Neuroticism: Why It’s Not Always Unhealthy In The Workplace


Overly anxious. Easily stressed. Moody and tense. It’s easy to understand why job seekers with neuroticism are not always considered safe hires. But just because it’s easy to understand, doesn’t mean it’s always the case. The fact is, your neuroticism can actually add value to the workplace that hiring managers and HR professionals often overlook. It’s your job, then, to show hiring managers what they’re missing.

What’s neuroticism?

Neuroticism is one of the Big Five personality traits that, along with extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness, psychologists consider when assessing a person’s personality. It is a measure of a person’s tendency to experience negative emotions like stress, anxiety, and depression. Typically, neurotics are very sensitive to environmental stimuli and respond negatively to the stressors in their lives.

It’s not just the stress and anxiety, though — it’s how the stress and anxiety affect an individual’s health and workplace performance that give neuroticism its bad reputation.

When you consider that, according to a Washington University study, neuroticism has a significant negative impact on health, it makes sense that neuroticism isn’t a sought after personality trait. The research, published online in October 2014 and re-published in the April 2015 print version of the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal, found that an increase in neuroticism led to an increase in the likelihood of being diagnosed with high blood pressure by 37 percent, lung disease by 29 percent, arthritis by 25 percent, and heart disease by 24 percent.

Combine the health implications of neuroticism with the likelihood for an employee to make mistakes while stressed or crack under the pressure of deadlines, and it’s obvious that neuroticism can never be effective in the workplace, right? Not quite.

Why healthy neuroticism is an asset in the workplace

While extreme levels of neuroticism can be unhealthy, recent research has shown how healthy neuroticism can be an asset in the workplace. The key to healthy neuroticism is actually another one of the Big Five traits, conscientiousness.

Conscientiousness measures how organized, thoughtful, and aware of their surroundings an individual is, and has been shown to be one of the most valued personality traits to organizations. Healthy neurotics combine their anxiety and higher levels of stress with increased conscientiousness, and the result is a happier, healthier employee. In other words, healthy neurotics have found a way to make neuroticism work in the workplace.

Healthy neurotics lead healthy lifestyles and avoid burnout.

Conscientiousness has been shown to be a key personality trait in healthy individuals. For example, individuals with higher levels of conscientiousness in the Washington University study were 37 percent less likely to be diagnosed with a stroke. When Psychiatry researcher Nicholas Turino of the University of Rochester and his colleagues measured conscientiousness levels in neurotics in 2012-2013, they found that neurotics with high levels of conscientiousness turned their neuroticism towards creating a healthy lifestyle.

Leading a healthy lifestyle is the most important factor in avoiding burnout at work, according to 93 percent of the executives surveyed in February 2015 by Virgin Pulse. For most unhealthy neurotics, this is a problem. Healthy neurotics, however, focus their anxiety and stress into healthy habits like going to the gym, eating well, and other stress management techniques. This ability to focus their stress into healthy activities allows healthy neurotics to be more engaged in the office and helps them avoid taking productivity-killing sick days.

Healthy neurotics channel their stress into productivity.

For most neurotics, looming deadlines, last minute projects, and ever-changing client demands cause already high stress levels to soar. Healthy neurotics, on the other hand, are conscientious enough to focus that stress. As Turino puts it, “Healthy neurotic individuals somehow find a way to channel that anxiety they have to motivate them to do good work.” They make a conscious decision not to be paralyzed by their anxiety and, instead, take action to avoid prolonging their feelings of stress.

In other words, the difference between healthy and unhealthy neuroticism in the workplace comes down to action. Healthy neurotics are conscientious about how they react to stressors in their personal and professional lives and turn their anxiety toward productive actions that benefit the organization. They set themselves apart from the stereotypical office neurotic and contribute to the overall goals of the company, no matter what their stress level may be.

When it comes down to it, you need to highlight how your conscientiousness takes over in times of stress in order to make sure hiring managers and recruiters don’t overlook how valuable you can be in the office. Instead of worrying about your neuroticism, find ways to channel it into making creative connections between your job experiences and the impact you can make at an organization.

How do you highlight the positive aspects of your neuroticism? What role does it play in your job search?