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The Five-Factor Model of Personality and Proactive Behaviour at Work

5 minute read


By Stavy Papasotiriou, Organisational Psychologist and Founder of  Work Unlocked

Every company is on the lookout for exceptional talent. But what if the key to unlocking productivity and innovation lies not only in qualifications and experience but also in employee personality traits and proactive behaviour? Welcome to the world of hidden gems – where charisma, enthusiasm, and initiative combine to create a dynamic and engaging work environment. In this blog, we embark on a journey to explore the intriguing connection between personality traits and proactive behaviour, unravelling the secrets of how employees can shine brighter and teams can achieve greatness.


Before we dive into the influence of personality traits, let's first grasp the essence of proactive behaviour. Proactivity is the act of taking initiative, going beyond assigned tasks, and actively seeking opportunities for improvement and growth. It's about anticipating challenges, identifying solutions, and acting to make positive changes without being prompted. Proactive individuals don't wait for problems to arise; instead, they proactively shape their work environment to foster success.

Why proactive behaviour at work is important:

Proactive behaviour is a driving force behind individual and organisational success. Here's why it holds immense importance in the workplace:

      • Seizing Opportunities: Proactive employees are always on the lookout for potential openings and are quick to capitalise on them. By taking the initiative to explore new ventures and approaches, they position themselves and their organisations at the forefront of innovation.
      • Driving Innovation: Innovation lies at the heart of progress, and proactive individuals are the torchbearers of this pursuit. Their ability to think creatively, challenge conventions, and explore uncharted territories paves the way for groundbreaking ideas and transformative solutions.
      • Problem-Solving and Troubleshooting: The ability to proactively address challenges is a superpower in the workplace. Proactive employees are quick to identify potential pitfalls and develop pre-emptive strategies. When hurdles do arise, their resourcefulness and decisiveness lead to swift and effective resolutions.
      • Initiative and Ownership: Proactivity is a reflection of a strong sense of ownership and responsibility. Those who display proactive traits take ownership of their tasks and responsibilities, resulting in heightened dedication and a sense of pride in their work.
      • Adaptability to Change: Change is inevitable, and the ability to adapt is essential for survival. Proactive employees welcome change as an opportunity for growth, embracing new challenges with enthusiasm. Their adaptability fosters resilience, ensuring that the organisation can weather storms and navigate through turbulent times.
      • Increased Productivity: By actively seeking out efficiencies, streamlining processes, and prioritizing tasks, proactive individuals achieve more in less time, giving their organisations a competitive edge.
      • Positive Influence on Workplace Culture: Proactivity is contagious, spreading like wildfire through an organisation. When one employee takes the lead, others are inspired to follow suit, creating a positive ripple effect. A workplace culture that encourages and rewards proactivity is one where employees feel motivated, engaged, and invested in the organisation's success.


In our quest to understand the power of employee personality traits and proactive behaviour, we delve into the fascinating realm of the "Big Five" personality traits: conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, and openness to experience. These traits form the foundation of the dynamic model of proactivity proposed by psychologists Grant and Ashford (2008), where certain Big Five traits play a pivotal role in fostering proactive work behaviours.

Here’s how personality traits intersect with proactive behaviour at work:

      1. Conscientiousness - The Driver of Persistence:

Conscientious employees are task-oriented, reliable, and committed to their work. Their persistent nature aligns with the sustained enactment of proactive behaviour. Conscientiousness should facilitate the pursuit of increasing challenging job demands, the reduction of hindering job demands, and the enhancement of structural job resources. These employees take charge of their responsibilities and actively seek opportunities to make a positive impact on their tasks and the organisation.

      1. Extraversion - Catalyst for Relational Proactivity:

Extraverted individuals are outgoing, sociable, and adept at managing social interactions. As Wu and Li (2017) suggest, extraversion is particularly important for fostering proactive behaviour in relational contexts. Such employees thrive in social interactions and use their interpersonal skills to build valuable relationships. Consequently, higher extraversion is associated with an increase in social job resources, making them effective at networking and collaborating to achieve common goals.

      1. Neuroticism (Low Emotional Stability) - Coping and Confidence:

Emotionally stable employees, characterised by low neuroticism, cope effectively with stressors and remain composed in challenging situations. This emotional resilience facilitates the reduction of hindering job demands, allowing these individuals to navigate through obstacles with ease. Moreover, their positive emotions and higher self-confidence empower them to take on challenges and influence change successfully.

      1. Agreeableness - The Team Player:

Agreeable employees are friendly, cooperative, and team-oriented. Like extraversion, agreeableness enables increasing social job resources. These individuals are skilled at building rapport with colleagues and stakeholders, fostering a collaborative environment where proactive ideas and initiatives can thrive. Their teamwork-oriented approach makes them valuable contributors to group projects and organisational initiatives.

      1. Openness to Experience - Curiosity and Creativity:

Employees high in openness to experience exhibit curiosity, creativity, and an appetite for learning. This trait supports the information-collection stages of proactive action processes. Openness fosters a willingness to explore new ideas and opportunities, making individuals more receptive to increasing challenging job demands and embracing novel approaches to problem-solving.


In conclusion, the intersection of the "Big Five" personality traits with proactive behaviour at work offers valuable insights into the dynamics of employee engagement and performance. Conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism (low emotional stability), agreeableness, and openness to experience each contributes in their unique way to the proactive fabric of the workplace. By recognising and leveraging these personality traits, your organisation can unlock the hidden potential of your employees, creating a workforce that embraces proactivity and fuels the journey toward excellence and innovation. Proactivity, combined with diverse personalities, is the key to unlocking a brighter and more prosperous future for individuals and organisations alike.



Stavy Papasotiriou is an organisational psychologist and the visionary behind Work Unlocked — a leading HR consultancy on a mission to revolutionise employee engagement, performance, and retention in businesses worldwide. With a profound understanding of HR practices, Stavy leverages psychological principles to unleash the untapped potential of workforces. At Work Unlocked, Stavy crafts bespoke strategies that are grounded in research and tailored to each organisation's unique needs. These strategies are designed to yield remarkable results while requiring minimal resources.


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