It is widely acknowledged that stress is a major cause of absenteeism, job dissatisfaction, turnover, poor motivation, job performance and, ultimately, burnout.  What is less well recognised, however, is the extent to which our risk disposition – the way in which we perceive, manage and make decisions about risk – affects our wellbeing at work.

Research has emphasised differences in the way people cognitively appraise stressful situations. Findings indicate that, faced with similar workloads and situations, not everyone will experience stress to the same degree. Furthermore, research has shown that our personalities predispose us to experiencing different stress levels. Neuroticism, for example, is an aspect of personality that refers to the tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, anger and fear, whilst Extraversion refers to the tendency to experience cheerfulness, sociability and high-activity. Research shows that burned-out employees are significantly more likely to be high in Neuroticism and low in Extraversion.

At PCL, our research into the Five Factor Model of personality has enabled us to identify eight main ‘Risk Types’ in our sample of over eight thousand.  Looking at the relationship between risk and wellbeing at work, we took a sample of 84 auditors and found interesting differences between Risk Types.  Those individuals categorised as ‘Deliberate’, who are typically confident, buoyant and thorough, as well as the ‘Composed’ Types, who are calm, resilient and undaunted, reported the greatest levels of psychological well-being. In contrast, those categorised as ‘Intense’, who are typically apprehensive, risk aware and ardent, reported the lowest wellbeing levels.

In addition to the link between risk and wellbeing, we explored employee engagement since engagement is considered highly beneficial to both employees and organisations. Our research showed that Deliberate and Composed Risk Types were also the most engaged, together with Adventurous (who are typically intrepid, enterprising and optimistic) and Intense Types.  Conversely, Carefree types, who tend to be audacious, curious and unconventional, and Excitable types, who are enthusiastic, anxious and committed, reported being the least engaged.

Different professions are confronted by varying degrees of risk and few, if any, avoid it all together. Understanding an individual’s personality in relation to both stressful situations and employee engagement is therefore valuable.  Appreciating these individual differences allows greater accuracy in the prediction of any adverse impact of risk and enables more effective and responsible management.

The results of this research were presented during the ‘poster snap shot’ session at the Division of Occupational Psychology Conference today, together with research on job satisfaction and a case study on competency appraisals.