Research into the effects of personality on job and life satisfaction reveal important implications for workplaces

Joelena Leader

Dr. Joseph Schmidt is an Associate Professor of Human Resources and Organizational Behaviour at the Edwards School of Business whose research is comprised of two main streams. The first focuses on understanding how strategic human resource management influence employee behaviours and firm performance, and the second stream of research explores individual differences and personality in relation to performance and well-being in the workplace.

Schmidt has published research in a number of practitioner and scholarly journals and was the recent recipient of the Top Tier Journal Award for two recent publications including: "The effects of personality on job satisfaction and life satisfaction: A meta-analytic investigation accounting for bandwidth-fidelity and commensurability" accepted in Human Relations, and "Making Stronger Causal Inferences: Accounting for Selection Bias in Associations between HR Systems, Leadership, and Employee and Customer Satisfaction" to be published in the Journal of Applied Psychology which was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

In his recent paper, Schmidt studied the effects of personality on job satisfaction and life satisfaction using a meta-analysis for two specific personality measures. This research asked: "How does personality predict job satisfaction?" and "Does personality matter more for general perceptions of life satisfaction than for job satisfaction?" Schmidt explained that, one of the main findings of the study revealed there was strong evidence that "personality matters more for your general sense of happiness and well-being and that trickles down into the more specific domains such as job satisfaction." Another key finding was that, the more specific facets of one’s personality often accounted for double the variance in life satisfaction (associated with broad perceptions) and only a slight increase for job satisfaction (associated with specific perceptions), contradicting the bandwidth–fidelity argument. Schmidt explained that the bandwidth-fidelity argument is the idea that "when you’re trying to understand people’s broad perceptions or general attitudes about things, you should be using broad measures and when you’re trying to understand very specific things, you should use very specific predictors." As a result, this research found evidence against this argument – i.e. specific measures helped explain more about broad perceptions such as life satisfaction.

"Whether it is clinical assessment or assessment in a hiring context," Schmidt describes, this research shows that using "facet measures might allow you to predict behaviours or certain outcomes more effectively." This research has implications for educational and workplace environments showing that personality facets serve as important information that can help enhance perceptions of satisfaction for individuals with lower levels of subjective well-being and should not be overlooked.

Schmidt’s second major study, "Making Stronger Causal Inferences: Accounting for Selection Bias in Associations between HR Systems, Leadership, and Employee and Customer Satisfaction," is comprised of 8 years of employee engagement survey data and customer satisfaction data. Counter to the Human Resources literature, which suggests HR practices predict positive outcomes for employees in organizations, this research showed that employee perceptions of the HR system didn’t have much effect on satisfaction outcomes. Schmidt asked: "could customer satisfaction be predicting employees’ perceptions of the HR system?" He explained that, "we found the strongest support for a reverse causal explanation – customer satisfaction appeared to cause perceptions of the HR system, which may be due to the fact that employees were partly compensated based on customer satisfaction outcomes." Another finding is that leadership behaviors of employees’ immediate supervisors appeared to have causal effects on customer satisfaction. Given their longitudinal dataset and the use of a relatively new method, Schmidt and his team were able to make stronger causal inferences or conclusions by matching cases based on characteristics within the organization. Counter to other research, this study found that "satisfaction isn’t an important outcome of your HR system," said Schmidt. He continued: "We went into the study knowing that there are critiques of the HR research, so we tried to address some of those critiques with methods of the study. We found that some of the critiques were valid."

When asked what this research implies or may lead to, Schmidt commented: "I think it shows you have to think very carefully about what inferences you’re trying to make from employee surveys and understand your own assumptions before you try to interpret the results. The other thing the results imply is that leaders do more than the HR system to improve customer satisfaction. Effective leaders may give employees more feedback and coach them to help serve customers, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into employee satisfaction. So helping to increase performance, at least in terms of customer service, doesn’t necessarily make employees that much happier."

In terms of next steps, Schmidt shared: "I’ve started another study where we have a large dataset from four different countries about HR practices and employees’ perceptions of the HR system. We’re going to look at links between what firms are doing and how employees perceive that. How managers make decisions about which HR systems to use or to implement. When do managers think of the HR system as a cost to be minimized versus a longer-term investment in their employees and firms?" His motivation moving forward has a lot to do with his passion for working with companies and being able to solve real world problems through academic research. He suggested that, "we don’t do enough of that as academic researchers."

To learn more about Dr. Joseph Schmidt’s research, check out his profile page.

Two publications that received Top Tier Journal Awards:
• The effects of personality on job satisfaction and life satisfaction: A meta-analytic investigation accounting for bandwidth-fidelity and commensurability (accepted for publication in Human Relations)
• Making Stronger Causal Inferences: Accounting for Selection Bias in Associations between HR Systems, Leadership, and Employee and Customer Satisfaction (to be published in Journal of Applied Psychology)


Schmidt, J. A.*, Pohler, D., & Willness, C. R. 2016. The effects of strategic HR System differentiation on firm performance and employee outcomes. Human Resource Management.
Schmidt, J. A.*, Willness, C. R., Jones, D. A., & Bourdage, J. 2016. Human resource management practices and voluntary turnover: A study of internal workforce and external labor market contingencies. International Journal of Human Resource Management. doi: 10.1080/09585192.2016.1165275
Pohler, D.*, & Schmidt, J. A.* 2016. Does pay-for-performance strain the employment relationship? The effect of manager bonus eligibility on non-management employee turnover. Personnel Psychology, 69, 395-429.

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