Objectives of this topic


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Objectives of this topic

  1. To explain the relationship between personality and stress

  2. To identify several categories of categories of personality that individuals fall into and make an attempt to predict their future behaviour

  3. To identify the appropriate individual and organisational stress management strategies.

  4. To evaluate the benefits and problems of psychometric assessments as tools that assist management decision making

  5. To identify the relationship between personality, motivation, job satisfaction and job design.

Personality is defined in terms of consistencies in a person’s thinking, feeling and behaviour. Wright et al (1976 in Rollinson et al 1998:84) define personality as “those relatively stable and enduring aspects of an individual that distinguish him/her from other people and at the same time form a basis for our predictions concerning his/her future behaviour”. Put simply, personality refers to those properties of behaviour that are both stable and distinctive. These properties make us unique.

This definition has 2 implications; the idea that personality is stable and enduring implies that it is possible to identify an individual’s personality characteristics. If these characteristics are identified they can be used to predict the person’s behavioural disposition.

There are two main approaches to personality; the nomothetic and idiographic

Nomothetic approach

It has something to do with legislation or the formulation of general laws. The main aim of nomothetic theories is to generate universal laws predicting human behaviour. Human behaviour is described in terms of set dimensions or types that are said to be applicable to everyone. Nomothetic theories are influenced by positivism whose main aim is to discover laws of human behaviour through the statistical study of large groups of people. The basic assumption being that personality is primarily determined by heredity, biology and genetics. Therefore personality is fixed and unchangeable. The nomothetic approach can be further divided into trait and type theories. Trait theories describe people in terms of a number of personality dimensions while type theories categorise people as falling into one of a number of personality types.


These are individual characteristics of thought/ feeling that result in tendencies to behaviour in specific ways. Buchanan and Huczynski (1998) define a trait as a relatively stable or consistent way of thinking/behaving. The theories assume a strong relationship between traits and behaviour. There are many types of traits, motive traits (those that guide behaviour), temperament traits (referring to mood). Although many psychologists identify different traits as influencing an individual’s personality, they however, agree on the following 5 clusters of traits. They are called the big 5 OCEAN.

Openness (fantasy, aesthetics, feeling, actions, ideas, values, original, broadminded)

O+ explorer (creative, open-minded, intellectual) good for entrepre4nuers, architects, change agents)

O- preserver (unimaginative, disinterested, narrow minded) useful for finance managers, stage performers

Conscientiousness(competence, order, dutifulness, achievement, self-discipline, hardworking, organised)

C+ focused (dutiful, achievement oriented, self-disciplined) useful for senior executive leaders

c- flexible (frivolous, irresponsible, disorganised) useful for researchers, detectives, management consultants

Extroversion (warmth, gregariousness, positive emotions, excitement seeking)

E+ extrovert (gregarious, warm) good for salespersons, politicians, artists

e- introvert (quiet, reserved, shy) found in physics, natural sciences

Agreeableness (trust, straightforwardness, altruism)

A+ adapter (straightforward, compliant, sympathetic) useful for teachers, social workers, psychologists

A-challenger (quarrelsome, oppositional, unfeeling) useful for advertisers, military leaders, mangers?

Neuroticism (negative emotionality)

N+ reactive (anxious, depressed, self conscious) useful for social scientists, academics, customer service professionals

N- resilient (calm, contented, self assured, useful for air traffic controllers, pilots, military leaders, finance managers and engineers.

Some theorists such as Carl Jung and Hans Jurgen Eysenck have identified dimensions of personality such as the e- dimension (extroversion- introversion) and the N- dimension (neuroticism and stability). Raymond Cattell also identified 16 traits that include the dynamic traits (as the 5 outlined above), ability traits (performance related) and temperament traits (emotionality).


