Most psychologists believe personality traits are useful predictors of actual behavior. For example, we expect extraverted individuals to attend more parties and introverted individuals to read more books.
Most companies prefer to hire employees who will arrive on time for an important meeting or the beginning of a shift. Organizational psychologists are especially attuned to the needs of companies, so they have investigated the determinants of employee tardiness.
One of their more interesting findings is that arriving to work late is predicted by the age of an employee’s youngest child: Employees with young children are more likely to arrive late.
Practically speaking, companies cannot (and should not) consider the age of applicants’ children when making hiring decisions. Companies can, however, use the results of personality tests to aid their employment decisions.
Are personality traits able to predict tardiness? A highly-regarded conceptual model of personality—the Big Five Model—claims that one’s personality can be adequately described in terms of five factors or dimensions: neuroticism (i.e., negative emotionality), extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.
That last trait, conscientiousness, looks like a good candidate for a personality factor that might predict tardiness, right? After all, conscientious persons are dutiful and organized. They meet their obligations and usually have a strong work ethic.
To my knowledge, only one published study has investigated the relationship between employee tardiness and personality. In a study of 181 train operators, Conte and Jacobs (2003) found no statistically significant relationships between tardiness and any of the so-called Big Five personality factors. Strike one.
In a study of tardiness among students in the Philippines, Arbiol and Diente-Billones (2013) found that introverted student were more likely to be late to class, but this was true for only a third of the students in the study, the ones taking a Nursing course. Among students taking Arts & Science courses or Hotel Restaurant & Management courses, scores on the personality test were unrelated to tardiness. Moreover, even among the nursing students, the relationship between introversion and tardiness was weak—and introversion was measured with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a test considered by most researchers to be a poor measure of personality. Strike two.
The flipside of tardiness is punctuality. Do personality factors predict personal standards of punctuality? In a study I conducted with Raivo Valk and Abdessamad Dialmy, 301 university students in three countries—Estonia, Morocco, and the United States—read scenarios about work-related appointments or social engagements and, for each, indicated the time at which a person should arrive so as to not be inappropriately early or late.
The participants also completed the NEO-Five Factor Inventory, a reliable and valid instrument that has been used by personality researchers in many countries. To our surprise, in Estonia and Morocco, none of the Big Five personality factors predicted students’ responses to the scenarios about work-related appointments or social engagements. In the United States, highly conscientious students had somewhat stricter definitions of “early” and “late,” but the strength of the relationship was weak. Strike three.
Bottom line? It seems personality traits are generally poor predictors of arrival behavior. If companies wish to hire punctual employees, they’ll have to devise a different selection method.
Arbiol, J. M., & Billiones, H. S. (2013). The role of personality and agencies of socialization in tardiness, absenteeism and academic performance. Southeast Asian Interdisciplinary Research Journal, 1(1), 77-86.
Conte, J. M., & Jacobs, R. R. (2003). Validity evidence linking polychronicity and Big Five personality dimensions to absence, lateness, and supervisory performance ratings. Human Performance, 16, 107-129.
White, L. T., Valk, R., & Dialmy, A. (2011). What is the meaning of “on time”? The sociocultural nature of standards of punctuality. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 42(3), 482-493.