Motivation and emotion/Book/2019/Honesty-humility and work performance
How do scores on the Honesty-humility dimension of HEXACO personality assessment affect work performance?
Overview[edit | edit source]
If you have ever been told that you are an honest or humble person, you would likely remember feeling quite pleased by what you would consider a compliment. This is no surprise, as honesty and humility are both widely considered positive and moral traits for someone to have.
When the term "honesty-humility" is used, it refers to one of the six dimensions of the HEXACO Personality Inventory (Ashton & Lee, 2008). Each of these dimensions have their own facets, which represent narrower descriptions of personality and behaviour types. The Honesty-Humility category has the facets of Sincerity, Fairness, Greed Avoidance and Modesty (Ashton & Lee, 2008). These facets are also represented in other psychological theories and models of personality.
One would likely think that possessing these would always be beneficial in the workplace. This relationship is less certain than previously imagined, and it will be demonstrated that the extent of the benefits depend on the field of work and workplace environment.
In this book chapter:
- Honesty and humility will be defined separately, as individual words with a slight distinction, and together, as one of the six personality factors of the HEXACO.
- The Honesty-Humility trait will be expressed in terms of the FFM theory (which precedes the HEXACO model) and also the highly-relevant Dark Triad of Personality Traits. Measurement systems will be briefly described for each.
- The benefits of being higher or lower on the Honesty-Humility spectrum will be described in terms of work performance outcomes.
What does honesty-Humility mean?[edit | edit source]
Honesty[edit | edit source]
- The Merriam-Webster online dictionary (2019) definitions of honesty are "adherence to the facts (sincerity)" and "fairness and straightforwardness of conduct".
- Synonyms listed are "integrity, truthfulness, probity, veracity, verity" (Merriam-Webster online dictionary, 2019).
Humility[edit | edit source]
- The Merriam-Webster online dictionary (2019) defines humility as "freedom from pride or arrogance: the quality or state of being humble".
- "Humble" is defined as "not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive".
- Synonyms listed for "humble" are "demure, down-to-earth, lowly, meek, modest, unassuming, unpretentious" (Merriam-Webster online dictionary, 2019).
Commonalities[edit | edit source]
- Both considered to be rooted in reason and morality.
- They commonly describe a person free of illusion relating to status or fact.
- Both point to a depiction of an individual unwilling to lie or deceive in any way, especially to gain status.
While they are distinct in nature, it is easy to see why they correlate so positively with one another (clear due to the fact that they are considered one single dimension in the HEXACO model - it is hard to imagine somebody who is humble but not at all honest and vice versa).
Honesty-Humility in theory[edit | edit source]
The Big Five Model (NEO-PI-R)[edit | edit source]
Background[edit | edit source]
In early trait research, Sir Francis Galton put forward the lexical hypothesis, which states that one can derive the main describing words of personality or attitude through analysis of the adjectives in the human language (Shrout & Fiske, 1995). This process was dubbed lexical analysis, and it was first put to the test by Allport & Odbert (1936) who found over 4,000 of these words. Over time, synonyms were removed;the list reduced and refined down to 171 words through the work of Raymond Cattel four years later; he then created the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, better known as the 16PF, in order to measure these in a more superordinate manner (Bagby, Marshall & Georgiades, 2005).
Researchers Costa & McCrae (1985) created the five-factor NEO-I Inventory, making the case that the five traits of Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism were able to best define the most salient aspects of one's personality. Further research by Costa & McCrae prompted the revised and current version of the NEO, the NEO-PI-R (Costa & McCrae, 1992); it remains the most widely used method of measurement for the big five factors of personality. While HEXACO's Honesty-Humility was not considered a primary factor of personality yet, it is most correlated to the Agreeableness dimension (Ashton & Lee, 2005).
The five dimensions of the NEO-PI-R[edit | edit source]
- Openness to experience (O): Someone who is high-scoring on this personality cluster would be somebody who is imaginative, curious and generally willing to explore new ideas and concepts. These individuals are generally considered creative.
- Conscientiousness (C): A conscientious person is disciplined, efficient, and rigorous. This means that they are more likely to meet deadlines, pay attention, and delay gratification in order to meet personal goals; it is no surprise that conscientious people are generally much more likely to be considered successful in academia and in the workplace.
- Extraversion (E): A fairly well-understood personality cluster, extraverts enjoy being around other people and derive much of their energy from outside sources. They usually work better in settings requiring interaction. An introvert prefers a less stimulating environment and is not necessarily shy - their behaviour is out of personal choice rather than fear, an important distinction.
