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Neurotic Personalities Earn Lower Salaries

Earn more money: Check your emotional baggage at the door.

Neurotics have one more thing to worry about - they may earn less money than their less neurotic peers. According to my current line of research where I examined the hypothesis that personality affects the motivation, work drive and salary of workers, Neuroticism had significant negative direct effects on salary (B = -.26, p < .05). This effect implies an inverse relationship between the variables; more neurotic participants earned smaller salaries (Mauro, in progress).

Personality can be examined in a number of ways. In this blog I tend to focus on pathological personality - disordered personality that is diagnosed because it is generally understood to be problematic for individuals in society. Another way of looking at personality is to examine the differences in personality dimensions in the normal personality, which is what I have done in this study.

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Many models of personality have been proposed to explain these differences; however, it has become common practice in the social sciences to examine personality traits using McCrae and Costa's Five Factor Model. This model examines five broad dimensions of personality, called clusters. Each of the five clusters is an index on which all people can be assessed and can account for differences in individual personalities. Often referred to as The Big Five, the clusters include Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism, or more simply ‘O,' ‘C,' ‘E,' ‘A' and ‘N'.

Neuroticism, surprisingly, was the only personality dimension found to significantly impact salary in this study. A meta-analysis of seven prior studies by Ng, Eby, Sorensen, & Feldman (2005) found that salary was positively related to Conscientiousness, Extraversion and Openness at the .07, .10, and .04 levels (p < .05), respectively, and inversely related to Neuroticism and Agreeableness at the -.12 and -.10 levels (p < .05), respectively. Neuroticism measures an individual's predisposition to experience unpleasant emotions as well as disturbances in thought and actions. Individuals with high levels of Neuroticism tend to be worrisome, emotional, vulnerable, self-conscious, self-pitying and temperamental, while those who have lower levels tend to be more calm, even-tempered, unemotional, self-satisfied, comfortable, and hardy (McCrae & Costa, 2003).

Less neurotic people may earn more money because they tend to possess more emotional stability and fewer disturbances in their thoughts and actions than those who are more neurotic. Individuals high in measures of Neuroticism may even exhibit traits that inhibit job performance including a tendency to be worrisome, temperamental, emotional, vulnerable, self-conscious and self-pitying. Individuals low in measures of Neuroticism tend to demonstrate traits that may actually boost their job performance including a tendency to be calm, even-tempered, unemotional, self-satisfied, comfortable and hardy (McCrae & Costa, 2003).

It is very likely that employers desire and pay higher salaries to workers with high job performance and an ability to ‘check one's emotional baggage at the door' so to speak. This does not mean that all neurotic people are doomed to make less money. For one, this study, like all studies, had limitations (i.e. voluntary participation, confined to individuals who had majored in psychology). Two, although personality traits by definition are relatively ingrained and slow changing, expressed behaviors can be modified to an extent through therapy and purposeful practice.

Some common cognitive distortions and automatic thoughts create feelings of worry and anxiety common to Neuroticism. Identifying and challenging these distortions, on your own, with a self-help book or guide, or with a cognitive behavioral therapist is just one way to gain control over neurotic behaviors. Here are some common cognitive distortions:

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Black or white thinking with no middle ground. "I am perfect or I am nothing"
  • Overgeneralization: The tendency to inaccurately generalize a single negative event. "I gave a poor speech, therefore I am a bad public speaker."
  • Catastrophizing: Blowing up one small negative event to anticipate the worst possible outcome. "My boss asked me to make some additions to my proposal. He didn't like it. I will get fired."

Mauro, M.R. (in progress). Working Title: Predictors of Success in College and Career: Effects of Personality, Motivation and Drive.

McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T., Jr. (2003). Personality in adulthood: A five-factor theory perspective (2nd ed.). New York: The Guilford Press. Florida: Psychological Assessment Resources, Inc

Ng, T. W. H., Eby, L. T., Sorensen, K. L., & Feldman, D. C. (2005). Predictors of objective and subjective career success: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 58, 367-408.

Marisa Mauro, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

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