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The influence of work on personality trait development: The Demands-Affordances TrAnsactional (DATA) model, an integrative review, and research agenda



Although personality is typically conceptualized in industrial, organizational, and vocational psychology as enduring and stable, an increasing volume of research now shows that personality changes throughout the lifespan, with work being a potentially important influence of trait development. This paper reviews and integrates the emergent literature in this area, and in doing so proposes a new Demands-Affordances TrAnsactional (DATA) model of personality development at work, against which research is evaluated. This DATA model clarifies how personality-related behavior at work is called upon by work demands at four different levels (vocation, job, group and organization) and proposes Person-Environment (PE) fit as the main guiding mechanism for personality trait change at work. Drawing on this model, we develop a predictive framework of work demands that influence personality and outline eight core questions to advance this field.
The Influence of Work on Personality Trait Development: The Demands-Affordances
TrAnsactional (DATA) Model, an Integrative Review, and Research Agenda
Stephen A. Woods PhD
University of Surrey
Bart Wille PhD
Ghent University
Chia-huei Wu PhD
London School of Economics and Political Science
Filip Lievens PhD & Filip De Fruyt PhD
Ghent University
Address for Correspondence:
Professor Stephen A. Woods PhD
Surrey Business School
University of Surrey
Guildford, Surrey
The Influence of Work on Personality Trait Development: The Demands-Affordances
TrAnsactional (DATA) Model, an Integrative Review, and Research Agenda
Although personality is typically conceptualised in industrial, organizational, and
vocational psychology as enduring and stable, an increasing volume of research now shows
that personality changes throughout the lifespan, with work being a potentially important
influence of trait development. This paper reviews and integrates the emergent literature in
this area, and in doing so proposes a new Demands-Affordances TrAnsactional (DATA)
model of personality development at work, against which research is evaluated. This DATA
model clarifies how personality-related behavior at work is called upon by work demands at
four different levels (vocation, job, group and organization) and proposes Person-
Environment (PE) fit as the main guiding mechanism for personality trait change at work.
Drawing on this model, we develop a predictive framework of work demands that influence
personality and outline eight core questions to advance this field.
Keywords: Personality change, Personality development, Demands-Affordances
TrAnsactional (DATA) Model, PE fit, Work environment.
1. Introduction
Personality, the relatively enduring pattern of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that
distinguish individuals from one another, has been widely used to understand individual
differences in work performance and career outcomes. Although personality is often assumed
to be stable and static, studies have shown that personality can change, even in adulthood (see
Lodi-Smith & Roberts, 2007; Roberts & Mroczek, 2008, for reviews; Roberts, Walton, &
Viechtbauer, 2006). Following the idea of social investment theory (Roberts, Wood, &
Smith, 2005), work environment and experiences have been theorized as a key source for
personality change because work is a major part of adult life, and work
environment/experiences can shape one's values, social roles, and activities on a daily basis
(Frese, 1982). Hence, a growing number of longitudinal studies have been conducted to
understand the role of work in shaping personality development. Generally, these studies
provide evidence supporting the importance of work in shaping trait change. Moreover,
research has indicated that work experiences can explain personality development
phenomena that neither a biological perspective (i.e., intrinsic maturation of personality
traits) nor other major life experiences, such as marriage, can explain (Bleidorn et al., 2013).
However, there is great variability in the type of work environments, the
psychological conditions under which workers are required to function, and the reward
structures that these environments create. These differences between work environments can
drive personality change to different directions. This diversity of what one understands under
“work” has led to a diffused, and poorly integrated understanding of the role of work in
shaping personality change.
The purpose of the current paper is therefore to review, integrate, and evaluate the
literature on personality change at work, in order to develop an explanatory framework of the
mechanisms of personality development, with an end goal to guide future research directions.
A significant barrier to the integration of studies in this area is the absence of a coherent
explanatory framework that is inclusive in the sense that it captures all relevant variables that
have been studied, and those that could be considered salient for trait change at work.
Accordingly, we present such a framework in our review, the Demands-Affordances
TrAnsactional (DATA) model, drawing on a number of conceptual and theoretical sources.
Our framework integrates theoretical and conceptual models from studies of personality
change at work, and literatures from Industrial/Organizational and personality and social
psychology. It serves both descriptive and explanatory functions. The DATA model firstly
allows explication of mechanisms of change, and a multi-level taxonomic approach to
organizing work factors that could prompt trait development, drawing on the concept of
Person-Environment (PE) fit. Secondly, by classifying work factors around a coherent PE fit
taxonomy, we are subsequently able to organize the emergent literature so as to evaluate its
comprehensiveness to date and point towards future directions of research.
2. The Demands-Affordances TrAnsactional (DATA) model of personality development
at work
The lack of an integrating explanatory framework that facilitates understanding and
prediction of work effects on personality is.a significant gap in the literature on personality
development at work.We propose the DATA model as a solution to this gap (see Figure 1).
There are three main elements in the framework: Demands, Affordances and Demand-
Affordance Transactions. Demands and Affordances are descriptive elements. The Demands
element represents all of the situational or work-oriented factors that define the external
environment of work. Affordances represent individual personality attributes and
characteristics that are activated or required to respond or deal with the demands of the
environment (i.e. in the context of personality, what traits does a work demand call for?).
Based on the focus of the model on personality development, this affordances category
comprises traits at various levels of breadth versus specificity, and we conceptualize traits as
affecting, and being affected by other elements of the model. The third element of the model
is Demand-Affordance Transactions, an explanatory element. We propose that this
transaction reflects a process initially triggered by the activation of affordances (traits)
against work demands and then, motivated by the attainment of desirable work outcomes
(e.g. reward, satisfaction), operated to achieve fit between affordances (traits) and demands.
Such transaction should be determined by the levels of consistency between affordances
(traits) and work demands as lower consistency should trigger a stronger developmental
process to approach fit.
The result of the transaction is ultimately expression of behavior, which reciprocally
affects demands and affordances. We complete the elements of the DATA model by
including a motivational element based on goal formation driven independently by both
demands and affordances.
A final general aspect of the framework is its dynamic nature. That is, we conceptualize
all parts of the model to be in a dynamic state, interacting with one another. As personality is
also conceptualized as dynamic, our model places personality development within this wider
and fuller demands-affordances framework.
2.1. Demands
Work demands in the model are organized into the four main levels of PE fit, namely
job, vocational, team/group, and organizational (Su & Rounds, 2015). Each of these levels is
elaborated further with respect to the literature that has examined the influence of each on
personality trait development and change. However, consistent with theories of personality
and performance (e.g. Trait Activation Theory; Tett & Burnett, 2003), we emphasize that
affordances may be activated by micro- and macro-level features of the work environment.
That is, people’s traits may be activated and developed in response to features of the work or
occupation, as well as the features of the context (i.e. team and organization) in which work
is carried out. We expand on each of these levels in greater depth in our review of the
literature on trait change at work.
