Social psychologists have spent years studying personality and the human condition, in this they discovered the Big 5 personality traits of which, Neuroticism is just one. Using the acronym, OCEAN, the big five include, Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and of course, Neuroticism.
As with all personality traits, individuals work on a scale of high to low and it’s no different with neurotic personalities. In its most simplest form, neuroticism means we have a negative response to frustration, perceived loss, or feeling threatened.
In today’s guide we are going to take a closer look at neuroticism, understand how it impacts behaviour in the workplace and why it’s important to consider neurotic tendencies in the hiring process. Finally we will discuss how the Thomas workplace personality test can help you measure and understand neuroticism.
What is neuroticism?
It is arguably one of the most debated personality traits where some see it as a compliment and others not so much. A simple way to think of neuroticism is how well an individual can manage stress and experience negative emotions in relation to these circumstances. Another way to understand neurotic behaviour is to consider it as “emotional stability”.
We have all encountered a neurotic personality and reading some of the descriptions across the internet and in this guide, you may have experienced these emotions and thoughts yourself over the course of your lifetime.
Neuroticism, like all other personality traits, lives on a sliding scale of high to low and it isn’t uncommon to encounter these emotions and feelings in the course of your life. When you hear that someone is neurotic, there can be a negative attitude applied to this description but when you analyse neuroticism more closely, it does have advantages.
Being able to understand that neuroticism is our response to stressful situations opens up the definition a little more. We will all experience stress in our lives, how we deal with it is the way to better understand our emotional stability.
Like with other personality traits, neuroticism can impact our behaviour in the workplace and even the working environment. We will discuss this a little further on, but there are benefits associated with being neurotic in the workplace. From ruminating on decisions - which require more in depth thinking to greater emotional depth - which helps with empathy and understanding other people’s struggles.
What it means to be neurotic
What does it mean when someone is called neurotic? As previously mentioned, there are negative connotations to this however, it is another way of defining emotional stability. How well someone deals with stress is the core matter of neuroticism.
In doing so, social psychologists have tried to separate anxiety and neuroticism in definitions over the years. Understanding whether you have anxiety or if you suffer from neuroticism is a key starting point. Neurotic behaviour can be mis-interpreted as anxiety and vice versa. At its core, anxiety is about how we deal with stressful situations leading to the “fight or flight” response which can be acute and disrupt our day to day thinking in severe cases.
Fundamentally, understanding if you are neurotic or suffering with anxiety is all dependent on how the anxiousness manifests. Is it frequent, often happening throughout the day or in more stressful situations? Does it ever get really bad - worse than it should be by a significant margin? Is it very hard to control? Understanding your response identifies if this is more anxiety or neurotic behaviour.
Signs of neuroticism include:
- Social anxiety
- Tendency to feel stressed
- Emotional instability
- Resort to coping mechanisms (eating, alcohol etc.)
- Personal insecurities
- Can be pessimistic about circumstances
- Volatile with their emotions
- On the constant look out for dangerous situations
- Experiences discomfort with change
- Can easily feel stressed and tense
- Can appear withdrawn when suffering with anxiety
- Ruminates and fantasises
- Rarely ever feels satisfied with life
- Suffer from feelings of guilt
- Weakened immune system, often having colds and flu
How neuroticism impacts behaviour in the workplace
Naturally, with all other personality traits, neuroticism can impact behaviour in the workplace. If you were to consider - as you should - neuroticism on a scale, you need to understand that this behaviour can impact people differently and thus impact the workplace in a different manner as well.
Disadvantages of neuroticism
Neuroticism can influence people at work in different ways. For example:
- Lower ability to focus over extended periods
This can be from being easily distracted to letting their emotions take over during the day and focusing on those inputs.
Neurotic personalities can struggle to make decisions, ruminating for long periods of time.
Part of neuroticism is the way that you perceive change and uncertainty. More neurotic people suffer with uncertainty and changes.
As discussed, neuroticism holds many of the same traits of anxiety. Better understood as “fight or flight” conditioning, anxiety can affect people in many different ways.
Advantages of neuroticism
Whilst neuroticism has been represented negatively, it does also have many upsides which are usually forgotten about. These include:
- Thoughtfulness, reflection and rumination
Can be valuable in many roles. Particularly useful in roles which require more reflection and in anticipating and mitigating problems.
- Constant awareness of pitfalls
Beneficial in a wide range of roles. That insight and consideration in mitigating problems is useful at team leadership levels as well as in project management roles.
- Realistic self-awareness
A more honest self-appraisal can be a refreshing change for many organisations. It removes boastful attitudes to work and other colleagues which can disrupt.
- Emotional depth
This can help support team cohesion which helps with empathetic tendencies and understanding other people’s struggles.
There are roles which would suit people with neurotic tendencies which include: entrepreneurs, academics, artists, freelancers, florists, accountants and even yoga instructors.
When it comes down to understanding neurotic tendencies, consider how roles that match the more positive traits of this personality can be of use within your organisation. Think of roles which require more evaluation, attention to detail and of course, in-depth thinking. Managed correctly, these roles can influence positive change with the business and in roles.
Why neuroticism is important in hiring decisions
Understanding the big 5 personality traits is important for any employer and recruiter. Giving insights into how someone will behave under certain circumstances or how they can progress within the company is of considerable importance. What employers are trying to understand is the individual’s suitability for a role and studying personality traits is one of the key ways of doing so.
Alongside the other personality traits of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion and Agreeableness, Neuroticism plays its part in creating the analysis for employers to use in their hiring decisions.
It’s not all negative, a little neuroticism can be good for the soul. “These personality types tend to be intelligent, humorous, have more realistic (if cynical) expectations, a greater self-awareness, drive and conscientiousness, they take fewer risks, and have a strong need to provide for others,” says psychiatrist Grant H. Brenner M.D., FAPA, co-founder of Neighborhood Psychiatry, in Manhattan.
Alongside this, neurotics have more experience handling negative emotions which can help facilitate empathy and an understanding of other people’s emotions and behaviour.
When you bring together the many upsides of neurotic behaviour - and the downsides - it’s useful for employers to understand if they have a candidate who can deal with stressful environments and how they work interpersonally with other employees before making that decision.
How Thomas assessments measure workplace personality
The Thomas workplace personality assessment can be used to understand a candidate or employees level of neuroticism, and wider personality.
Using the globally recognised and respected big 5 psychological theory the High Potential Trait Indicator (HPTI) as we also call it, can also help to identify leadership potential.
The big five personality traits cover Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism and present results in an easy to understand format that can give insight into a candidate’s suitability for a role.
Developed by Ian MacRae and Adrian Furnham in 2006, the HPTI has been designed based on an ‘optimality’ model, which assumes that personality traits can be considered ‘optimal’ based on the requirements of a particular job role or position, such as senior executive leadership.
Whether you are looking for the next superstar to join your team, possibly even start to change team dynamics or you want to measure the level of neuroticism in your workplace, the HPTI assessment can analyse all the data in one place giving you insight in minutes.
Neuroticism is how well an individual can manage stress and experience negative emotions in relation to these circumstances. Another way to understand neurotic behaviour is to consider it as “emotional stability”.
Whilst it is usually associated with negative interpretations, neuroticism does have many benefits and can be useful for employers to consider some of these upsides when hiring in their teams. From in-depth thinking to empathy, neurotic behaviour can also be good for the office environment.
Managed correctly, considering those who test higher in neurotic tendencies can be considered a good hire in the office environment.