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The Interactive Effects of Conscientiousness and Agreeableness on Job Performance

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Abstract

The authors hypothesized that the relationship between conscientiousness and job performance would be stronger for persons high in agreeableness than for those low in agreeableness. Results of hierarchical moderated regression analyses for 7 independent samples of employees across diverse occupations provided support for the hypothesis in 5 of the samples. In samples supporting the hypothesis, among the highly conscientious workers, those low in agreeableness were found to receive lower ratings of job performance than workers high in agreeableness. One explanation for lack of an interaction between conscientiousness and agreeableness in the other 2 samples is that those jobs were not characterized by frequent, cooperative interactions with others. Overall, the results show that highly conscientious workers who lack interpersonal sensitivity may be ineffective, particularly in jobs requiring cooperative interchange with others.
RESEARCH REPORTS
The Interactive Effects of Conscientiousness and Agreeableness
on Job Performance
L. A. Witt
University of New Orleans
Lisa A. Burke
Louisiana State University at Shreveport
Murray R. Barrick
Michigan State University
Michael K. Mount
University of Iowa
The authors hypothesized that the relationship between conscientiousness and job performance would be
stronger for persons high in agreeableness than for those low in agreeableness. Results of hierarchical
moderated regression analyses for 7 independent samples of employees across diverse occupations
provided support for the hypothesis in 5 of the samples. In samples supporting the hypothesis, among the
highly conscientious workers, those low in agreeableness were found to receive lower ratings of job
performance than workers high in agreeableness. One explanation for lack of an interaction between
conscientiousness and agreeableness in the other 2 samples is that those jobs were not characterized by
frequent, cooperative interactions with others. Overall, the results show that highly conscientious workers
who lack interpersonal sensitivity may be ineffective, particularly in jobs requiring cooperative inter-
change with others.
In personality research, conscientiousness has been the most
consistent and universal predictor of job performance (Barrick,
Mount, & Judge, in press). Surprisingly, there is a paucity of
research examining whether a conscientious employee’s standing
on other personality traits affects how successful he or she is in the
workplace. In other words, certain personality traits may interact
with others to result in desirable, as well as undesirable, workplace
behaviors. Hogan, Hogan, and Roberts (1996) cautioned research-
ers against examining personality constructs on an individual basis
because the way in which each trait operates depends, in part, on
the pattern of other traits.
Personality and Performance
Many scholars have embraced the five-factor model of person-
ality (FFM) as a replicable and unifying taxonomy of personality
(e.g., Digman, 1990; Goldberg, 1992). This model advances con-
scientiousness, agreeableness, extraversion, emotional stability,
and openness to experience as five distinct traits that predict work
attitudes and behaviors. Meta-analytic studies have shown that
conscientiousness and emotional stability have been the most
consistent FFM predictors of performance (e.g., Barrick et al., in
press; Salgado, 1997), whereas other FFM constructs are relevant
in specific jobs or criteria. Recent primary studies have indicated
that personality tests can account for significant incremental va-
lidity beyond that accounted for by biodata (e.g., McManus &
Kelly, 1999), mental ability (McHenry, Hough, Toquam, Hanson,
& Ashworth, 1990), assessment centers (Goffin, Rothstein, &
Johnston, 1996), and interviews (e.g., Cortina, Goldstein, Payne,
Davison, & Gilliland, 2000).
Conscientiousness
Workers high in conscientiousness are predisposed to be orga-
nized, exacting, disciplined, diligent, dependable, methodical, and
purposeful. Thus, they are more likely than low-conscientiousness
workers to thoroughly and correctly perform work tasks, to take
initiative in solving problems, to remain committed to work per-
formance, to comply with policies, and to stay focused on work
tasks. Recent research has revealed that managers perceive cogni-
tive ability and conscientiousness as the most important attributes
related to applicants’ hirability (Dunn, Mount, Barrick, & Ones,
1995). Barrick et al. (in press) performed a second-order meta-
analysis of previous meta-analytic studies that examined
personality–performance relationships and reported that conscien-
tiousness was the only FFM construct to predict supervisory rat-
ings of job performance across jobs and organizations. However,
L. A. Witt, Department of Management, University of New Orleans;
Lisa A. Burke, Department of Management and Marketing, Louisiana State
University at Shreveport; Murray R. Barrick, Department of Management,
Michigan State University; Michael K. Mount, Department of Manage-
ment and Organizations, University of Iowa.