2.2. Affordances
Affordances in our proposed explanatory model represent the psychological and
behavioral responses to demands. Situations experienced in the context of working life call
on people’s personal resources. For example, consider the demands of managing a project at
work, which may call upon a variety of organizational skills and associated behaviours, as
well as effectiveness in the management of staff and stakeholders. On one hand, the personal
resources may comprise a variety of personal attributes such as skills, knowledge, abilities
and so forth. However, for the purposes of the DATA model of personality development at
work, our focus is on how demands call upon personality traits as personal resources. Studies
of personality and job performance have long established the demand-salience of different
traits (e.g. Hogan & Holland, 2003; Bartram, 2005; Judge & Zappata, 2015), and traits have
also been treated as personal resources for deployment in relevant situations (see Russell,
Woods & Banks, 2016; Gorgievski, Halbesleben, & Bakker, 2011). More recently, studies
establishing the taxonomic structure of situations have incorporated the notion of personality
affordances as a foundation of those models (see e.g. the DIAMONDS model, Rauthmann et
al., 2014; CAPTION model, Parrigon et al., 2017). Importantly, when the goal is to examine
the effect of work on personality development, the conceptualization of a personality trait
needs to incorporate change in addition to (cross-situational) stability.
Indeed, the most common conceptualization of personality in industrial, work and
vocational psychology is one in which traits, as instantiated in the Big Five/HEXACO
models, describe individuals’ positions or levels on each of the five or six broad dimensions
or their more specific underlying facets. These trait levels describe how people think, behave
or feel on average; that is, across varying situations at work. More recent approaches to
personality, however, increasingly consider how individual differences in traits are manifest
in moment-to-moment behaviors at work (e.g., Debusscher, Hofmans, & De Fruyt, 2017).
Whole Trait Theory (Fleeson & Jayawickreme, 2015), for instance, proposes a density
distributions approach to trait descriptions in which individuals’ personality states are
expected to deviate regularly and predictably from the average personality trait level. This
approach arguably provides a fuller account of how individual differences are manifested in
actual behavior, and how the expression of trait-relevant behavior is influenced by
characteristics (or demands) from the environment, including work. Such a perspective on
personality aligns better with our view on traits as affordances.
Applying the logic of Trait Activation Theory (Tett & Burnett, 2003), work demands
are proposed to differentially activate personality traits, bringing them into a process of
development explained by the broader mechanisms of the model. The specificity of the
activation can be differentiated in two ways. That is, demands may be related to specific Big
Five domain areas (i.e. social demands related to Extraversion; intellectual demands related
to Openness) and hence be differentiated across the defining categories of taxonomic models
of traits. Secondly, demands may impact along various levels of the trait hierarchy
(bandwidth). Whilst some demands may activate traits at a broad level of abstraction (e.g.
Extraversion), others may act on narrower personality facets (e.g. sociability versus
dominance facets of Extraversion), effectively differentiated through the hierarchy of
personality traits.
A final consideration in respect of affordances concerns the interplay of personality
traits and other individual attributes such as knowledge, skills and abilities. In the theory of
work adjustment, learning new skills or adjusting attitudes is a potential response to
environment misfit (Dawis & Lofquist, 1987). Such strategies for adjustment could
conceivably influence traits. For example, improving interpersonal skills and practising them
could lead to development of social poise or sociability more generally, elements of
Extraversion (Woods & Anderson, 2016). Moreover, there are possible longer-term
interactions between classes of affordances, for example the interplay of Openness/Intellect
and cognitive ability as proposed in investment perspectives on personality and intelligence
(see e.g. Woods, Hinton & Von Stumm, 2017). A full elaboration of these mechanisms is
outside the bounds of this review paper, yet it remains important to recognise that traits exist
as affordances at work alongside multiple individual characteristics and attributes.
2.3. Transaction
At the centre of the explanatory model is the transaction between demands and
affordances leading to behavior. The transaction represents a psychological exchange
between perceptions of the demands of the work situation and the deployment of resources to
meet those demands. The concept of a transaction or exchange between person and
environment has been proposed to help understand and frame personality development
influences of major life events (Denissen, Luhmann, Chung & Bleidorn, 2018), and career
experiences (Wille & DeFruyt, 2012). It is both a relevant and helpful foundation for
modelling the developmental effects of environments on traits because it is implicitly
recognized that the nature of any transaction is dependent upon what each side contributes;
the unique combination of the person and their profile of traits, with their work environment
influence the developmental track that results. The aforementioned studies provide a basis for
proposing the transactional nature of personality change based on environment factors.
However, our conceptualisation of transaction advances its place in personality
development processes in two important ways. First, we assume that transactions occur
continuously through working life. Rather than focus on significant major events, or discrete
work choices, we rather see regular, micro-transactions with aspects of work as building to
shape personality traits over time (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017). Second, we propose a guiding
directional mechanism. Our main proposition is that people seek to respond in ways that
promote or increase fit with the demands they perceive and encounter at work. Consistent
with our multilevel approach to work demands, this comprises the fit between a person’s
characteristics and work characteristics at the level of the job (i.e., PJ fit; the extent to which
an individual possesses traits to perform tasks required in a job), the vocation (i.e., PV fit; the
extent to which an individual possesses traits that are consistent with the vocational
characteristics), the group (i.e., PG fit; the extent to which an individual possesses traits that
are consistent with traits possessed by other group members, or complementary to other
members in meeting team functional demands), and the organization (i.e., PO fit; the extent
to which an individual possesses traits that are congruent to organizational characteristics).
PE fit has a long history in work, organizational and vocational psychology, originating
as early as the first years of the twentieth century in the work of Parsons (1909). Since then,
the consequential properties of PE fit have been established (e.g. Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman
& Johnson, 2005). Attaining better PE fit at work seems to be an important determinant of,
for example satisfaction and performance. However, beyond these empirical effects of PE fit,
its explanatory function has been utilised in multiple theories relevant to the study of personal
and trait development. For example, at a career level, Super (1990) emphasises the long-term
career developmental trajectories as people optimize their fit to self-concept. At an
organizational level, Schneider’s ASA model elaborates how people are attracted to specific
kinds of organizational cultures, selecting into those congruent environments. A further
development of this model was proposed by Roberts (2006) in the ASTMA model,
specifically considering the reciprocal influence of organizational features on the person.
Theory has also considered the motivational properties of misfit. In the theory of work
adjustment, misfit is proposed to prompt action to restore fit, which may itself be considered
adaptive given the negative psychological consequences of work situations where personal
resources are insufficient to deal with demands (e.g. the job-demands resources model;
Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). In sum, while PE fit is the central guiding concept of our DATA
model, the attainment of associated positive consequences of fit (e.g. satisfaction, work
happiness and engagement) are also viable outcomes of personality development
2.3.1. Developmental Mechanisms. To further elaborate how discrete interactions
between demands and affordances can evoke a transactional development process resulting in
fit, we offer an integrative perspective by incorporating different ideas in the literature. First,
based on the idea of reciprocity suggested in social learning theory (Bandura, 1977), person,
environment, and behavior can shape each other in a dynamic reciprocal way. This classical
learning theory highlights how repeated experience of environmental demands, processed
through cognitive and affective reactions resulting in behavior, and observation of behavioral
consequences, leads to typical, characteristic response patterns. Through such processes,
traits may become refined, strengthened or modified based to fit situational demands,
providing a theoretical foundation to examine personality change under the interactions
between demands and affordances.
