How Neuroticism Affects You At Work According To Science Might Explain Your Tendency To Get Distracted On The Job
There are a ton of factors that affect our ability to do our jobs. For example, if you have many neurotic tendencies, you might find yourself struggling in the modern workplace. Indeed, according to a recent study from researchers at UC Irvine, the MIT Media Lab, and Microsoft, it appears that neurotic people have a harder time at work than people who do not display neurotic tendencies.
It's worth pointing out that when I say "neurotic," I don't mean the colloquial usage of the word that means "erratic." In reality, the psychological concept of "being neurotic" often applies, as Gregg Henriques, PhD explains at Psychology Today, to "someone who is a worrier, easily upset, often down or irritable, and demonstrates high emotional reactivity to stress." On the Big Five Personality Inventory, Neuroticism is one of the main measures of personality.
Henriques goes on to explain that neurotic people often have "maladaptive coping strategies driven by fear or anxiety (which can be conscious or subconscious) elicited by a certain kind of situation." You know how when you're feeling needy, your temptation to call them a hundred times and ask for reassurance is probably not a good idea because it might push them away more? That's an example of neurotic behavior that is maladaptive — it pushes the individual further away from where they actually want to be.
So, now that we've cleared up our understanding of what neurotic behavior even means, let's go back to how neurotic behavior may impact us at work. For a period of two weeks, researchers tracked the online activity of 40 study participants to see how being impulsive and neurotic impacted work productivity and their ability to focus attention on their work at hand. Researchers logged literally everything from how often participants switched between tabs to how often they opened up a new browser window.
Researchers discovered that people who displayed neurotic tendencies tended to have a lower ability to focus on tasks for an extended period of time. As Jocelyn K. Glei at Science of Us points out, this link likely occurs because people who are neurotic tend to be major worriers. They stress about decisions they've made the in past, replay conversations in their mind, and so on. All of this focus on the past doesn't leave a whole lot of time to focus on what is going on in front of you, which may be why people who are neurotic are less likely to stick with one task for a long length of time.
As the study suggests, just like people who are impulsive, people who are neurotic struggle to filter out distractions, including in the workplace. There has been some pretty fascinating research on neurotic people in the workplace aside from this study. For example, some studies suggest that people who are neurotic actually make less money than those who are not.
While neurotic people in the workplace may get a bad reputation for being "worriers" or focused on the negative, Drake Baer at Business Insider makes a good point about the value of neurotic employees. People who are neurotic tend to be aware of possible dangers, risks, or upsets whether it's in their personal relationships or their workplace. As Baer says, "They'll work incredibly hard even without a promised external reward in order to prevent any dangers they see ahead of them." And who doesn't want hard-working employees? Like most personality traits, it seems that neuroticism comes with both pros and cons.
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