Murray R. Barrick is now at the College of Business Administration,
University of Iowa.
We presented an earlier version of this article at the 16th Annual
Conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology,
April 2001, San Diego, California.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to L. A.
Witt, Department of Management, University of New Orleans, New Or-
leans, Louisiana 70148-1560. E-mail: lwitt@uno.edu
Journal of Applied Psychology Copyright 2002 by the American Psychological Association, Inc.
2002, Vol. 87, No. 1, 164–169 0021-9010/02/$5.00 DOI: 10.1037//0021-9010.87.1.164
164
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This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.
they also reported variability in the validities of conscientiousness
across studies (
.23; 90% credibility values range from .10 to
.35). In fact, the mean observed correlations between conscien-
tiousness and performance typically hover in the low teens (e.g.,
r .10 in Salgado, 1997). The variability and the small size of the
correlations suggest the presence of moderators.
Agreeableness
Agreeableness, or likability (Hogan, 1986), refers to such traits
as selflessness, cooperativeness, helpfulness, tolerance, flexibility,
generosity, sympathy, and courtesy (Digman, 1990). Some re-
searchers have suggested that agreeableness is the primary concept
to consider in the assessment of individual differences (e.g.,
Havill, Besevegis, & Mouroussaki, 1998). However, agreeableness
seems to be most relevant to job performance in situations in
which joint action and collaboration are needed (Mount, Barrick,
& Stewart, 1998). Work contexts having a fairly high level of
interpersonal interaction require selflessness, tolerance, and flexi-
bility. Agreeable persons tend to deal with conflict cooperatively
or collaboratively, strive for common understanding, and maintain
social affiliations (Digman, 1990).
Conscientiousness Agreeableness
Limited research exists on the interaction of individual differ-
ences on performance. Most personality–performance studies have
examined the moderating influence of mental ability (e.g., Wright,
Kacmar, McMahan, & Deleeuw, 1995) or situational variables,
such as autonomy (e.g., Barrick & Mount, 1993) and organiza-
tional politics (Hochwarter, Witt, & Kacmar, 2000). Although
prior published research has stopped short of analyzing interac-
tions among personality variables (e.g., high conscientiousness in
the absence of agreeableness), support for a “constellation ap-
proach” to examine personality’s influence on work behavior is
occasionally called for in the literature (Hogan et al., 1996; Organ,
1996). In light of this gap, researchers have identified the need to
expand models of the personality–job performance relationship to
account for cross-dimensional effects of personality traits (Hogan
et al., 1996; Wright et al., 1995). However, we are unaware of any
published research on interactions among the Big Five traits in
predicting performance.
We suggest that a particularly relevant interaction effect exists
between conscientiousness and agreeableness in explaining job
performance. It has been argued that when highly conscientious
people lack interpersonal competence, dysfunctional outcomes
may result (Goleman, 1998). Recent findings in the contextual
performance literature (e.g., McManus & Kelly, 1999; Van Scotter
& Motowidlo, 1996) add empirical support to this contention.
Specifically, Kiker and Motowidlo (1999) found in a lab experi-
ment using a managerial in-basket simulation that technical effec-
tiveness pays off more in supervisory reward decisions for people
who are interpersonally effective. Logically then, this finding
suggests that workers who are technically effective (i.e., of which
conscientious is a key component) should be rated more favorably
if they also exhibit interpersonal effectiveness (i.e., agreeableness).