Then, depending on the initial consistency between demands and affordances, two
different mechanisms may operate to achieve fit between demands and affordances by
shaping one’s behavior. First, the corresponsive mechanism theorised by Roberts and
colleagues (e.g. Roberts et al., 2003) proposes that people select-in to environments that fit
their traits, and that the corresponding activation and expression of those traits serves to
strengthen and deepen them. The developmental process in the model is the activation and
expression of traits in ways that serve to reinforce and deepen them. For example, in a busy
customer-facing environment, sociability is likely to be an advantage for performing key job
tasks. By this pathway, for highly sociable workers, the activation and expression of this trait
would serve to strengthen and deepen it.
However, development may also be prompted in situations where traits are a misfit for
demands, suggesting an alternative mechanism. In this scenario, what a situation calls for
may be different from the typical ways of responding associated with a person’s traits,
evoking an adjustment mechanism. Trait Activation Theory (Tett & Burnett, 2003)
incorporates moderation of trait-behavior pathways by extrinsic and intrinsic job rewards,
recognizing that people may be motivated to behave counter to their traits to attain certain
pecuniary or non-pecuniary (e.g. satisfaction, well-being) benefits of work. Imagine a person
in the example above, who is low on sociability (e.g. shy or socially reserved). Their typical
social style may be incompatible with effective performance of duties. Therefore, to attain the
benefits of the job, they may need to act in ways that are counter-typical to their traits.
The theory of work adjustment describes how people respond to the demands of their
work by acting on themselves to develop skills, adapt behavior and change attitudes (Dawis
& Lofquist, 1984). In simple terms, if traits are not a fit for demands, then development may
be prompted so that appropriate behavior is deployed in response (Su, Murdock & Rounds,
2015). Through learning processes, such new behavior becomes strengthened, practiced and
more autonomous as it is deployed across similar and consistent work demands and
situations. In time, this reinforcement is a likely mechanism through which personality
develops. Again, the direction of development is towards increasing PE fit.
No matter which (i.e., corresponsive or adjustment) mechanism is operated to achieve
fit between demands and affordances, the long term personality trait development should be
based on accumulated short-term or micro person-work environment transactions, which can
be understood from the recently developed TESSERA framework (Wrzus & Roberts, 2017).
Specifically, the TESSERA model posits that long-term personality development occurs due
to repeated short-term, situational episodes and processes. These short-term processes can be
generalized as recursive sequences of Triggering situations, Expectancy, States/State
Expressions, and ReActions. Triggering situations that are salient for personality traits at
work, when combined with performance demands that shape required behavior in those
situations, and long-term tenure in jobs and careers, could conceivably explain long-term
patterns of personality growth and change in adulthood (i.e., continuity and lasting changes in
personality characteristics and behavioral patterns). Overall, in our DATA model, we suggest
that transactions between demands and affordances drive a process through which personality
traits develop in response to work demands. Depending on the initial levels of consistency
between demands and affordances, a corresponsive or an adjustment mechanism will be
operated to strengthen the fit between demands and affordances through repeated and
accumulated transactions over time.
2.4. Behavior: the result of the demands-affordance transaction
The preceding discussion has presented a demands-affordance transactional mechanism
as a key process through which personality traits develop in response to work demands.
Behavior at work assumes an important role and is the product of the transaction (path a in
Figure 1). The directional influence of PE fit strengthening leads to behavior being the
product of both the unique make up of psychological resources of the person, and the
demands that their work environment presents. However, as in social learning theory,
behavior also exerts a reciprocal effect on both demands and affordances. On one hand,
behavior naturally affects the work environment in various ways, shaping future work
demands (path b in Figure 1). On the other hand, as behavior becomes more practiced,
automatic and habitual, individual skills and competencies are developed, and traits modified,
strengthened and refined (path c in Figure 1). In our example of demands-affordances misfit
above (i.e. a person low on sociability working in a busy customer-facing environment),
repeated job-related sociable behaviour (e.g. interacting with customers, initiating
communication, talking warmly etc) could in time lead to development of higher trait
sociability. The association of behavioural change with subsequent personality trait change
along these lines has been evidenced in recent research on development interventions (see
Hudson, Briley, Chopik, & Derringer, 2018).
2.5. Goals
A final element of our proposed explanatory model of personality development at work
is the role of goals and motivation as inputs into the demands-affordance transaction. The
importance of motivation is underlined in general perspectives on personality development in
adulthood, as well as in Trait Activation Theory.
The corresponsive mechanism (Roberts, Caspi, & Moffitt, 2003) of personality
development proposes that personality traits lead people to select into environments or take
decisions that enable pursuit of trait-relevant goals. An example is the pursuit of close and
positive relationships or pro-social goals by people higher on Agreeableness. Pursuit of those
goals correspondingly strengthens and deepens those same traits (e.g. see Woods, Lievens,
De Fruyt & Wille, 2013). A similar motivational mechanism at work is presented in the
Theory of Purposeful Work Behaviour (Barrick, Mount, & Li, 2013). The theory proposes a
directional influence of traits on behavior through the process of striving for superordinate
goals. One motivational mechanism is therefore from the affordance side of our model (paths
f and g in Figure 1): that personality traits as individual characteristics direct the general
direction of work behavior toward attainment of personally salient goals. This may affect, for
example, how different people respond to similar work demands.
Work as a context for personality trait development, however, also introduces
motivational factors from the environment demands side of the model (paths d and e). As
highlighted earlier, Trait Activation Theory positions extrinsic and intrinsic rewards as
factors determining or regulating the expression of traits in behavior. When responding to
work demands, people’s actions result from a complex set of cognitive evaluations. These
comprise perceptions of the situation and psychological features of demands, and associated
affordances. Where traits and individual resources are judged to be inconsistent with work
demands, a process of adjustment is invoked to respond in a way counter to one’s typical
style or behaviour. The motivation to respond in such a way (in effect to act counter to
personality traits) is reinforced by the rewards that work brings. In order to obtain the benefits
of work, one must deliver required standards of performance, regardless of whether those
standards are consistent with preferred ways of behaving (e.g., the low Conscientious person
who is required to be organized and systematic in their administration work).
Perhaps most interesting is when traits may interact to influence goals in different
ways. In the example above, a person low on Conscientiousness may need to act in an
organised manner to gain progression or promotion. However, the extent to which that
outcome is desirable may itself be dependent on other traits such as ambition and
achievement orientation.
2.6. Developing an explanatory framework of work demands that influence
We propose that to date, an explanatory framework of work demands that influence
personality development is elusive in part because taxonomies of work demands are highly
descriptive in that they describe what people are required to do, or the environments they
experience, or the KSAOs that are needed to perform. However, there exists no systematic
approach to examining underlying taxonomic structures through a person-environment
interactional lens.