- Agreeableness (A): A cooperative, selfless, kind and overall friendly person, as opposed to arrogant, cruel and self-interested. While Honesty-Humility is only moderately correlated to the other FFM traits, it appears that it is most correlated to this dimension. This relation is quite obvious when they are compared in terms of meaning (Ashton & Lee, 2005)
- Neuroticism (N): A tendency towards negative emotion and affect. Those high in neuroticism are also more likely to be diagnosed with disorders such as anxiety and depression.
HEXACO model[edit | edit source]
Background[edit | edit source]
The HEXACO model of personality was created by Ashton & Lee (2007), who would argue that this new six-factor model would serve as a superior alternative to the established five-factor model (FFM) of personality structure. The authors claim that the new model was created based on three primary reasons: analysis of cross-cultural lexical studies concerning personality structure, which found evidence for these six dimensions, theoretical interpretability of HEXACO and FFM which notes several personality phenomena unexplained by the traditional FFM, and evidence indicating that the HEXACO model accommodates important personality constructs not in the scope of the FFM.
The addition of the Honesty-Humility dimension is the most significant change when compared to the FFM. FFM's Neuroticism was renamed to Emotionality. The new dimension was added based on cross-cultural research indicating support for six dimensions rather than five (Ashton & Lee, 2008). This new dimension has shown to predict harmful and antisocial behaviour when present in low levels, whether influenced by other dimensions or not (Ashton & Lee, 2008). Harmful behaviour could range from workplace delinquency and common criminality through to status obsession and corruption risk.
The six dimensions of the HEXACO[edit | edit source]
- Facets: Sincerity, Fairness, Greed Avoidance, Modesty
- Adjectives: Sincere, honest, faithful, loyal, modest/unassuming versus sly, deceitful, greedy, pretentious, hypocritical, boastful, pompous
- Facets: Fearfulness, Anxiety, Dependence, Sentimentality
- Adjectives: Emotional, oversensitive, sentimental, fearful, anxious, vulnerable versus brave, tough, independent, self-assured, stable
- Facets: Social Self-Esteem, Social Boldness, Sociability, Liveliness
- Adjectives: Outgoing, lively, extraverted, sociable, talkative, cheerful, active versus shy, passive, withdrawn, introverted, quiet, reserved
- Facets: Forgivingness, Gentleness, Flexibility, Patience
- Adjectives: patient, tolerant, peaceful, mild, agreeable, lenient, gentle versus ill-tempered, quarrelsome, stubborn, choleric
- Facets: Organization, Diligence, Perfectionism, Prudence
- Adjectives: organized, disciplined, diligent, careful, thorough, precise versus sloppy, negligent, reckless, lazy, irresponsible, absent-minded
Openness to Experience (O):
- Facets: Aesthetic Appreciation, Inquisitiveness, Creativity, Unconventionality
- Adjectives: intellectual, creative, unconventional, innovative, ironic versus shallow, unimaginative, conventional
The Dark Triad[edit | edit source]
A trio of traits considered malevolent in the view of society can be found in what is known as The Dark Triad of personality (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). This name used for the three distinct but overlapping traits; psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism. The three traits together characterise a person who is uncaring in their associations with other people, and usually aggressive in general manner and goal pursuit.
Psychopathy[edit | edit source]
Patrick, Fowles & Krueger (2009) state that psychopathy itself can best be characterised as a triad of disinhibition (reflecting problems of impulse and behavioural control), boldness (reflected through the need for social dominance) and meanness (describing a complete lack of empathy and general regard for others in goal pursuit). A psychopath has difficulty relating to others on an emotional level and is relentless in goal pursuit; they would be more likely to tread on other people to meet their goals. Psychopathy can be measured through the Psychopathy Check List and the self-report psychopathy (SRP) scale (Hare, 1985).
Machiavellianism[edit | edit source]
Characterised by the willingness to manipulate others, a penchant for emotional coldness and a lack of regard for morals and ethics, Machiavellianism is lesser known than the other two Dark Triad traits. Coined by psychology authors Christie & Geis (1970), the word originates from the ancient political advisor Niccolo Machiavelli, who would suggest ruthless tactics to his leaders from dishonesty and manipulation through to the killing of innocent people. He believed that this was the best and most efficient way to rule. While similar to psychopathy in the lack of empathy aspect, it is distinguished by the need to dominate and direct other people. Christie & Geis (1970) created the Mach IV test, which is the default method of assessing Machiavellian traits.
Narcissism[edit | edit source]
Introduced by Sigmund Freud himself in 1914 in an essay titled On Narcissism, the word originates in ancient Greek mythology describing a hunter who literally falls in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. As one might deduce, a narcissist is someone who admires themselves excessively and seeks gratification from the thought of their ideal selves. They are usually perceived as self-centered and arrogant, and like the other two traits generally show a lack of empathy and regard for other people generally. Narcissism can typically be measured by the commonly-used 40-item Narcissistic Personality Inventory (Raskin & Terry, 1988).