Perhaps it is counterintuitive to think that high levels of consci-
entiousness could in any way be associated with less effective
behaviors. Other factors being equal, individuals who are high on
conscientiousness perform better than those who are low on con-
scientiousness (Barrick & Mount, 1991). However, if other factors,
such as relevant personality traits, are not equal, individuals may
be less effective despite their high conscientiousness. For example,
when conscientious individuals are also highly disagreeable (i.e.,
vengeful, hostile, inconsiderate, uncooperative, or aloof), they are
likely to lack important interpersonal skills. As expected, low
levels of agreeableness have been associated with lower contextual
performance (McManus & Kelly, 1999; Motowidlo & Van Scot-
ter, 1994) and with antisocial or dysfunctional behaviors (Cortina,
Doherty, Schmitt, & Kaufman, 1992) in prior empirical studies.
Ultimately, highly conscientious, highly disagreeable people
may be perceived as micromanaging, unreasonably demanding,
inflexible, curt, and generally difficult to deal with, suggesting that
conscientiousness and agreeableness may interact in the prediction
of performance. Because of predispositions to work hard and
interact cooperatively with others, workers high in conscientious-
ness and agreeableness are likely to be more effective. In contrast,
without the tendency to be cooperative, considerate, and trusting
(i.e., low in agreeableness), conscientiousness will likely add little
to performance.
Hypothesis: The relationship between conscientiousness and supervi-
sory ratings of job performance is stronger among workers high in
agreeableness than among those low in agreeableness.
We attempted to provide a rigorous test of this hypothesis by
examining it across multiple diverse samples with varying occu-
pations. Specifically, we investigated the hypothesized relation-
ship by using seven samples with jobs of different content. Al-
though this interaction is likely strongest in jobs requiring
substantial cooperative interaction (because traits associated with
agreeableness are most relevant in these situations), our data were
part of larger test validation studies, thereby allowing cooperative
action to be quantified only in a post hoc fashion. Thus, we
considered this aspect of our study to be exploratory.
Method
Participants and Procedure
As part of a series of concurrent validity studies, we collected data from
employees and their supervisors in one public-sector and six private-sector
organizations. We described the purposes of the study and the procedures
to the workers and assured them that their responses would be treated
confidentially.
Sample 1. As part of a larger study (Mount, Witt, & Barrick, 2000), we
collected complete data on 371 clerical workers in a private-sector orga-
nization; 84% were women. Their functions were in support of either
internal or external customers. Their tasks required some interdependence
with their coworkers.
Sample 2. As part of a larger study (Hochwarter et al., 2000), we
collected complete data on 271 sales agents of a private-sector organiza-
tion; 70% were women. Although workers interacted primarily with ex-
ternal customers, they occasionally interacted with coworkers in a support-
ing role.
Sample 3. We collected complete data on 206 sales representatives in
a large appliance manufacturing organization. The typical participant was
male, was in his late 30s, had a college degree, and had 10 years of tenure
in the organization. The sales representatives generated sales from distrib-
utors in a well-defined geographical region. The distributors were long-
standing customers; typical interactions involved dealing with customer
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service issues as well as generating future sales. Data for 91 of these 206
subjects were previously reported in a study by Barrick, Mount, and
Strauss (1993).
Sample 4. As part of a larger study (Mount et al., 1998), we collected
complete data on 250 production workers in a manufacturing plant that
relied on work teams to organize jobs. On average, the teams had been
intact for 5 to 6 years, and members’ average tenure within the teams was 4
years. Participants were primarily male (69%), were in their mid-40s, had
at least a high school degree and some college courses, and had more
than 15 years of tenure with the plant. The teams had extensive self-
leadership responsibilities, but they were not fully self-autonomous (e.g.,
they did not make firing decisions).
Sample 5. As part of a larger study (Mount et al., 1998), we collected
complete data from 273 production workers in another manufacturing plant
organized using teams (average team tenure 5 years; average member
tenure within the teams was 3 years). The typical participant was male, was
in his early 40s, had a high school degree and some college courses, and
had more than 14 years of tenure in the firm. These teams shared leadership
responsibilities between the supervisor and the team.
Sample 6. Our public-sector data came from 146 civilian managers
participating in the U.S. Army Management Training Program (Barrick &
Mount, 1993). The participants were primarily male, college graduates, and
middle-aged. In all cases, managers were responsible for closely supervis-
ing other civilians in day-to-day operations in U.S. Army installations
located across the country. Their interactions with others were primarily
characterized by activities associated with leading, directing, and coaching
subordinates, rather than working collaboratively.