In our explanatory model, traits develop because they represent affordances to deal with
situational work demands. Logically, to develop an integrated understanding and taxonomy
of work demands that affect personality development, those demands must be classified not
only on their level of specificity in terms of characterizing job, vocation, group and
organization, but also based on their salience to personality traits. The proposition that
different traits are more or less relevant to different job performance requirements is well-
established in theories of trait-behavior relations at work (e.g. Trait Activation Theory) and
criterion validity studies (e.g. Hogan & Holland, 2003; Judge & Zappata, 2015). By
establishing the salience of a work demand to specific trait affordances, it should be possible
to facilitate prediction of which traits are likely to develop in response to the experience of
specific demands. Simply put for example, at the vocational level, the salience of RIASEC
artistic and investigative occupation environments for Openness/Intellect (e.g. Woods &
Hampson, 2010), provides a basis for predicting that the demands-affordance transaction
process, directed toward greater PV fit, would serve to increase Openness/Intellect for people
working in highly artistic or investigative occupations.
The DATA model enables a review of the literature to classify and organize studies
vertically based on the level of demands (i.e. vocational, job, , group or organizational
characteristics), and horizontally across traits based on their salience as affordances for the
demands. In the latter case, the Big Five represent a parsimonious initial classification
system, although we recognize that specific demands may also be associated with narrower
facets of personality.
3. Personality development and work demands: A structured review of the literature
Our review of the literature is structured around the four levels of work demands and
their associated measures of PE fit. Within each section, we identify where work demand
factors have been associated with change in specific personality traits. Based on our
explanatory model, these specific relations contribute to building an understanding of how
traits act as affordances for work environment demands. Below we first introduce the four
sources of demands at work towards which people develop. These demands were deliberately
selected because of their connection to the central explanatory process in this framework,
namely PE fit (Su, Murdoch & Rounds, 2015). More specifically, job-, vocation-, group, and
organization-level demands have been used in the literature as relevant categories to
distinguish between different levels of fit at work (Kristof Brown, Jansen, & Colbert, 2002).
In each case, we highlight how the demands associated with each level of fit could be
conceptualised, providing direction towards the objective of a descriptive taxonomy of work
factors affecting personality traits, and outline what the literature has already offered with
respect to empirical research into their developmental influences. With respect to the latter
point, we emphasize that our model serves both descriptive-integrative (i.e. summarising
findings of the literature to date) and predictive-prospective functions (i.e. proposing a
coherent model of work factors that conceptually could influence trait development, yet have
not been studied to date). All studies reviewed in this section are integrated in Table 1 where
different work demand factors are defined and previously identified demand-affordance
transactions are summarized.
3.1. Job characteristics and features
In the context of PE fit, jobs have been identified by Kristof (1996) as “the tasks a
person is expected to accomplish in exchange for employment, as well as characteristics of
those tasks” (p. 8). In our DATA model, we classify job-level demands as specifically the
tasks and activities required of a person in the attainment of their job requirements and the
general ways in which they are characterized (e.g. the extent to which a person has autonomy
in deciding how to perform tasks).
To elaborate further, existing job-based demand models describe features or
characteristics of work at various levels of specificity. The Job Characteristics Model
(Hackman & Oldham, 1980) for example, describes key psychologically relevant workplace
features, namely skill variety (i.e., the range of tasks performed, and skills called upon doing
so), task identity (i.e., the ability to complete the whole job from start to finish), task
significance (i.e., the impact of the job on others), autonomy (i.e., the extent of discretion and
freedom an employee has over his or her tasks), and feedback (i.e., the extent to which the job
provides the employee with information about the effectiveness of his or her performance).
Task characteristics are a more complex prospect to profile given their evident job-
specificity. Unlike the job characteristics model, a description of job tasks should represent a
functional specification of the work to be done rather than the deeper psychological profiling
of the nature of the work. At this advanced level of specificity, one illustrative example and
means of taxonomizing task demands is the O*NET content model (Peterson, Mumford,
Borman, Jeanneret, & Fleishman, 2001), which includes detailed descriptions of the tasks and
features associated with jobs within occupational categories. For example, the taxonomy
describes generalized work activities, and specific work tasks, profiling in a more direct way
what a job actually entails in terms of work to be done. Moreover, O*NET also provides
some translation of work demands to statements of general work styles that are needed to
meet those demands, providing a potentially useful heuristic for linking demands and
affordances. We return specifically to this point in our discussion section of the review.
3.1.1. Research on personality development in response to job characteristics and
PJ fit has been one of the most commonly studied levels of PE fit due to the tremendous
amount of attention directed toward the selection of applicants based on his or her skills to fill
available positions. The bulk of research on reciprocal relationships between personality and
work environments has focused on this level of analysis. That is, a series of studies have
looked at how personality predicts and is predicted by job-level characteristics (see Table 1).
Whereas some studies included (only) a select set of isolated job characteristics, others
considered established frameworks of integrated job characteristics such as the Job
Characteristics Model and the Job Demand-Control Model.
Mortimer and Lorence (1979) were among the first to study job-level work content in
relation to personality development over time. They observed that a sense of competence (or
self-efficacy) prior to labor force entry, positively predicted future work autonomy.
Moreover, those who experienced greater autonomy in work increased in competence across
the next ten years. A seminal study by Roberts, Caspi and Moffitt (2003) extended these
results by investigating the reciprocal relationships between four personality traits (constraint,
negative emotionality, agentic positive emotionality, and communal positive emotionality)
and a “comprehensive battery of work experiences”, including job characteristics such as
resource power, work autonomy and work stimulation (see Table 1). There was ample
support for predictive relationships between personality traits (age 18) and later work
experiences (age 26). For instance, adolescents who scored higher on negative emotionality
experienced a turbulent and rather unsuccessful transition into the world of work, as indicated
by lower prestige jobs, reduced work satisfaction and financial insecurity; adolescents who
scored high on the communal component of positive emotionality (i.e. an orientation to
interpersonal relationships and the tendency to experience positive affect in such settings) had
the opposite experience. Importantly, two job characteristics at age 26 also explained part of
the change in personality, particularly positive emotionality. More specifically, higher levels
of work stimulation and autonomy at age 26 explained relative increases in this trait between
age 18 and 26.
Le, Donnellan, and Conger (2014) replicated and extended these findings by examining
the reciprocal relationships between these same personality variables and a broader range of
“work conditions” which included measures of fit, self-determination, ease, material benefits
and job safety/quality (see Table 1). Similar to Roberts et al. (2003), job characteristics were
related to changes in personality, and these effects were also replicated when parent reports
were used instead of self-reports of personality. In particular, individuals who reported that
their jobs did not allow them to use their skills, were stressful and less fitting, did not provide
a secure working environment, and were lower quality and involved some level of danger,
increased in negative emotionality across time.
Other research has adopted more integrated and established models of job
characteristics. One of the earliest examples of this tradition is a study by Brousseau and
Prince (1981) which used the Job Characteristics Model (Hackman & Oldham, 1976) to
assess an integrated set of psychologically relevant workplace features: skill variety, task
identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback (see Table 1) in a single-company sample
of engineers, scientists and managers. Skill variety, task identity and task significance were
related to increases in emotional stability (or decreases in Neuroticism) over a time period of
7 years. Having a job which has a profound impact on other’s lives was also related to
increases in social dominance (i.e. an aspect of Extraversion).
