The purpose of the present study was to explore relationships between personality and engagement among human services professionals and paraprofessionals. In particular, the present study investigated relationships between the five factor model of personality (FFM) and William Kahn’s model of employee engagement encompassing physical (energy, effort), emotional (enthusiasm, pride), and cognitive (concentration, focus) components. The independent variables were five personality traits: need for stability (tolerance to stress, tendency to worry), extraversion (sociability, enthusiasm, energy), originality (imagination, complexity, tolerance to “newness”), accommodation (service orientation, comfort with “not having one’s way”), and consolidation (focus, concentration, discipline). These traits were measured by the WorkPlace Big Five ProFile™ or WPB5 (Howard and Howard, 2001). The dependent variable was employee engagement as measured by Bruce Rich’s (2006) Job Engagement Survey (JES).
The present study sought to answer the following four questions: a) What is the strength and direction of the relationships between the five factors of personality and employee engagement, b) what is the combination of personality trait scores that best predicts engagement, c) what are the differences in employee engagement across the personalities of employees in the three organizations, and d) what are the differences in employee engagement across the personalities and between the paraprofessionals and professionals.
A single survey combining the WPB5 and the JES questions was electronically mailed to 890 human services professionals employed by three social services agencies in the Midwest of the United States. A total of 420 surveys were returned, with an overall response rate of 47 percent.
The results of the present study suggested that two personality traits are significant predictors of engagement: extraversion and consolidation. These two traits were also positively correlated with engagement. Need for stability was significantly and negatively correlated to engagement but not a predictor of engagement (i.e., it was not included in the predictive model of engagement identified by a multiple regression analysis). Accommodation did not significantly correlate with engagement in general, but did interact with professional rank and, thus, contributed to the engagement of professionals and paraprofessionals. While professionals seemed to benefit from a medium accommodation, paraprofessionals had stronger engagement when their accommodation was lower. The last personality trait – originality – was not related to engagement.
This study contributed to the body of literature on engagement by a) adopting Kahn’s model of engagement, b) conducting further testing on the JES, c) focusing on human services professionals, and d) selecting a FFM tool specifically developed for the workplace (the WPB5). As a result of the study, leaders within the field of human services – and more specifically those leaders whose organizations serve the intellectually disabled community – may gain a better understanding of the impact of personality on the engagement of their employees.