Sample 7. As part of a larger study (Barrick & Mount, 1996), we
collected complete data on 256 truck drivers in two long-haul transporta-
tion firms. The typical participant was male, was in his late 20s or early
30s, and had a high school education. Their primary duty was to drive
cross-country to deliver products. They worked alone or in dyads and had
relatively little interaction with others.
Measures
Job performance. In Samples 1 and 2, we used 10 items to assess job
performance (e.g., Sample 1: “[employee name] consistently produces the
right quantity or volume of work,” Sample 2: “[employee name] takes the
initiative to do what is needed without having to be told”). We developed
these items on the basis of job analyses performed in both organizations.
Supervisory ratings were made on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (weak or
bottom 10%)to5(best or top 10%). In Samples 3 through 7, between 8
and 11 aspects of job performance were developed, which were also based
on a job analysis of each job. The dimensions were quality of work,
quantity of work, initiative, customer communications, planning, organi-
zational commitment, job knowledge, allocation, interpersonal orientation,
self-development, and account management. Supervisory ratings were
made on a 5-point scale ranging from 1 (somewhat below)to5(consis-
tently exceeds job requirements). All items were summed to yield a total
performance score.
Personality. The 120-item Personal Characteristics Inventory (Mount
& Barrick, 1995) assessed the FFM personality constructs. The workers
rated each item on a 3-point Likert-type scale (1 disagree,3 agree).
Evidence has demonstrated its convergent validity and divergent validity
with other FFM measures (Mount, Barrick, Laffitte, & Callans, 1999).
Analyses
First, we entered scores for conscientiousness and agreeableness to
control for their main effects.
1
Then, we entered the Conscientiousness
Agreeableness cross-product term to test the hypothesis.
Results
We present descriptive statistics and reliability estimates in
Table 1 and the intercorrelation matrices in Table 2. Conscien-
tiousness (r .22, sum of N 1,738 across all seven samples)
scores were significantly related to job performance scores in all
samples (rs ranged from .16 to .28). The mean observed correla-
tion between agreeableness and supervisory ratings of perfor-
mance for the five samples (1–5) whose jobs appeared to require
substantial cooperative interaction was .15. In contrast, the sample-
size weighted, mean correlation for the two samples whose jobs
did not require cooperative interaction was .00.
Table 3 presents results of the regression analyses. In support of
the hypothesis, the addition of the Conscientiousness Agree-
ableness cross-product term at the second step was significant in
the explanation of job performance in the first five samples. It did
not add incremental variance in the U.S. Army civilian manager or
truck driver samples (Samples 6 and 7). The effect sizes (R
2
) in
Samples 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 were within the range of .01 to .03 for
moderator effects typically reported in nonexperimental studies
(Champoux & Peters, 1987).
To identify the forms of the interactions, we plotted the expla-
nation of job performance scores at the mean as well as at high and
low levels of agreeableness for each of the samples (1.0 and 1.0
standard deviations from the mean; Stone & Hollenbeck, 1989).
Consistent with expectations, the conscientiousness–job perfor-
mance relationships were stronger among workers around the
mean or at high levels of agreeableness than among workers low
in agreeableness. As an example of the form of the interactions, we
present Figure 1. It reveals that the Sample 1 workers high in both
conscientiousness and agreeableness received the highest ratings
of job performance. Specifically, agreeableness had at least a small
effect on performance among workers with conscientiousness
scores at or above 2.69 (z .11). Among the highly conscientious
workers, those who were low in agreeableness received lower
ratings of job performance than those high in agreeableness. Fi-
nally, for low-conscientious workers, agreeableness was unrelated
to ratings of performance.
Discussion
This is the first published study of which we are aware to
examine the effects of interactions among personality dimensions
on success at work. Consistent with the notion that highly consci-
entious workers without interpersonal sensitivity may be ineffec-
tive, we found that among highly conscientious workers, those
high in agreeableness received higher ratings of job performance
than those low in agreeableness across the majority of the samples.