Complementing these results, two studies investigated reciprocity between Big Five
personality and the Job Demand-Control Model (JDCM; Karasek, 1979). The JDCM
describes work environments along four independent dimensions thought to predict work
stress: Decision latitude, psychological demands, physical demands and hazardous work (see
Table 1). Sutin and Costa (2010) investigated reciprocal relationships between JDCM job
characteristics and Big Five personality traits over a 10-year time interval. Baseline
personality was associated with changes in job characteristics, particularly decision latitude.
More specifically, participants high in neuroticism decreased in decision making latitude,
whereas extraverted, open, and particularly conscientious participants at baseline reported
more decision making latitude at the 10-year follow-up. Importantly, none of the job
characteristics predicted change in personality at the factor level. These authors concluded
that personality shaped job characteristics, but occupational experiences had minimal impact
on personality.
However, using the same JDCM, Wu (2016) showed that time demand and job control
(i.e. a combination of decision-making autonomy, work-methods autonomy and work-
scheduling autonomy) shaped job stress at a given time; and over time, an increase in time
demand predicted an increase in job stress, which subsequently predicted an increase in
Neuroticism, and a decrease in Extraversion and Conscientiousness. In addition, an increase
in job control predicted an increase in Agreeableness, Conscientiousness and Openness
directly, but did not predict changes in Neuroticism and Extraversion. This study concluded
that work conditions can be important drivers of personality change, and job stress was
identified as a key feature underlying changes in extraversion and neuroticism in particular.
In summary, our review indicates that a substantial number of studies has investigated
reciprocal relationships between personality development and job characteristics, and that the
plethora of these work demands are distilled from frameworks which describe work in terms
of stressors and/or resources. This explains why most of the predictive effects from work to
personality development have been found for the trait Neuroticism (or Negative
Emotionality), given that this is the personal attribute most related to stress. We propose that,
to more comprehensively understand the predictive effects from jobs to personality
development, greater variability in job characteristics is needed. More specifically, future
research needs to consider job characteristics that better capture what people actually (need
to) do in their jobs. So, greater consideration of work content is needed. We return to this
point in our discussion section of the review.
3.2. Vocational characteristics
Vocational characteristics describe work environments at a high level of abstraction.
More specifically, work demands conceptualized at this level relate to higher-order
motivational structures (e.g., values, goals, personality and interests) which differ
substantially across occupations and pose very different requirements to people in these
occupations. For instance, Holland’s taxonomy of occupational characteristics and interests
(Holland, 1985) is among the most frequently studied models in vocational psychology
(Nauta, 2010), and describes six occupational environments (i.e., Realistic, Investigative,
Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional) that pose very different requirements to
individual employees, which can, in turn, be linked to people’s personality (Barrick, Mount,
& Gupta, 2003), higher-order motives and values. Other frameworks offer alternative models
of career-related characteristics or features, such as Schein’s (1978) career anchors or
Hoekstra’s (2011) career roles. In our DATA model, we classify demands as vocational-level
if they refer to general features of work that apply across multiple jobs. That is, they should
describe work characteristics in ways that are not specific to individual jobs, but are rather
representative of the environment at a higher level of abstraction capturing complex blends of
tasks, goals, values, norms and behavioral expectations concerning a vocation.
3.2.1. Research on personality development and vocational characteristics
There are reliable concurrent associations between the Big Five and Holland’s six
vocational interest types (Barrick et al., 2003; De Fruyt & Mervielde, 1997; Larson et al.,
2002). In a study of the Big Five traits and RIASEC vocational characteristics over time,
Wille and De Fruyt (2014) tracked a longitudinal cohort of college alumni across the first 15
years of their professional careers after graduation. Self-reports of Big Five personality traits
and RIASEC occupational characteristics were gathered at career start and 15 years later. The
results first indicated that personality shapes early career choice as well as future career
crafting. For instance, Openness before entering the labor market positively predicted social
work characteristics at career start, and these open individuals also further strengthened this
aspect of their work environment as their careers unfolded. Importantly, occupational
characteristics also influenced the patterns of personality development (see Table 1), which
demonstrated how specific types of work environments can have different socialization
effects which can be linked to occupation-specific work demands.
Using the same longitudinal sample but approaching vocational characteristics from a
slightly different angle, Wille, Beyers, and De Fruyt (2012) also investigated reciprocal
relationships between Big Five traits and Hoekstra’s (2011) six career roles.(i.e., maker,
expert, presenter, guide, inspiratory, director; see Table 1).. Interestingly, requirements
associated with each one of these roles can be linked to Big Five personality traits (Wille et
al., 2012). That is, Maker and Expert roles are conceptually linked to trait Conscientiousness;
Guide and Presenter to the interpersonal traits Agreeableness and Extraversion, respectively;
and the leadership roles of Director and Inspirator to trait Extraversion. Wille et al.’s (2012)
longitudinal analyses first showed that baseline personality predicts early career role
engagement at career start. For instance, Extraversion positively predicted engagement in
Presenter, Director, Inspirator and Guide roles early in the career; whereas Conscientiousness
positively predicted engagement in the Expert role. Further, baseline personality predicted
subsequent changes in role engagement, showing how careers are crafted to enhance person-
environment fit. Finally, change in career roles over time was associated with change in traits
(see Table 1), illustrating how professional roles and personality co-develop over time.
Finally, focusing on one specific type of vocation, Niess, and Zacher (2015) examined
reciprocal relationships between personality and managerial careers. Upward mobility into
managerial professions was found to be positively predicted by Openness to Experience, and
these vocational experiences in turn deepened this personality trait. In managerial vocations,
it was argued, employees frequently encounter challenging situations that require them to
make use of their divergent thinking skills, their potential of generating new ideas, or their
creativity, all of which are facets of Openness.
3.3. Group characteristics
Group characteristics may refer to the context of a specific work group or team, right
through to departments, regions or divisions of an organisation. One common approach to
characterizing groups is by focusing on the psychological features (e.g., values, goals,
attitudes or personality traits) of individual group members and aggregating these to a higher-
order level (Seong, Kristof-Brown, Park, Hong, & Shin, 2015). In one example, Prewett,
Brown, Goswami and Christiansen (2016) found that team personality composition
influenced member performance. However, a complementary approach to group-level
characteristics focuses on features that inherently transcend the individual level, such as
climate (e.g. Anderson & West, 1996) that characterise teams on general shared ways of
working. Example climate constructs include participative safety, support for innovation,
team vision, and task orientation.
For the purposes of the DATA model, we would classify potential group demands as
resulting from the social normative, or aggregated styles and ways of working of multiple
persons within a work group, however the boundaries of that group are defined.
3.3.1. Research on personality development in response to group characteristics
The literature on personality development at work has neglected the context of the team
or group as demands that trigger affordances resulting in personality development. This
represents a notable gap and oversight. The work group or team is potentially the most
proximal representation of the context within which socialization processes take place..