They refer to a descriptive label for a distinct pattern of personality characteristics for example, extrovert, and neurotic. These place people into predetermined personality categories on the basis of characteristics that are said to give rise to certain patterns of behaviour. It is a very old way of classifying individual personality. It dates back to the studies by a Greek philosopher named Hippocrates who wrote as early as 400BC about bodily “humours’ such as blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile, which influence individual personality. Hippocrates identified 4 main types of personality

  1. Sanguin type= hopeful, confident, optimistic individual who is mainly dominated by the blood bodily humour.

  2. Melancholic= this is a depressed individual prone to unfounded fears. This is caused by the domination of black bile.

  3. Choleric= an aggressive, active but irritable individual mainly influenced by yellow bile.

  4. Phlegmatic= a sluggish apathetic individual dominated by phlegm.

William Sheldon (1954) also argued that personality is related to a person’s physique (shape and size). He identified the mesomorph (muscular, strong, adventurous, energetic, boisterous and possibly aggressive individual), endomorph (fat easygoing individual who loves food) and ectomorph (a thin delicate restrained individual). Other studies were done by Friedmann and Rosenmann who identified type A (adveterous and prone to stress) and type B (introvert less prone to stress).
IDIOGRAPHIC THEORIES (the nature-nurture debate)

They explain personality in terms of characteristics that are unique to the person. They do not attempt to form universal predictive laws. Their main aim is to capture the essence of an individual’s total personality and from this draw inferences about how the person could react in different situations. Their basic assumption is that personality is not fixed and unchangeable. They focus on the way that personality develops and changes as a result of ongoing experience. These include Freud’s psychoanalysis theory of the id (nature), ego (self) and superego (societal expectations).

The social learning theory

It is an outcome of the nature-nurture debate. Whereas psychoanalysis deals with mostly nature social learning emphasises nurture. It is based on Bandura’s studies. He argued that normal personality development requires appropriate models and reinforcement of approved behaviours. Bandura advanced the reciprocal determination principle that argues that a person both influences and is influenced by the social learning environment. Other principles of social learning include that of self regulation (being in control of your behaviour), self efficacy (interpreting one’s capability to reach their goals) and self reinforcement (occurs during the self regulation process when our behaviour conforms to our standards). The basic assumption made by social learning theory is that individual behaviour is modelled according to an individual’s image of themselves/ their self-concept. The development of the self is deemed a social process. This is akin to symbolic interactionism that argues that personality formation is both an individual and social process. Through the looking glass self-concept the individual is able to regulate both the (i)= biological and the (me)= social, to conform to societal expectations. Personality is not fixed at birth but is something continually being developed with changes in an individual’s self-concept. This brings us to humanistic psychology


It is the 3rd force of psychology founded by people such as Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow etc. it is also linked to existentialism a philosophy that emphasises the wholeness of the person. The main assumption put forward by humanism is the concept of inner directedness. This refers to the view that individuals possess an inborn tendency to grow, develop and improve themselves. Rodgers argued that though one’s personality develops naturally, it needs a supportive social environment( this is a setting where one is valued, trusted and respected even in the face of characteristics that others dislike). He further distinguished between the self= who I think iam, and the ideal self= who I wish I were. It can be argued therefore that the underlying assumption for both the social learning theory and humanism is that personality can be changed and can be learned. Personality and the development of the self is a social process. These theories are the backbone of projective personality tests. They also inspire the writings by Milton Kamwendo.

A critique of idiographic theories

  • They were mostly developed in clinical work and so have tendency to be more concerned with the abnormal than with the normal. Therefore while they are useful in explaining poor adjustment to everyday conditions, they are less useful in describing personality in a way that can be applied to a wider range of day-to-day situations.

  • They are highly individualistic and ignore the fact that there are situations where it can be important to compare the personalities of different individuals.


