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‘Conscientiousness is a double-edged sword’ for some remote workers: study

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Fort Collins, CO — Ambiguous expectations and undefined work boundaries may put more conscientious remote workers at elevated risk for burnout, dissatisfaction and illness, a recent study suggests.

Researchers from four universities surveyed 474 white-collar workers in 2019 and again in 2020, after a transition to remote work as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The study focused on these workers because they displayed higher levels of conscientiousness, a personality trait associated with increased motivation and productivity, according to a Colorado State University press release.

Survey questions pertained to job satisfaction, work hours and performance. The respondents also assessed their own thoroughness, reliability, perseverance, efficiency, follow-through and propensity for distraction.

Although the researchers recorded various positive effects of conscientiousness in less standardized, remote work settings, they also found that workers with increased conscientiousness exhibited more strain and dissatisfaction in these scenarios, which increased their chances of burnout, turnover and illness.

“Conscientiousness is a double-edged sword,” Dan Ganster, corresponding study author and management professor at CSU, said in the release. “You get better performance appraisals, but there’s also a threat to your well-being.”

 

Employers should be mindful of this reality so that they can support worker well-being, the researchers note.

“You really have to be cognizant of the pressures and tendencies toward workaholism for conscientious employees,” Ganster said. “You need to take more care monitoring work hours, setting boundaries, setting norms, modeling behavior and so forth.”

The study was published in the May issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

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