This Key to Engagement May Surprise You

A new study suggests those extensive engagement efforts may be lost on some workers.
By: | December 17, 2018 • 2 min read
Cropped shot of a group of people huddling together in a circle and showing thumbs up in the air

From leadership training to flex scheduling to workplace-wellness campaigns, efforts to increase employee engagement are abounding as the labor market continues to tighten. But a new study suggests that one of the main drivers of engagement doesn’t come from within the organization, but rather from within employees themselves.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review details a study that found employees’ inherent character traits significantly contribute to their engagement at work. The meta analysis of more than 100 surveys, in which 45,000 workers around the globe were polled, determined that nearly 50 percent of the variability in engagement levels can be predicted by personality.


The study authors identified four traits that increased an employee’s likelihood to intrinsically be more engaged at work: positive affect, proactivity, conscientiousness and extroversion. Together, the four traits have been linked to emotional intelligence and resilience, which can increase employee engagement, the authors write. The HBR authors—Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Lewis Garrad and Didier Elzinga—suggest that the results point to the need for recruiters and hiring managers to not only prioritize skills, but also personality.

“If you want an engaged workforce,” the authors write, “perhaps your best bet is to hire people who have an ‘engageable’ personality.”

However, recruiting and hiring solely for personality, they caution, isn’t the solution. For one, having a workforce of highly resilient employees can mask progress—as they may be less likely to report serious leadership or cultural issues. Additionally, the authors write, the most cynical and skeptical are also often the most creative—so weeding them out through personality-based hiring alone could impede innovation. Productivity has also been linked to cognitive diversity of teams, so hiring a workforce whose personalities are too similar may also stymie growth.