The Big Five personality traits (Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, Emotional Stability, Extraversion, and Openness), EI, and self-efficacy are all traits for which high scores are typically considered to be desirable. However, recent research suggests these traits can also be detrimental if manifested at extreme levels (i.e., there is evidence for curvilinear relationships between these traits and organizational outcomes, where both the extreme low pole and the extreme high pole are maladaptive). Although we could have reviewed any number of personality constructs here, we chose to focus on the aforementioned desirable traits because a fair amount of existing research suggests these traits do indeed have a “dark side” at the extreme positive end of the latent trait spectrum (e.g., Côté, Decelles, McCarthy, Van Kleef, & Hideg, 2011; Del Líbano, Llorens, Salanova, & Schaufeli, 2012; Samuel & Gore, 2012). We note that future work in this area could involve a wide array of additional traits (e.g., core self-evaluations, proactive personality).
Big Five Personality Traits
Big Five personality traits have shown small to moderate positive relationships with task performance (Barrick & Mount, 1991; Barrick, Mount, & Judge, 2001; Hurtz & Donovan, 2000), organizational citizenship behavior (OCB; Chiaburu, Oh, Berry, Li, & Gardner, 2011), leadership (Judge, Bono, Ilies, & Gerhardt, 2002), and countless other organizational outcomes of interest (for a review, see Hough & Oswald, 2008). As a result of this research, it is typically considered to be beneficial to have high levels of Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Extraversion, Emotional Stability, and Openness. However, as we illustrate below, recent work suggests that extreme scores on the positive end of the latent trait spectrum may actually be maladaptive.
For example, very conscientious individuals can be overly cautious and rigid (Le et al., 2011), which may cause these individuals to be less adaptable to change. Moreover, highly conscientious individuals' narrow-minded focus on obeying rules may distract them from acquiring new skills (Tett, 1998). Another negative aspect of obsessive rule following is that it can prevent individuals from performing OCBs because it may seem inappropriate to go above and beyond formal responsibilities as outlined in their job requirements (Le et al., 2011). It is also possible that highly conscientious individuals could derail team creativity when they hyper focus on minute, irrelevant details rather than the big picture, particularly if task instructions are not clear (Judge & LePine, 2007). Ultimately, the rigidity that often characterizes those high on Conscientiousness may result in a decrease in life satisfaction during periods when the obsessive personality has nothing to distract it, such as when one is unemployed (Boyce, Wood, & Brown, 2010).
Consistent with the idea that very high Conscientiousness has negative outcomes, Le et al. (2011) found that Conscientiousness exhibited a curvilinear relationship with task performance, OCB, and counterproductive work behavior (CWB). A curvilinear relationship between Conscientiousness and job performance was also reported by Lahuis, Martin, and Avis (2005) who found that job performance was highest for moderate levels of Conscientiousness compared to when it was very high or very low. At the same time, the inverted U-shaped relationship between Conscientiousness and job performance has proven to be controversial, as some researchers find little evidence of statistically significant quadratic effects (e.g., Robie & Ryan, 1999). However, as we discuss in a later section, the failure to detect a curvilinear relationship may be associated with inadequate measurement of the full content domain of the construct. In sum, whereas Guenole suggests that research should focus on disinhibition, or the maladaptive variant of low Conscientiousness, we recommend that industrial–organizational (I–O) scholars should also further explore the destructive potential of high levels of Conscientiousness.
Similarly, whereas Guenole concentrates on antagonism as the maladaptive dimension corresponding to low Agreeableness, we suggest that high levels of Agreeableness can also be dysfunctional. Agreeable individuals are typically pleasant to be around, but there are also maladaptive aspects of Agreeableness such as gullibility and submissiveness that could lead to an agreeable individual being perceived as an ingratiating pushover (Samuel & Gore, 2012). Taking this idea further, the desire to please everyone may result in agreeable individuals being overly lenient managers (Bernardin, Cooke, & Villanova, 2000). In addition, these individuals' motivation to avoid conflict (Suls, Martin, & David, 1998) could lead to lower pay, fewer promotions, and decreased extrinsic career success (Ng, Eby, Sorensen, & Feldman, 2005). Finally, when highly agreeable individuals work in teams, they may be less constructive and effective team members because they refuse to voice dissenting opinions. This is a problem if poor decisions are argued for most vociferously by other group members (LePine & Van Dyne, 2001).