Perhaps because highly conscientious workers tend to hold others
to their own performance and motivational standards and because
they prefer personal responsibility, they may perform ineffectively
when also uncooperative and inconsiderate of others.
1
Recognizing that general mental ability (GMA) has been shown to be
a nontrivial predictor of performance (e.g., Hunter, 1983), we included
GMA as a control variable in the regression analyses for the samples in
which it was available—Samples 1, 2, 4, and 5. Because the inclusion of
GMA had no appreciable effects on the results and because we did not
measure GMA in three of the samples, we did not report those results here.
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Even more noteworthy is the finding that supervisors viewed
conscientious workers with low levels of agreeableness as per-
forming at lower levels than conscientious workers with high
levels of agreeableness. This finding suggests caution in relying on
bivariate personality–performance research to support employee
selection decisions. Therefore, we advocate that personality re-
searchers begin to consider an interactive profile approach when
analyzing the FFM and its influence on employee work outcomes.
Confidence in our contribution stems from two strengths of
this study. First, we found a consistent conscientiousness–
agreeableness interaction across five different samples, providing
some evidence of replication as advocated by Golding (1975).
Second, our measures of job performance were based on job
analyses and thus were organizationally relevant.
However, the hypothesized interaction was not found in all
samples. One explanation for this finding is that the posited inter-
action may be influenced by the characteristics of the job. There
are certain jobs in which substantial interaction with others and
cooperation are critical for success at work. In other jobs, there is
little need for social dealings, or the nature of the interactions with
others is not primarily cooperative. Careful examination of our
samples indicated that the first five jobs (interdependent clerical
Table 1
Means, Standard Deviations, and Reliability Estimates
Sample Job performance Conscientiousness Agreeableness Interaction
Sample 1
M 3.28 2.79 2.63 7.14
SD 0.82 0.19 0.27 1.01
Reliability estimate 0.87 0.78 0.79
Sample 2
M 3.13 2.66 2.65 7.08
SD 0.75 0.23 0.31 1.20
Reliability estimate 0.91 0.74 0.77
Sample 3
M 1.65 2.60 2.57 6.68
SD 0.70 0.23 0.23 0.87
Reliability estimate 0.78 0.84 0.71
Sample 4
M 3.40 2.59 2.49 6.49
SD 0.86 0.29 0.36 1.36
Reliability estimate 0.84 0.86 0.80
Sample 5
M 3.50 2.62 2.51 6.62
SD 0.84 0.29 0.35 1.36
Reliability estimate 0.80 0.87 0.82
Sample 6
M 81.56 2.48 2.49 6.20
SD 13.59 0.32 0.31 1.17
Reliability estimate 0.88 0.89 0.67
Sample 7
M 2.28 2.65 2.51 6.69
SD 0.65 0.28 0.37 1.32
Reliability estimate 0.79 0.87 0.82
Note. The reliability estimates are alphas.
Table 2
Intercorrelation Matrices
Variable
Sample 1/2 Sample 3/4 Sample 5/6 Sample 7
1234123412341234
1. Job performance .16** .12* .17* .16** .28** .28** .24** .01 .17*
2. Conscientiousness .28** .44** .79** .24** .40** .78** .17** .17* .78* .27**
3. Agreeableness .06 .38** .89** .05 .07 .88** .28** .37** .74* .00 .40**
4. Interaction .18** .74** .89** .20** .73** .73** .28** .77** .87** .14* .78** .88**
Note. Correlations between the conscientiousness–agreeableness interaction measure and all other variables have not been reported before. Zero-order
correlations were previously reported in Mount et al. (1998; Samples 4 and 5), Barrick and Mount (1993; Sample 6), and Barrick and Mount (1996; Sample
7). For Sample 1/2, the correlations for Sample 1 are below the diagonal, and the correlations for Sample 2 are above the diagonal. For Sample 3/4, the
correlations for Sample 3 are below the diagonal, and the correlations for Sample 4 are above the diagonal. For Sample 5/6, the correlations for Sample 5
are below the diagonal, and the correlations for Sample 6 are above the diagonal.