Organisations have their own culture and accepted ways of behaving. Since people have different personalities, this means that some people are more likely to fit into organisation cultures better than others. In addition, jobs differ in terms of the personality characteristics they require therefore an individual’s personality could have an impact on his/her suitability for certain roles. There are some aspects of personality that have great implications for organisations. These include;

  • The person’s locus of control. This is a person’s belief that outcomes or events are either under their control or beyond them, externally caused. When someone has an internal locus of control this means that they believe that events are under their control and that they can influence them. An external locus of control is the belief that events are externally caused, for example by chance or fate and that there is nothing that one can do to change the situation. The implications for management are that those with an internal locus of control are more likely to shoulder responsibility and more likely to influence events than the externals who engage in self pity and are unable to cope with difficult situations. Again in terms of motivation and reward, those with an internal locus of control are more likely to respond positively to rewards because they believe rewards are acquired through their efforts. They thus respond positively to the use f incentives than externals.

  • Authoritarianism. This is a personality characteristic where people place a high value on power and status differentials in their behaviour downwards towards subordinates and upwards towards superiors. Authoritarian employees accept orders from above willingly and follow orders for the sake of following with little understanding and faith in them.

  • Machiavellianism. It is based on the writings by a Greek political advisor named Machiavelli who wrote the prince and the leviathan. He argued than it is better to be feared than to be loved. It is a strategy that involves manipulation of others for personal gain.


This developed rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s. pewresonality may be assessed in various ways ranging from an unstructured interview to a statistically standardised psychological instrument. The branch of psychology that measures personality characteristics is called psychometrics.

Reasons for psychometric tests

  1. Short listing and selection of candidates for specific jobs

  2. Promotion suitability

  3. Assessment for redeployment purposes

  4. Evaluation of training potential

  5. Career counselling and development

  6. Redundancy counselling

Objective psychometric tests

They are based on the nomothetic theory of personality where psychologists look for universal causal laws of behaviour. There is an assumption that individual personality can be measured and compared with others on the same dimension. Personality is assessed through a self-report questionnaire that contains questions with force choice answers. Responses from a representative sample are used for standardising tests. The approach is impersonal and leads to probabilistic statements. It is geared to the formulation of laws for example men under 30 employed in academia have unusually high scores on assertiveness. The test identifies the average, the norm and those who deviate from the norm.

Projective tests

From the idiographic theory. They use ambiguous presentations intended to permit the appearance of the contents of the unconscious. They are based on the qualitative methodology of research where individuals have complete freedom of expression and responses are not predetermined. It is the researcher’s job to pick out the relevant material that relates to the individual’s preoccupations and interests from the given data.
  1. The Thematic Apperception Test (TAT)- it was invented in 1938 by Henry Murray and further developed by McClelland in his need theory. The individual is requested to make up a story about ambiguous pictures or drawings that they are shown. It is argued that individuals can project their own interests and preoccupations onto their stories, reflecting their need for achievement, power and affiliation.

  2. The Rorschanch Ink Blot Test- it uses ink blots where individuals are requested to say what they see in each symmetrical inkblot. The underlying idea in all these is that individuals project their personalities onto the stories they write.

  3. The Rosenzweig Picture Frustration Test- this requires that the individual reply for the second person in a cartoon drawing to the first person who is saying something.


Personality assessments generally have low predictive validity due to the following reasons

  1. People are flexible and multifaceted; able to develop new skills and behaviours and to adapt to new situations therefore personality assessments only capture a fragment of the whole.

  2. Most jobs demand a lot of skill and knowledge in many areas therefore traits which enhance competence in one task may not improve overall job performance.

  3. Performance depends on several factors such as ability, luck, training, payment systems, organisational structure and facilities. There are other factors besides personality that influence individual performance.

  4. Most jobs change over time therefore current measures cannot predict the future.

  5. These tests may be falsified when a job is at stake. One may be taught to write stories with a lot of achievement content, for example.

  6. Cultural factors- these tests are usually based on western studies and may not be suitable for African societies.



This topic is influenced by research by Friedman and Rosenmann (1974) who studied the relationship between personality types and stress. They distinguished type A and Type B personality. Type A are competitive, have high need for achievement, aggressive, impatient, alert, work fast and likely to suffer from stress. Type B are slow, have low need for achievement, not easily frustrated. They are not likely to suffer from stress.