Teams are governed by a relatively stable set of norms, role expectations and shared systems
of knowledge and meaning (e.g. group climate, mental models). These informal structures
emerge through social and work-based interactions among members across a group’s
developmental history. Newcomers present a potential challenge to this stable structure and
are thus subject to efforts by group members to assimilate the person to it. At the same time,
newcomers are confronted by a novel and ambiguous social and work context and may
attempt to exert influence on the group to accommodate to their unique attributes and needs
(Moreland & Levine, 1982).
The dynamic multilevel theory of team personality (Gardner & Quigley, 2015) offers
interesting insights into how individual and team personality interact and mutually influence
each other. A work group or team is defined here as an interdependent collection of two or
more individuals who share responsibility for specific outcomes (e.g., Sundstrom, De Meuse,
& Futrell, 1990). These individuals interact socially with one another, exhibit task
interdependency, possess one or more shared goals and are embedded in a larger
organizational setting (Kozlowski, Gully, Nason, & Smith, 1999). The emergence of team
personality is described in this model as a bottom-up compilation process that occurs as
individuals interact with each other and with the broader context within the open team
system. This model departs from the idea that individual personality is stable, whereas it is
mainly team personality that is dynamic and evolves and changes over time as the team
members interact with each other and with the context.
A further intriguing issue is the interaction of group demands versus job demands. For
example, Van Knippenberg, De Dreu and Homan (2004), position task demands and
complexity as a moderator of the impact of group diversity on task elaboration and
performance. Logically, it follows that under different levels of task complexity, personality
traits may develop towards fit to demands in ways that reflect either PG similarity or
complementarity. Demands may activate affordances that reflect the same trait styles as other
colleagues (i.e. where all members have similar contributions to group performance), or
complementary styles (i.e. where members contribute uniquely to group tasks and
performance). The prospect of the interaction of PG fit with PJ fit points towards the next key
challenges for research on personality change at work, namely the interplay of work factors
operating at different levels.
3.4. Organization characteristics
Approaches to characterizing organizations have identified a broad spectrum of
factors to which individuals can feel more or less attracted (e.g., Schneider, 1987), including
norms and values (Chatman, 1989) and organizational cultures (Schein, 1985). Modeling
cultures in particular (i.e., typical ways of acting and behaving) has been attempted in various
frameworks (see Van den Berg & Wilderom, 2004; O’Reilly, Chatman & Caldwell,1991).
Cultural dimensions could influence how priorities emerge and decisions are made in the
course of day-to-day work activity, triggering different traits to a greater or lesser extent than
would otherwise be expected in the job.
In the DATA model, we would classify demands at organizational-level when they
represent factors that can be said to describe whole organizations. These will most clearly be
factors characterising organizational culture.
3.4.1 Research on personality development in response to organizational characteristics
As with group characteristics, we found no studies addressing the specific issue of
whether personality traits develop in response to organizational-level demands. Given this
absence of research, we suggest future studies to investigate, for instance, whether
newcomers adapt their individual personality profiles to enhance the level of PO fit.
Interestingly, past research on PO fit provides some direction regarding specific activities and
mechanisms that may facilitate such a form of organizational personality socialization. For
instance, Louis (1980) proposed that interaction with members facilitates sense making,
situational identification and acculturation among recruits. This interaction may occur during
firm-sponsored social activities or in mentor programs, where recruits are encouraged to
establish relationships with senior organization members who do not directly supervise their
work. To the extent that participation in social activities leads to greater social integration,
new members will begin to rely on the characteristics of incumbents as reference points for
their own actions (Terborg, Castore, & DeNinno, 1976). Similarly, mentor relationships
could contribute to organizational socialization because senior members can provide cultural
information about the broader organization.
4. Discussion: Implications for future research on personality development at work
Since the beginning of the 21st century, personality psychologists have shown
increased attention to the effects of life experiences on personality development, including
the role work plays in these processes. As evidence for personality plasticity started to grow,
work and organizational psychologists contributed to this field of research as well, and soon
this resulted in a rich, but also fragmented body of findings on reciprocal relationships
between personality and work.
In our review, we set out to address this fragmentation to provide an integrated model
for organizing this literature, serving both descriptive and explanatory functions.
Accordingly, we present the Demands-Affordances TrAnsactional (DATA) model. We
propose PE fit as a central mechanism of personality development at work in this model, and
levels of PE fit (i.e. fit to job, vocational, group and organizational characteristics) as an
organizing framework for classifying features of work that may exert effects on traits.
Moreover, we propose how the DATA model addresses the need for theoretical and
conceptual understanding of why, how, and in what ways personality traits develop in
response to work demands.
In the remainder of this review, we corroborate the contributions of this approach by
outlining directions for future research, with the main implications grouped into four themes:
coverage of the content of the work demands domain; the development of a PE interactional
perspective on personality development at work; and unresolved questions about volitional
trait change and its adaptiveness. We summarize these implications by presenting eight
pressing questions for future research (see Table 2).This section also considers the
implications for vocational development and counselling from a practice perspective.
4.1. Content Coverage of the Work Domain in Studies of Personality Development
One benefit of the framework we proposed in our review is that it serves a descriptive
function. Application of levels of PE fit provides an informative structure against which we
may classify the literature to date. We have earlier noted some notable and pressing gaps in
the literature that emerge based on this classification. These comprise firstly, under the PJ fit
level, research on the impact of detailed work activities and task characteristics on trait
development. Whilst many studies have examined job-level effects on personality
development, no studies to date have attempted to use detailed task and activity analysis
information to predict unique effects of jobs on personality.
Detailed taxonomic approaches to defining work demands (such as in O*NET content
model) are designed to describe the tasks that sum to represent effective performance of a job
or occupation, enabling specification of the person requirements needed to deliver those
demands. The inclusion of performance demands explicitly into research on personality
development at work would integrate the emergent literature more effectively with the
dominant paradigm in personality research in work settings, namely the criterion effects of
traits in context. Given the motivational influences of attaining the rewards of performance at
work, development of traits towards greater fit to such performance-related job characteristics
and features appears to be a likely, yet neglected area of study in the literature.
We also commented in our review on the absence of any study currently examining
the influences of organizational or group characteristics on trait development. This is a
further wide-ranging area of potential study, which presents two especially notable directions.
A first one deals with the social normative influence of organizational culture and group
climate. In both cases, the demand side in the DATA model represents a normative style of
getting things done, towards which personality traits may adjust. Second, and particularly in
the case of group characteristics, the tasks that are assigned to groups, and the distribution of
sub-tasks across people with diverse traits and skills, represents a further potential influence
on trait development. It is possible, for example, to propose an interaction of job-level
factors, with group-level factors where key performance demands rely on interdependent
actions of teams.
We acknowledge that not all work factors will fit neatly into the levels of work
demands we classify in the DATA model. For example, overall work roles may be considered
to fit somewhere between job and vocational demands. Yet, it is not the purpose of our
DATA model to provide a mutually exclusive classification taxonomy, rather it is to provide
a broad comprehensive set of domains around which work factors may be structured, and the
state of the literature on trait change examined.