In regard to the Big Five trait of Extraversion, previous research indicates that Extraversion is ideal for sales and managerial positions (Barrick & Mount, 1991). However, the warm, gregarious nature of extraverts can backfire if manifested at extremely high levels in which case these individuals appear to be self-aggrandizing, long-winded, and egotistic (Coker, Samuel, & Widiger, 2002). In addition, an extravert's social behavior can be disadvantageous for nonsales jobs or autonomous jobs that require long attention spans or routinization due to the high energy and activity level that is characteristic of individuals who are extremely extraverted (Beauducel, Brocke, & Leue, 2006). There is also evidence that people who are too dominant/assertive (a facet of Extraversion; Costa & McCrae, 1992) can be perceived as bullies (Ames & Flynn, 2007). For example, when examining leadership effectiveness, a series of studies by Ames and Flynn (2007) found an inverted U-shaped relationship between leadership and assertiveness such that leaders who were very high in assertiveness were seen as tyrannical, whereas leaders who were very low in assertiveness were seen as pushovers (i.e., both extremes were ineffective). In contrast, moderate levels of assertiveness were optimal for leadership. In summary, it appears that although low levels of Extraversion (perhaps corresponding to the dimension of Detachment described by Guenole) can be maladaptive, we propose extremely high Extraversion can be dysfunctional as well.
Emotionally stable individuals are known to be calm and level headed in comparison to their anxious, neurotic counterparts (e.g., individuals high in negative emotionality). However, the overly emotionally stable person may give the impression of being cold, emotionless, and inhuman (Coker et al., 2002). This notion of high levels of Emotional Stability as maladaptive is supported by Le et al. (2011), who demonstrated a curvilinear relationship between Emotional Stability and task performance, OCB, and CWB. The authors theorized that people who are very high in Emotional Stability are characterized by emotional over control and hence, are less able to connect with others. In addition, they suggested that the over control of emotions in individuals who are high on Emotional Stability may deplete the cognitive resources needed for task performance.
Finally, although individuals high on Openness to Experience are typically considered to be creative and artistic (Goldberg, 1993), high levels of Openness are also associated with being rebellious and unconventional, components that could (in some situations) lead to CWB and a disregard for company rules (Hough, 1992). In addition, behaviors associated with extremely high Openness can have negative organizational consequences because open individuals are more accident prone (Clarke & Robertson, 2005) and less committed to their jobs (Erdheim, Wang, & Zickar, 2006). Very high Openness is even associated with odd or eccentric behavior, bizarre thinking, and distorted cognitions that can result in hostility towards conventionality (Piedmont, Sherman, & Sherman, 2012). This suggests that Openness may be beneficial for nontraditional, innovative organizations/jobs but may also be detrimental beyond a certain threshold.
Recent evidence suggests emotional intelligence (i.e., the ability to reason about emotions and use emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought processes; Mayer, Roberts, & Barsade, 2008) is positively correlated with task performance (Joseph & Newman, 2010; O'Boyle, Humphrey, Pollack, Hawver, & Story, 2011) and leadership effectiveness (Harms & Crede, 2010). Thus, EI is generally considered to be a desirable set of abilities; however, it can also be misinterpreted (as apathy in individuals who may be too efficient at regulating their own emotions) or misused (when one manipulates others' emotions with malicious intent). For example, initial work in this area indicates that those who are very high in EI may seem cold and aloof. In particular, leaders who regulate their emotions too much can appear distant and depersonalized from their subordinates, which can negatively affect subordinate job satisfaction (Kafetsios, Nezlek, & Vassiou, 2011). Further work on the “dark side” of EI demonstrates that while most individuals who are high in EI are also high in moral identity and low in Machiavellianism, there are individuals who are high in EI and Machiavellianism, and these individuals can cause harm through their ability to control and manage others' emotions (Côté et al., 2011). Evidence suggests EI is also moderately correlated with emotional manipulation (r = .29), or purposeful manipulation of someone's feelings for personal gain, particularly for men (Grieve & Panebianco, 2013). In other words, it appears that the (typically positive) trait of EI can sometimes be misunderstood or intentionally used for “dark” or maladaptive purposes.
Finally, although research on self-efficacy has generally supported a positive relationship between self-efficacy and work-related performance (Stajkovic & Luthans, 1998), within-person studies have found that self-efficacy has a negative relationship with performance (e.g., high self-efficacy prompts less planned and actual study time and subsequently poorer exam performance; Vancouver & Kendall, 2006). This is because high self-efficacy can lead to over-confidence in one's abilities. That is, when individuals believe that they are sufficiently equipped to face a challenge, they are less motivated to invest resources to prepare for that challenge (Vancouver, Thompson, Tischner, & Putka, 2002; Vancouver, Thompson, & Williams, 2001).