Measurement[edit | edit source]
The Dark Triad Dirty Dozen (DTDD) is a brief assessment designed to measure the three Dark Triad traits at once. It is a 12-item personality inventory invented by Jonason & Webster (2010), which makes use of a seven-point Likert scale. The 12 items are split into three subscales (one for each of the three traits). It is designed to be used in the subclinical population only, meaning that it cannot be used to diagnose actual disorders. The psychopathy subscale contains items which evaluate a lack of morality, cynicism levels, callousness ratings and regret/remorsefulness. For the narcissism subscale, the four items assess admiration motives, attention-seeking behaviour, as well as requests from people and increases in rank/status. The Machiavellian subscale scores how manipulative somebody is to other people, the amount of deceiving that they do, and the odds of exploiting others for individual benefit.
As the questionnaire is only 12 items long, some found that it was too short to properly cover all aspects of the Dark Triad traits, leading to the creation of a slightly longer inventory, the Short Dark Triad (SD3) created by Jones & Paulhus (2013). At 27 items long, there are nine questions per subscale.
Scores on these measures are strongly, negatively correlated with Honesty-Humility scores (Ashton, Lee & de Vries, 2014; Hodson et al., 2018). Compared to the FFM, research indicates that the Honesty-Humility dimension of personality allows for a more direct measurement of the Dark Triad traits of psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism; a high Honesty-Humility score is strongly, inversely correlated with a high score on these traits, more so than any of the other five factors within the HEXACO model of personality (Ashton, Lee & de Vries, 2014; Hodson et al., 2018). This is significant as a lot of research exists concerning the relationship between Dark Triad traits and work or career performance. Interpreting this research through the lens of the Honesty-Humility dimension is now much simpler, now that much evidence shows this link between them.
Defining work performance[edit | edit source]
Work performance can be measured from any metrics out of a whole range associated with workplace status, such as the specific salary or hourly rate awarded to an employee, the workplace autonomy they experience while on the job, the level of self-reported or self-described career satisfaction, and the position longevity; how long an employee might manage to hold onto the position before changing (whether willingly or not). It can also just mean the work output of a given employee as determined by the employer themselves or another superior.
While it can be considered somewhat unsurprising due to the description of the trait, there is much research to suggest that out of the six personality traits in the HEXACO model of personality, conscientiousness is the strongest predictor for general success in any achievement-oriented aspect of an individual, including school and university grades in addition to job performance scores. In a questionnaire of 404 university students studying management, Kertechian (2018) assessed the usefulness of the FFM and found that conscientiousness is the one trait predicting higher grades, through reduced procrastination and higher intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, Poropat (2009) confirms this in a meta-analysis of the FFM and how academic performance is impacted. When it comes to job performance, Zeigler-Hill, Besser, Vrabel & Noser (2015) found that restaurant servers in the United States who were rated as more conscientious were outright considered better performers at their jobs and earned more through tips (although the link between job performance and tips was specifically moderated by the extraversion personality trait).
While conscientiousness predicts outright success regardless of field of work, the other factors of personality are important when it comes to being successful in a specific subject or career. This means that success in a specific field of work as opposed to another might be better predicted by the other, variable personal traits of the individual, and how well they fit with that certain type of job. For example, somebody who is high on the extraversion scale of the FFM/HEXACO models of personality would theoretically be considerably more likely to work and succeed in a field placing greater emphasis on interpersonal communication, such as sales or even entertainment, when compared to more solitary work. Indeed, research by Vinchur, Schippmann, Switzer & Roth (1998) indicates that extraversion and conscientiousness are considered the biggest predictors of success in sales jobs, a notion supported by Hurtz & Donovan (2000).
The relationships between the other aspects of personality and job/academic performance indicators are less clear and less linear than Conscientiousness, as pointed out by Kertechian (2018), Hurtz & Donovan (2000), and Poropat (2009).
How honesty-Humility impacts work performance[edit | edit source]
We assume that generally being humble and honest will always play out positively in the workplace, however according to the research, it is unclear how true this is. In theory, it could be stated that someone scoring high on the Honesty-Humility scale might be more successful in caring roles (such as a therapist, teacher, clinician or nurse) and less successful in roles requiring great political skill or good competition skills, where it can be seen as advantageous to be less willing to cooperate. Politicians, executives and those in the finance or banking sectors are usually notoriously distrusted by the general public. Stereotypes will always remain influential in making certain judgements however, so it is best to turn to proper research.