4.2. Expansion of a person-environmental perspective of trait development at work
One of the main implications of our DATA model is that work demand factors may
be classified in at least two ways: a) based on their position in a specific level of the demands
categories (e.g. vocational, job, organizational, group); b) their saliency for particular
personality traits. Part b here, is a key property that helps to advance research towards a
clearer PE interactional perspective on personality development at work. Part of the failure of
research to attain an integrated understanding, is a lack of consistent alignment of work
demands to personality traits, which would facilitate both prediction and research design.
There exist good recent examples, however, to guide such research. In the situational
taxonomic literature, the DIAMONDS (Rauthmann et al., 2014) and CAPTION (Parrigon et
al., 2017) models have described multi-dimensional taxonomies of psychological situations
with explicit connections to personality dimensions. For example, interpersonal situational
factors are relevant to Extraversion and Agreeableness, and factors relating to goal
achievement and work are evidently related to Conscientiousness. An implication of these
situational taxonomies for understanding the impact of work on trait development is the need
to structure demands based on their psychological salience for personality, rather than on
their descriptive properties. For example, in the O*NET model, rather than differentiate work
activities from occupationally specific tasks, it is more informative to group these
occupational dimensions based on their relevance to traits (e.g., which features are relevant to
Extraversion, Agreeableness and so forth).
Judge and Zappata (2015) undertook precisely this approach and applied six key job
demands to guide hypotheses about the trait salience of different job contexts (occupations
requiring independence, attention to detail, strong social skills, competition, innovation and
dealing with unpleasant or angry people). These were assigned in various ways as being
relevant to each of the Big Five, and expert coders were used to create composite scores
based on the assignment of individual occupational characteristics to the job demand
dimensions. Applying similar thinking and methodology to link traits to job demands in
studies of personality development at work could frame more clearly the ways in which
performance demands may activate and crucially, affect specific personality traits. To this
end, our assignment of factors to specific traits in Table 1 offers a first step, showing how
work factors may be linked to the Big Five.
However, related to this, we also observe in the literature that studies of trait
development have focused mainly on broad personality dimensions, and correspondingly
broad work factors. The bandwidth-fidelity issue is a well-defined concept in the personality
literature (e.g. Stewart, 1999), with the implication that narrow ‘facet’ traits of personality
exert stronger effects on specific or correspondingly narrow work criteria, whereas broad
personality constructs exert weaker, more distributed effects across a wider domain of
criteria. We posit that similar consideration should be given to bandwidth and fidelity in
modeling the reciprocal effects of work on personality. Occupation and job factors that are
narrowly defined are likely to exert limited developmental effects on broad personality
domains like the Big Five, but may exert deeper effects on specific personality facets.
Examining work effects on broader personality traits may, for example, require consideration
of composites of multiple work factors. In short, while an important future direction of
research in this area is to examine the impact of more specific and detailed work factors on
personality, an accompanying challenge is to measure personality at an appropriately specific
level using, for example, trait facet models. By doing so, the literature can speak to wider
research on the interplay of facet-level personality traits and work (see e.g., Woods &
Anderson, 2016).
Encompassing wider variables, a future research need is to also consider
developmental processes of personality incorporating other personal characteristics that may
moderate or mediate work demand effects. For example, demographic characteristics such as
gender could moderate development pathways. Socialisation influences have long been
identified as affecting men and women differently as they develop vocational preferences
(Woods & Hampson, 2010), and these expectations may exert influences on how the
demands-affordance transaction plays out.
Other personal characteristics could also be influential or even explanatory in the
process of personality development. For example, cognitive ability could influence the
effective perception of demands at work. Acquisition of skills through training could
facilitate effective adjustment to meet demands (i.e. potentially mediating the process of trait
development). Testing the nature of these more complex relations will represent key
challenges for future research.
4.3. Volitional personality change and its adaptiveness
Changing conceptual understanding about the stability of personality invites the
question of whether trait change might result from training and development interventions at
work (Allan et al., 2018). It is not an overstatement however, to note that such a question
might be considered “radical, even outlandish” (Mroczek, 2014) in the academic literature,
where the stability of personality has been a theoretical pillar for several decades. In the
context of development of work, it is therefore unsurprising that our review did not locate any
published papers on workplace interventions designed to develop personality traits such as
those of the Big Five model. Yet in this respect, we also note that industrial, work, and
organizational psychology literature is lagging significantly behind literatures on health and
clinical psychology, where research on the effects of intervention are blossoming. For
example, from a clinical therapeutic perspective, Roberts, Luo, Briley, Chow, Su, and Hill
(2017) undertook a systematic review of the literature on personality change following
interventions for clinical conditions. Remarkably, their review of 207 studies revealed
reliable change effects for extraversion and emotional stability, and to a lesser extent
agreeableness and conscientiousness. More recently, an intervention focused on behavioural
change goals was found to predict volitional trait change in a non-clinical sample (Hudson et
al., 2018).
Further, no study in our review directly considered the question of whether
personality change at work is an adaptive process. This is a fundamental consideration for
how personality change in response to work is conceptualised. From one perspective,
adaptation to environmental demands enhances fit, enables greater attainment and is thus
consistent with adaptive development. Indeed, job-demands resources perspectives on work
engagement and burnout emphasize the positive psychological benefits of fit between
demands and personal resources to meet them (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). However, from
another perspective, where development and change is a consequence of job misfit, it is
plausible to hypothesize that psychological strain may result. For example, in models of
work-family interface (WFI), behavioral conflict (the need to behave differently at work
compared to home) is conceptualized as a negative feature of the WFI (e,g, Carlson, Kacmar
& Williams, 2000). Perhaps the need to change to fit work demands could exert effects on
psychological well-being that are similarly negative? Research is needed to address this issue.
4.4. Implications for vocational development and counseling
The conventional approach for practitioners in vocational development and counseling
when profiling traits against occupational requirements typically involves assessing
personality traits to facilitate matching people to careers or occupations, implicitly treating
the trait side as fixed, and the occupational side as variable (e.g. Parsons, 1909; Holland
1985). Our review, and the literature that we include show that this implicit assumption of
stability is incorrect. Indeed, by operating from this assumption, there is a fundamental risk
that vocational guidance and decisions are flawed, expressly because they do not
acknowledge the capacity for change and growth of the person and their traits. The most
direct practical implication of our review findings is that this approach needs to be modified
such that vocational advisers consider not only occupations that fit individual preferences, but
also the ways in which clients could approach personal development for a career in
occupations that they would like to do, but which may be inconsistent in some way with their
traits. As vocational psychologists and career practitioners, it is time to move beyond simple
concepts of the ‘stable’ personality in the PE fit approach to counseling and guidance.
Our classification of the emergent research literature on trait development at work
around the O*NET content model enhances the potential for this thinking to be built into the
understanding of practitioners who are already familiar with the components of the model.
