Your "Work" Personality Could Be Getting You Down If It Doesn't Match Your "Real" Personality, Says Science

Many of us are familiar with the tiring routine of schmoozing for professional purposes when we'd rather be curled up alone at home or burying ourselves in files when we're craving human companionship. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that contradicting our own personality traits, particularly introversion or extroversion, takes a toll on work satisfaction.

An in-progress study on employees at a marketing firm in the U.K. has found that introverts required to be social at work and extroverts whose jobs require solitude are less happy and more stressed. The effect is more pronounced in extroverts and in younger employees. Sanna Balsari-Palsule, the researcher leading the study and a few similar ones, theorizes that introverts are more accustomed to situations that require them to act out of character, whereas extroverts — especially younger ones who haven't had much practice reigning in their outgoing tendencies — "feel like caged animals" in quiet work spaces.

These preliminary results support the theory of "free traits," coined by the study's co-author Brian Little, positing that some of our personality traits are innate and some are cultivated to achieve certain goals. These situation-specific traits require energy to exhibit, and expending this energy can tire us out and even diminish our health.

Employers can make their workplaces less conducive to dissatisfaction and burnout by putting resources and policies in place for employees to express their innate personalities. For example, the firm examined in the study has spaces around the office for employees to sit quietly, which the authors speculate allows introverts to recuperate after giving presentations or participating in meetings. In fact, their preliminary results show that introverts high up in the company do not perform below extroverts or report feeling drained.

For us as employees, it's important to find work that gives us the social interaction, solitude, or combination of the two that we crave. And when we don't have a workplace that provides the perfect balance, we may be able to make adjustments to our own routines, like putting in headphones when we need alone time, taking breaks to chat with coworkers by the water cooler, or getting together with groups of fellow remote workers. Everybody is different, and we deserve workplaces that cater to our differences — because suppressing them has profound effects on our well-being.

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