* p .05. ** p .01.
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workers, sales representatives with long-term customer relations,
and production workers whose work was organized into teams)
can be characterized as having substantial social interaction re-
quiring cooperation and collaboration. Consistent with this reason-
ing, significant conscientiousness–agreeableness interactions were
found in all five of these samples. Although not definitive, these
results suggest that disagreeable people are likely to be particularly
ineffective in such work contexts. In contrast, the present findings
suggest that the conscientiousness–agreeableness interaction is
likely to have less of an impact on performance when frequent
interaction with others is not an important part of the job (e.g.,
cross-country truck drivers) or when the nature of the interactions
is characterized by leading, supervising, delegating to, and coach-
ing others (as with managers). Indeed, research suggests that the
best managers tend to be low in the need to be liked and accepted
by others (Boyatzis, 1984). It might, therefore, be useful for future
researchers to examine the importance of interpersonal relations
(particularly when cooperation and collaboration are required) in
the interaction between conscientiousness and agreeableness in
work settings.
Implications for Practice
Although evidence suggests that conscientiousness is the con-
struct in the FFM that most consistently predicts job performance
(e.g., Barrick et al., in press), the present results suggest that
selection criteria should also consider the relevance of agreeable-
ness among workers who are high in conscientiousness. High
levels of agreeableness appear to give conscientious workers the
boost necessary to be effective in the workplace, particularly when
interaction or joint collaboration is necessary. More important, low
levels of agreeableness canceled the positive effect of conscien-
tiousness on job performance. Consequently, staffing specialists
using only conscientiousness, and thus hiring candidates high in
conscientiousness, may actually be inhibiting organizational effec-
tiveness when hiring those who are also low in agreeableness.
As organizations become more organic and flexible, which is
likely to promote “weaker situations” (Mischel, 1977), the influ-
ence of employees’ personalities on organizational outcomes is
likely to become even more pronounced. Therefore, research ef-
forts to identify interactions that predict preferred work behaviors
might have increasing utility.
Directions for Future Research
We suggest three areas for possible future research. First, further
replication is needed to determine how the findings reported here
correspond to the results of studies conducted in other work
environments. In particular, we believe that the degree of cooper-
ative interaction required to perform a job is an important variable
that affects the Conscientiousness Agreeableness interaction.
Research that investigates the boundary conditions of this variable
would be helpful. Second, efforts that directly assess social skill by
using construct valid measures may provide a more robust test of
Figure 1. Job performance regressed on conscientiousness scores: low-,
average- (avg), and high-agreeableness groups from Sample 1. Y (2.82
1.72f)X (3.18f 10.06). Low score equals one standard deviation
below the mean; high score equals one standard deviation above the mean.
Only scores plus or minus one standard deviation from the mean of
conscientiousness scores are plotted.
Table 3
Multiple Regression Results
Predictor
Sample 1 Sample 2 Sample 3 Sample 4 Sample 5 Sample 6 Sample 7
Step 1
Conscientiousness 0.72 0.88† 1.01 0.81* 0.46 0.41 0.05
Agreeableness 1.59* 1.31* 1.20 0.87* 0.47 0.13 0.50
R
2
.08** .03* .06* .08* .07* .06* .09*
Adjusted R
2
.08** .02* .05* .07* .06* .04* .08*
Step 2
Cross-product 2.14* 2.04* 1.82* 1.69* 1.04* 0.25 0.54
R
2
.09** .05** .07* .11* .08* .06* .09*
Adjusted R
2
.09** .04** .06* .09* .07* .04* .08*
R
2
.01* .02* .01* .02* .01* .00 .00
Note. The standardized betas presented are those derived at the second step.
p .10. * p .05. ** p .01.
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our argument. Third, researchers may find it useful to examine the
interactive effects of FFM variables on other work outcomes, such
as merit increases, career progression, and turnover. These results
suggest that researchers might find it helpful to consider the full
constellation of personality characteristics to enhance psycholog-
ical theory and practice.
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Received September 6, 2000
Revision received February 24, 2001
Accepted February 25, 2001
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