For example, vocational advisers examining worker characteristics from the O*NET model
against trait profiles of clients could treat misfit between the two as ‘gaps to close through
development’, rather than considering these as potential sources of enduring job
dissatisfaction. However, this implication brings into sharp focus the need for greater
understanding of the psychological impact of personality change at work.
Finally, there is a critical role to play for vocational counselors and coaches in
addressing the need for research on interventions at work and their impact on personality.
Although modeled in sample groups in the literature, we urge the need to keep in mind that
personality change is an individual-level experience, and as such, interventions that are
focused on the specific needs of individual employees in adjusting to their work could
potentially offer the clearest evidence for the effects of learning and adjustment at work, for
long term personality change. Just as the TESSERA model proposes long-term development
effects from multiple short-term episodes, so long-term development may result from
accumulated development interventions captured in learning programmes at work.
5. Concluding comments
Our work influences who we are. This is the conclusion of a steadily growing volume
of research on the effects of work on personality traits. However, our review has highlighted
the need to bring greater order into this emergent literature so that we may understand the
work factors that are important for personality trait development, and design future research
studies to address important questions, answers to which are needed to advance the literature
in this area. We have presented the DATA model of personality development of work to
serve both descriptive and explanatory functions to advance understanding of, and shape
future research on the influences of work factors on trait change. Scholars and practitioners
working on the questions that we pose in this review may do so to build on a coherent
literature on the interplay of personality and work in industrial, organizational and vocational
psychology. In this way, they may also contribute to the collective effort of psychologists on
understanding personality processes in adulthood, with work being positioned appropriately
as a key life experience that guides how our traits develop and change.
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Table 1
Overview of previously considered work demand factors and their transactions with Big Five
trait affordances.
Big Five Trait
Work demands
Level: Vocation
Wille & De Fruyt, 2014
Manipulating things (i.e. machines, plants, or
animals). Encourages workers to see the world in
simple, tangible and traditional terms.
Observation and creative investigation of physical,
biological, or cultural phenomena. Encourages
workers to see the world in complex, abstract, and
original ways.
Ambiguous, free, unsystematized activities and
competencies to create art forms or products.
Encourages workers to see the world in complex,
independent, and unconventional ways.
Deal with other people to cure, develop, or inform
them. Encourages people to see the world flexibly.
Persuade and/or manipulate others in order to attain
organizational or self-interest goals. Encourages
people to see the world in terms of power, status, and
Ordered, systematic manipulation of data such as
keeping records, reproducing materials, organizing
data, operating business and data processing
equipment. Workers are encouraged to see the world
in conventional, stereotyped, and constricted ways.
Career roles
Wille, Beyers, & De Fruyt, 2012
Interpersonal effectiveness with form, style,
impression management.
Relationships, connection with others.
Attaining long term goals and realizing strategies.
Focus on ideals, values and principles to be upheld in
the collective.
Own tangible results and planned performance.
Solving problems and providing ideas.
Managerial career
Niess & Zacher, 2015
Level: Job
Brousseau & Prince, 1981; Le, Donnellan, & Conger,
2014; Li, Fay, Frese, Harms, & Gao, 2014; Mortimer
& Lorence, 1979; Roberts, Caspi, & Moffitt, 2003;
Sutin & Costa, 2010; Wu, 2016
Psychological and Physical Demands
Workload demands, time pressures, and conflicts in
the workplace (reverse of 'ease' in Le, Donnellan, &
Conger, 2014).
Daily physical strain involved in the job.
The degree of physical danger on the job (reverse of
'safety/quality' in Le, Donnellan, & Conger, 2014).
Psychological Resources
Skill variety
Range of tasks performed, and skills called upon.
Task identity
Ability to complete the whole job from start to finish.
Opportunity to use skills and abilities and learn new
How well the individual's talents and abilities match
the demands of their work.
Impact of the job on others.
The extent of discretion and freedom an employee has
over his or her tasks.
Job control
The combination of autonomy of decision-making
work-methods, and work-scheduling.
How much freedom and feedback there is at work.
How much individuals utilize their skills, have
discretion over their work environment, and have
opportunities to express their creativity.
Resource power
Ability to hire, fire, give pay raises, supervise people.
Extent to which the job provides the employee with
information about the effectiveness of his/her
Tangible benefits and stability of a job.
Level: Group
Note. ‘+’ indicates that work demands have been shown to positively influence growth in a
specific trait affordance; whereas ‘-’ means that work demands have been shown to
negatively impact (or buffer) growth in that trait affordance.
Table 2
Nine questions for future research on personality development at work to answer.
Content Coverage of Studies on Personality Development at Work
1. How do the performance demands (represented in e.g., key task and activity
requirements) of jobs direct and shape personality development and change?
2. How do organizational and group characteristics influence personality
development and change?
Expansion of a Person-Environmental Perspective of Trait Development at Work
3. How can work characteristics at different levels be most effectively classified
based on personality trait salience?
4. How are broad versus narrow/specific job characteristics related to the
development of correspondingly broad versus narrow personality traits?
Volitional Personality Change and its Adaptiveness
5. To what extent do learning and development interventions at work result in
personality trait change?
6. Is personality trait change at work an adaptive process (i.e., what are the
effects of change of psychological health and well-being?)
Vocational Development and Counselling Practice
7. How should practitioners in vocational development and counselling apply
findings on personality development and change in client work?
8. How could findings around personality development and change be applied to
develop individually specific career development plans?
Figure 1. The DATA Model of Personality Development at Work
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Life events refer to status changes in important demographic variables, such as employment or marital status. Life events offer an interesting opportunity for studying transactions between environmental changes and personality traits, which are of relevance for diverging theories about the role of environmental factors in life span personality development. Yet in spite of the potential importance of life events for personality development, nuanced and sufficiently powered longitudinal designs with frequent assessments of life events and personality traits are lacking. The current study aims to address this gap by examining the associations between different life events and personality trait change, using data from a large, nationally representative, and prospective longitudinal study. Results demonstrated a number of selection effects, indicating that personality traits affect the likelihood that individuals experience certain types of life events. Less frequently, results indicated average effects of life events on personality trait development, both in anticipation of a life event change as well as resulting from it. However, some of these event-related changes ran counter to the notion that personality maturity increases as a result of adopting mature social roles, like parenthood or paid employment. Furthermore, we found significant variation around average event-related trajectories, suggesting that individuals differ in their reactions to life events. Theoretical implications and recommendations for future research are discussed.
The current meta-analysis investigated the extent to which personality traits changed as a result of intervention, with the primary focus on clinical interventions. We identified 207 studies that had tracked changes in measures of personality traits during interventions, including true experiments and prepost change designs. Interventions were associated with marked changes in personality trait measures over an average time of 24 weeks (e.g., d = .37). Additional analyses showed that the increases replicated across experimental and nonexperimental designs, for nonclinical interventions, and persisted in longitudinal follow-ups of samples beyond the course of intervention. Emotional stability was the primary trait domain showing changes as a result of therapy, followed by extraversion. The type of therapy employed was not strongly associated with the amount of change in personality traits. Patients presenting with anxiety disorders changed the most, and patients being treated for substance use changed the least. The relevance of the results for theory and social policy are discussed.