What does it take to get ahead at the office? It's well-known that personality influences professional prowess, as high earners tend to be extraverted, ambitious, conscientious and self-confident. Whether you measure success in wages or personal satisfaction, superstars in the workplace tend to be energetic and proactive, with a high need for achievement.
A surprising new study suggests that personality plays an even bigger role in workplace outcomes than previously thought — but in an unexpected way. Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson from Washington University found that while our own personalities influence our job performance, our spouses' personalities are also associated with professional success.
Many people search for romantic partners who are sexually attractive or who have an agreeable personality, but the data from Solomon and Jackson suggest we should search for something more in our mates, whose influence may linger with us in our work day and have long-term effects on our job performance.
What kind of spouse elevates your earnings? Should you seek a sweetheart who is competitive, energetic, or curious? Someone who is compassionate, sociable, cooperative? According to Solomon and Jackson, the award for best personality goes to Mr. or Ms. Conscientious.
In their longitudinal study, Solomon and Jackson tracked responses from 4,544 heterosexual married people, roughly 75% of whom were in dual-income households. Participants first completed a personality assessment that measured five personality traits: extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness.
Over a 5 year period, participants also reported occupational success, as measured by job satisfaction, wages over time, and promotions. Finally, participants provided data about the division of household chores, lifestyle decisions, and marital satisfaction.
Solomon and Jackson found that people with a more conscientious spouse tended to have higher job satisfaction, were promoted more often, and reported higher wages over a four year period. Why? Conscientious people are dependable and organized, they provide reliable support, and are skilled at planning and managing their lives. Solomon and Jackson thus hypothesized that people with a conscientious spouse may outsource more of the household chores or errands to their partners, thus allowing them to devote more time and energy to work. Less laundry, fewer errands, and reduced responsibility around the house can translate into better pay, greater advancement, and increased job satisfaction.
The benefit of a conscientious spouse was evident in both single- and dual-income households, though the effect was stronger in single-income households. Thus it seems that conscientious mates provide significant support whether they work in or outside the home, though those who work in the home may be able to manage more of the childcare and household duties.
The data were also similar for men and women, suggesting that regardless of your gender, having consistent help around the house enhances your work life.
Conscientious people not only create conditions that foster success, they are also good role models. As we are likely to emulate some of the behaviors of our spouse, having a conscientious spouse may encourage greater reliability and productivity in the workplace, further enhancing job performance.
Finally, people with conscientious spouses tended to report higher relationship satisfaction, and this marital satisfaction may reduce stress and make it easier to channel energies into professional endeavors.
The notion that our home life can affect our professional performance is not new. Numerous studies show that experiences at home can spill over and color our experiences in the workplace (and vice versa), as stress can be transferred between home and work across partners, and your mood at work can be associated with your spouses’ mood at home. While previous work has examined relatively transient crossover effects (e.g., a bad day at work can spoil the evening), the findings from Solomon and Jackson demonstrate that the personality of one's spouse can have a more enduring, long-term impact on professional success.
Their work also indicates that events at home need not be acute or severe (e.g., a hostile argument, a sick child) to affect job performance. Instead, it may be the accumulation of subtle but significant daily experiences and interactions (e.g., having predictable help with household chores, making joint decisions about important issues) that lead to satisfaction and success at work over time.
Finding a mate in life can be difficult, but the data from Solomon and Jackson may help those with high professional aspirations narrow the search. For both personal and professional prosperity, seek someone who is supportive, dependable, organized, and self-disciplined. After all, who wouldn't be happier with a spouse who regularly replaces the toilet paper roll?