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Having a different personality type at work: is it okay?

By Emilly Parris | 29 May 2019

If you’ve ever wondered why you act differently at work than in your personal life, you’re not alone. Research suggests that while personality appears to be somewhat genetic, people often act against their nature if the situation calls for it.

Personality can determine how successful you are at your job, so it pays to understand which elements of your personality might be holding you back, and what to do about it. 

Many experts agree that having a work persona is completely normal and here are a few reasons why it’s okay to act differently when you’re at work:

Why we're different people at work and at home

  1. Professionalism comes first.
  2. Certain personality traits work better in the workplace.
  3. Your role demands a certain personality type.

1. Professionalism comes first.

multicultural people in work meeting smiling

If you want to get ahead in your career and be taken seriously by your boss, it is vital to maintain a sense of professionalism when you’re at work. Acting professionally essentially means doing what it takes to ensure others see you as reliable, respectful and competent. 

Sometimes, this can mean adjusting your personality to fit these expectations.

It is common for people to adopt a work persona to fill the obligations of their role and maintain a professional image. For example, if you’re naturally loud, outgoing and enjoy telling inappropriate jokes, you may need to tone things down while you’re at work to avoid offending your co-workers or your boss. 

And if you’re a natural debater or have strong political opinions, it’s probably best not to engage in conversations with people whose ideologies or politics you disagree with, since that could land you in hot water.

2. Certain personality traits work better in the workplace.

introvert extrovert concept

Research has shown that conscientiousness is the most highly sought-after personality trait in the workplace, with conscientious people more likely to earn a higher income and experience greater job satisfaction throughout their lives.

Conscientiousness is one of the Big Five personality traits alongside openness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. It is characterised by a strong work ethic, reliability and diligence in completing tasks. If you're a conscientious person, you're organised, punctual and you care about doing your job well.

It is easy to see why this personality trait would do well in the workplace. A person scoring high in conscientiousness has a high level of self-discipline and a drive to achieve.

Fortunately, it is possible to cultivate conscientiousness even if it doesn’t come naturally to you. You can cultivate conscientious habits by engaging in self-awareness about how you use your time and how you go about completing tasks without becoming distracted.

However, you can do things like coming into work earlier, completing tasks on or before deadlines and establishing goals regularly with your boss in order to appear more conscientious at work.

3. Your role demands a certain personality type.

african american with glasses cheering in front of laptop

In her research paper The Authenticity Paradox, Professor Herminia Ibarra discusses some of the issues with simplifying the concept of “authenticity” in the workplace. “People can use authenticity as an excuse for staying in their comfort zone”, she says.

Occasionally, we have to ramp up certain aspects of our personality to meet the demands of our role. For example, if you are a highly agreeable person in a role that involves managing a team, providing direction and taking part in decision-making, it makes sense that you set aside your more agreeable tendencies in favour of being more assertive.

Similarly, if you are working in sales you may have to turn up the energy and enthusiasm, even if you are naturally inclined that way. 

“By viewing ourselves as works in progress and evolving our professional identities through trial and error, we can develop a personal style that feels right to us,” Ibarra says.

Her research also suggests that people who have been promoted are at risk of losing credibility in their new role if they consider their personality as ‘fixed’. For instance, someone who is open and friendly may share too much of their thoughts and feelings, which can affect the other employees’ perceptions of that individual.

Ibarra puts it best when she says “learning starts with unnatural and often superficial behaviours that can make us feel calculating instead of genuine and spontaneous. But the only way to avoid being pigeonholed and ultimately become better leaders is to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing.”

Does your personality fit with your line of work?

Do you feel entirely at odds with your true self and your work self? When it comes to your identity and values, it’s important to be honest with yourself and your employer. 

While there may be aspects of your personality that you withhold from your boss and colleagues for the sake of professionalism, there is no need for you to hide or change your identity in order to find success in your career. 

In fact, choosing a career that aligns with your true personality and your future goals will make going to work each day not only easier, but more personally fulfilling too. If you want to discover your dream job according to your personality type, be sure to complete Upskilled’s Career Profiler to get your FREE personalised report. 

If you’re ready to explore new career options, Upskilled offers flexible online courses in a range of subject areas including Accounting & Finance, Administration & Business, Community Services, Education and more. Chat to one of our consultants today to find out what steps you need to take to discover your dream career. 
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