In favour of high Honesty-Humility scorers, researchers de Vries & van Gelder (2015) found that when 455 respondents from a broad range of organisations were assessed for workplace delinquency (unconstructive behaviour), those with high Honesty-Humility and Conscientiousness scores were more likely to exhibit ethical leadership skills and promote a positive work culture. They found that in instances of low employee surveillance, those with high Conscientiousness scores were significantly less likely to act counterproductively when high Honesty-Humility was present, whereas those with high Conscientiousness but low Honesty-Humility scores were not as unlikely to act this way. To further illustrate the usefulness of this dimension in this context, the researchers found that Honesty-Humility explained roughly 34% of the variance in workplace delinquency, whereas Conscientiousness only explained 14% of the variance. While Conscientiousness remains a significant factor in this study, this is a significant finding given that Conscientiousness is usually considered the most important determinant in any aspect of work performance. This finding outlines the possible benefit of the HEXACO model of personality over the traditional NEO-PI-R.
Further supporting the results of this study, a meta-analysis comprising a total 749 scientific articles was carried out by Pletzer, Bentvelzen, Oostrom & de Vries (2019) who aimed to assess the relationship between personality and workplace deviance. These authors found that Honesty-Humility as measured by the HEXACO has a significantly higher ability to explain workplace deviance than any other HEXACO factor or any of the related sub-facets in the related FFM model. They also found that the HEXACO model overall explained workplace deviance better than the FFM, with the HEXACO model explaining nearly 32% of workplace deviance compared to the FFM's 19%. Johnson, Rowatt & Petrini (2011) found that Honesty-Humility is a unique predictor of job performance for employees in care-giving roles dealing with difficult clients, as evaluated by supervisors.
Of note is that the relationship between Honesty-Humility and work performance becomes less clear when it comes to subjective and objective evaluation of career outcomes. When it comes to 'harder' measures of evaluating job performance, a different story is told. Templer (2018) used participants from 33 diverse organisations in Singapore, and coded Dark personality through low Honesty-Humility scores. Results indicated that while employees exhibiting Dark personalities are not harder workers, they are able to use their political skill to influence superiors into thinking that they are. This tricks them into giving them higher performance ratings and thus increasing their odds of promotion and other advancements. Indeed, Spurk, Keller & Hirschi (2015) analyzed 793 early career employees and found that more narcissistic individuals tended to have higher salaries, and those with more Machiavellian traits were in higher leadership positions and reported better career satisfaction, supporting Templer's findings. In addition, a study on 314 young professionals carried out by Hirshi & Jaensch (2015) found a weak but positive relationship between narcissism and salary, as well as between narcissism and career satisfaction.
While it may seem as though it may be beneficial to be lower on the scale, a win for the more humble crowd reveals itself through a very interesting piece by Chance, Cicon & Ferris (2015), which reports that firms willing to be more humble in their performance self-evaluations (i.e., blaming themselves for their performance shortcomings) actually perform better and become viewed more highly by investors than firms blaming others for their shortcomings. In addition, O'Reilly, Doerr & Chatman (2018) found that narcissistic CEOs were more likely to drive their firms to legal trouble through their dangerous sense of overconfidence.
Conclusion[edit | edit source]
Honesty-Humility and the HEXACO model seem to be very worthwhile additions into the personality framework, given that they prove advantageous over the traditional FFM when it comes to explaining deviance and general productive behaviour. The Honesty-Humility dimension is also much more closely linked to the Dark Triad traits than any measure seen in the FFM, which proves exceeding useful when evaluating research into workplace behaviour and performance.
While Conscientiousness appears to outperform Honesty-Humility when attempting to explain sheer work ethic and work performance generally, Honesty-Humility clearly has a much greater impact on how counterproductive the behaviour of the employee becomes (especially when unsupervised), in addition to determining how well-suited an individual is to a certain type of career. It seems that both theory and research indicate that individuals high on Honesty-Humility are more likely to perform well in terms of ethical behaviour, positive work culture development, and avoidance of delinquent behaviour.
It is true also that those who have these Dark traits (and thus score low on the Honesty-Humility dimension as a result) are more likely to be politically skilled and work their way up into higher salaries and more elusive leadership positions. However, it is important to note that one should not strive for these negative traits in an effort to get ahead in the workplace, but instead strive to harness the benefits which show themselves more often in these low scorers; for example, instead of aiming for Machiavellian traits, one can learn specifically to harness the political skill it brings for the benefit of their organisation, rather than the self.
There is far less research concerning the HEXACO and general work performance when compared to the FFM and the Dark triad, an area for future direction.
See also[edit | edit source]
- The Big Five Model (Wikipedia)
- The HEXACO Model (Wikipedia)
- Workplace stress and motivation (Book chapter 2019)
References[edit | edit source]
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Zeigler-Hill, V., Besser, A., Vrabel, J., & Noser, A. E. Would you like fries with that? The roles of servers’ personality traits and job performance in the tipping behavior of customers. Journal of Research in Personality, 57, 110-118. doi:10.1016/j.jrp.2015.05.001