Stress is defined as a general feeling of pressure, anxiety and tension. It can also be defined as a fight or flight capacity to any threatening situation.

Organisational sources of stress

  1. Organisational policies- these include inequitable performance appraisals, pay inequities, problems with shift work and problems with contract work (insecurity).

  2. Organisational structure (poor job design and management style)- where for example highly centralised organisations leave no room for decision making for lower level individuals, this leads to stress. Excessive standardisation, specialisation and inadequate opportunities for growth al lead to stress. Autocratic management places pressure on employees leading to stress. Again inadequate physical working conditions for example, noise, bad lighting, lack of privacy and extreme heat or cold, unsuitable equipment all lead to stress.

  3. Organisational processes- includes poor communication, poor feedback and conflicting goals, poor working relationships (sexual harassment) and role characteristics.

Role ambiguity (divided loyalties)

Occurs when 2 or more sets of demands are made on an employee so that compliance with set of demands makes it more difficult to comply with another (performing contradictory activities). For example, a supervisor may be told by his superior to increase productivity from his department, while his subordinates expect his support in finding ways to reduce their daily quota. This leads to a decrease in job satisfaction and high blood pressure= obesity.

Role ambiguity= it refers to absence of clarity regarding how to perform one’s job. Uncertainty may surround knowing what goals to set and how best to achieve them and determine one’s level of accomplishment. This leads to lower levels of confidence and dissatisfaction with life in general and stress.

Role overload=- happens when there are too many activities expected of an employee given the time available and the ability level of the employee. Indications of role overload include working in excess of 60 hours per week, holding down 2 jobs and foregoing vacations. It leads to increased heart rate, cigarette smoking and lower self-esteem.

Individual and interpersonal stressors

  1. Family problems and changes in family relations (divorce, death, arguments, separations, financial difficulties and other expenses).

  2. Individual weaknesses, for example, when an individual recognises their weakness in terms of their skills and qualifications when faced with situations requiring higher levels of skills. A simple conversation with a friend on a technical issue may create stress to either part if they do not understand what is being discussed.

  3. Personality characteristics- locus of control. An internal locus of control means that an individual is responsible for their actions thus they are better able to cope with stress.

  4. Workplace romance – it refers to enduring, intense and erotic attraction between employees (it stimulates gossip and also feelings of envy and jealousy). Stress can be created among observers of the romantic relationship who fear that favouritism could result especially when romance is between people of different levels in the organisation. Stress could also be created among participants of the relationship, especially when it turns sour. On a positive note, workplace romance may mean that romantically involved employees are less likely to quit.

Symptoms of stress

These include physiological, psychological, cognitive and behavioural. They are, excessive alcohol intake, tiredness, bulimia, memory loss, dizziness, bad breath, heavy cigarette smoking, headaches, temper tantrums, ulcers, insomnia, pounding heart, high blood pressure, absenteeism, mental breakdown, suicide, workplace violence (against supervisors, managers, other workers. It could be in the form of sexual harassment, homicide, robberies, verbal abuse, gossip, destroying mail of targeted persons, failure to return phone calls or not showing up for meetings called by the targeted person, dirty looks, starring).


There are individual (emotion focused) and organisational (problem focused) strategies to reduce stress.

Individual coping mechanisms

They are meant to improve the individual’s resilience, health condition, self-esteem. They include; consciousness raising to improve self awareness, exercises and fitness programmes (for good health), self help training in biofeedback, meditation, relaxation and having a strong support network (availability of sympathetic others), time management techniques.

Organisational strategies

They are meant to deal directly with the stressor. They include job redesign methods such as job enlargement (extending elements without really altering job content- horizontal expansion), job rotation (task remains the same but the personnel who perform it are systematically changed- mostly used as a training device for flexibility) and job enrichment (invented by Herzberg as a form of employee empowerment and improving worker motivation. This can be done through vertical loading, improved organisational communication, combining tasks, forming natural workgroups, improved participation in decision making.


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