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Businesses should pay more attention to their employees’ personality traits in customising HR policies

Published on Saturday, 15 Jul 2017

According to data from the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth, during their career some people have worked in more than 10 jobs. In the study highlight posted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “on average, from age 18 to 48, American men held 11.8 jobs and women held 11.5 jobs.”

While some of us are happy to stay in our jobs for life, others find it hard to stick to the same one. What makes us feel satisfied with our jobs and stay on while others feel the opposite? Is it the environment or it is us?

Research by Professor Li Wendong of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School has shed light on the interplay of genetics and work environment and how it influences the relationship we have with our job.

“Traditionally, people believe that it is primarily the work environment, created by managers and organisations, that influences our job characteristics, such as the tasks we perform and the amount of autonomy we have at work” says Li.

“But accumulating research on person-environment fit has revealed the indispensable role of the person in influencing individuals’ job characteristics,” he says.

Li has been participating in extensive research into the genetic influence on work behaviour. Previously, his work revealed how the dopamine transporter gene DAT1 contributes to the emergence of leadership in a person.

“People are not randomly assigned to work environments. Instead, they select themselves, or are selected into compatible work environments to garner the optimal level of person-environment fit,” he says.

We can all relate to the fact that when looking for a job, apart from considering the salary and perks, we also consider whether the job suits our personality.

“This is a form of manifestation that genetic factors shape our work attitudes and behaviour,” he says.

However, it doesn’t mean the environment plays no part at all. While the role of genetic influences is indispensable, environmental factors still play a role in affecting work characteristics.

Another of Li’s studies examined how a dopamine genetic marker, DRD4 7 Repeat allele, interacted with early life environmental factors (i.e. one’s family’s socioeconomic status and neighbourhood poverty) to influence job change frequency in adulthood. The gene is closely related to human motivation, reward, and self-regulation, which in turn may affect educational achievement and job changes.

“In our findings, higher family socioeconomic status was associated with higher educational achievement, resulting in higher frequency of voluntary job changes and lower frequency of involuntary job changes. Such relationships were stronger for individuals with more DRD4 7R alleles.

“The results also told us the importance of providing a supportive environment for children and adolescents, which will have a positive influence not only on their immediate education outcomes but also on their long-term careers later in life.”

Positive affectivity and negative affectivity are general tendencies to experience positive and negative affective states across time and situations. People with high positive affectivity are confident, active and energetic. They are likely to experience positive emotions, and may select or create positive situations at work, which in turn boosts their job satisfaction.

People with high negative affectivity, on the other hand, tend to dwell on their shortcomings and personal failures, thus experiencing negative motions, and may foster negative circumstances at work.

“People with high positive affectivity are sensitive to positive environmental cues and, thus, likely to perceive themselves and the world in a positive light, whereas those with high negative affectivity tend to view themselves and their environment through a negative lens,” Li says.

The study results show that, as people develop and accumulate more experiences, genetic influences on individual characteristics become less important throughout early adulthood.

“The results also show that after parcelling out genetic influences, environmental influences on job satisfaction were related to interpersonal conflict at work and occupational status,” he adds.

Li suggests that firms should try to tailor their practices according to individual differences.

“Organisations should pay more attention to the importance of employees’ personality traits in customising their practices, as it shows in our study that positive affectivity is important in boosting job satisfaction,” he says.

In enhancing job satisfaction among employees, other environmental factors should also be considered.

“As our study shows that interpersonal conflicts significantly affected job satisfaction, maintaining harmonised interpersonal relationships at work will always be a useful approach to keep your employees,” says Li.


This article was previously published in the CUHK magazine Connect.

This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Made to measure.