham and Luke Treglown at UCL used data from over 4,000 British managers provided by PCL. These individuals had all completed Hogan Assessments measuring their bright and dark side personality traits together with their motives and values, which included self-rated altruism.

Research findings revealed that managers who scored highly on the personality traits Interpersonal Sensitivity (Agreeableness), Prudence (Conscientiousness), Inquisitiveness (Openness) and Adjustment (Emotional Stability) were more likely to value altruism. As a  result, they were more likely to enjoy helping others, supporting their employees to flourish and creating a work environment that promotes customer service. Low scorers on altruism, on the other hand, were more likely to be seen as tough, uncommunicative and materialistic.

Unpacking the Altruistic Personality Profile

It is perhaps unsurprising that high Interpersonal Sensitivity (or Agreeableness) was the personality trait most highly correlated to altruism, since high scorers tend to be friendly, warm and interested in people. Intriguingly, however, research suggests that leaders with low, rather than high, Agreeableness tend to be more successful at work (Furnham, 2008), perhaps due to their ability to confront lower performers and make difficult decisions.

The finding that managers who score high on Adjustment are more likely to value altruism could be related to their higher level of empathy.  Perhaps those who score lower on Adjustment are too tense and concerned with themselves to regularly tend to others or don’t see the benefits of altruistic behaviours. They may take the view that ‘well I never got any help, so I’m not helping them’ and believe that everyone should take responsibility for themselves.

Turning to the dark side personality characteristics, Dutiful types, who are eager to please, were found to be more altruistic. Conversely, Excitable individuals, who have a tendency to be moody, unpredictable and self-critical, as well as Reserved types, who often avoid others and become self-reliant when under pressure, were found to be less altruistic.

Although altruistic tendencies have implications for employee behaviour across the organisation, the higher up the corporate ladder someone is, the more power and influence they can exert. Therefore, managers’ and leaders’ values are particularly critical; altruism can impact their behaviour and decision-making, which may in turn affect team and organisational performance. This research suggests that managers with a certain profile are likely to either be more or less altruistic than others at work, which can provide valuable insights for organisations when selecting and developing their employees or when shaping organisational culture.

Contact us at info@psychological-consultancy.com for more information about the research or about the Hogan Personality Inventory, Hogan Development Survey or  Hogan Motives, Values and Preferences Inventory, including how to become Hogan Certified.