We would all like to think that doing well towards others will benefit us in this (and future?) life. At the same time, capitalism can encourage some people to act entirely in their self-interest in order to get ahead and create efficient organizations. So, should we hire good or successful people?
Altruism is a part of the “Big 5” personality construct of Agreeableness. In business settings, we would consider it how much a person makes other feel welcome versus looking down on others. Agreeableness has been established as a reasonably good predictor of job performance.
In this study, researchers dug into altruism and how it affected life outcomes, including income. There are two things that I found interesting and useful about their results:
- We should not be surprised that altruism leads to financial success in environments that involve teamwork. Working with others is about making 2+2=5 and people need to be willing to think about others to make that happen. It is important to note that this research did not look at specific occupations. One can see how altruism would be a bigger plus for some professions (health care) but not in others (sales).
- Generally, the results showed a straight-line relationship between altruistic motivations and income. However, when looking at altruistic behaviors, there was a point where there could be too much of a good thing an income went down among those who reported the most altruistic behaviors. This is important from a selection perspective because if you were to use a personality measure (Compared to most people I know, I am very altruistic.), you would want to score it as higher is better. However, if using a biodata approach (How many times have you given your time to someone else in the past year?), then a curvilinear scoring may be more accurate.
Of course, deciding on any pre-employment screen first requires a good job analysis first. This study provides an interesting window into how one sub-facet of personality can potentially be predictive of important job behaviors.
It also reminds us to look at the value of pro-social behaviors in the workplace and look for opportunities for employees to do them together. It builds a culture of altruism that may also lead to greater business success.