Sarah Tottle is the co-founder of GSL Coaching, a leadership and research consultancy that specializes in organizational health and well-being. The consultancy offers a range of workshops centered on employee engagement, well-being, and resilience, as well as tailored research for organisations. Sarah is currently pursuing her doctoral studies, with a special interest in burnout and presenteeism. She is a co-author of Your Pocketful of 'Inspiration': 100 Ways to Happiness. Sarah's articles are here.
When organizations fail to grasp the nature of personality differences and lack an understanding of individual differences, employee well-being is at risk. A one-size-fits-all model when dealing with employees is unhelpful in getting the best from a workforce. Not only that, but a prescription of a certain model of working can actually do more harm than good because it fails to comprehend the different personalities at work. It fails to grasp the individual in the employee. Working with individuals is the most effective route to a healthier workplace.
Organizations that understand that different personalities and behavioral traits offer variety and diversity in their working environment are better placed to harness the key skills of each member of their workplace. They are also more effective in avoiding and managing stress. Those that are particularly well versed in psychological health are also more adept in making judgments about their employees’ working styles.We All Have Different Styles
In their recent article featured in the Harvard Business Review, Cross and colleagues discuss the link between collaborative overload and burnout. It’s a theory that employees, while interacting and sharing ideas with other colleagues in meetings, have very little time out to do their own job. They begin to take work home, which increasingly impacts their work-life balances.
Collaborative overload is not just a problem pertaining to attending meetings, it is an issue affected by individual differences. Employees that identify with an introverted personality are often left emotionally and physically exhausted by the constant need for collaboration. They have very little time to harness their own creative thinking, because the daily interaction depletes them of valuable resources.
When constant collaboration of ideas is the norm, many personality types do not flourish.Take Alice for example. Alice is a 29 year old marketing executive for a large advertising agency. Alice has always enjoyed socializing and chose her marketing career because she was a self-confessed creative type. “I just love design and coming up with new ideas. I love thinking things through, brainstorming new concepts and pitching them to clients. I get a real buzz from that.”
But Alice has been feeling deflated lately. “I feel I need more and more time out to recuperate from the constant meetings. I get very little time to think.”
Many individuals are like Alice. They may be social, but they also need time in solitude to process and cultivate new ideas. People like Alice are often misunderstood at work because on the surface they appear to be extroverted, but the over-stimulation can lead to exhaustion.
We need more than one approach to work. Meetings and collaboration are necessary to share ideas, but some people will come up with their best ideas and work more productively alone. The open plan office is only effective for some people. Effective organizations give managers some leeway for dealing with individual needs.
Towards a Healthier WorkplaceAn organizational well-being manager or consultant can be a helpful addition to any corporation. However, managers can also increase their knowledge of individual differences through on-going training and development, ensuring they become more aware of the individual needs of their employees.
Employees work best in environments that suit their needs, and this alone should be enough to encourage organizations to make changes. To make the best use of the people in the organization, I would advise managers to seek feedback from their employees about what works, and how their current practices support or detract from their employees’ ability to function optimally at work.
Organizations can make the best use of different personalities by providing both water cooler spaces for sharing of ideas and places to work in solitude, without distraction.
Cross, R., Rebele, R., and Grant, A. (2016). Collaborative Overload. The Harvard Business Review.
Tottle, S. (2016). Individual Differences at Work: Part 1, Handling Stress. Positive Psychology News.
Tottle, S. (2016). Individual Differences at Work: Part 2, Type A and Type B. Positive Psychology News.