The Benefits of Low Conscientiousness at Work

Conscientiousness is listed as a desirable trait on almost every job description. Whether it is described as ambition, self-motivated, well organized or a “self-starter”. Everyone is looking for diligence, responsiblity and accountability. Right? Every employer seems to want conscientious employees. 

And indeed, the evidence also suggests conscientiousness is desirable for many jobs. Those who are conscientious tend to perform better, achieve more, show greater improvement as a result of training and are more likely to get promoted. Conscientiousness is one of the greatest predictors of success in many careers.

So what are the advantages (if any) of lower conscientiousness? First, look at how those with lower conscientiousness describe themselves. People with higher conscientiousness would say they are responsible. punctual, organized, dutiful. Those with lower conscientiousness would say they are spontaneous, flexible, and have more fun. Both are correct.

Along with their strengths, those with lower conscientiousness have some very redeeming vices.

Life Satisfaction

The first advantage of lower conscientiousness is clear. Those with lower conscientiousness are less affected by setbacks at work. The highly conscientious workaholic feels successful through professional achivement. Those with lower conscientiousness gain satisfaction from other sources like family, relationships, hobbies and diversions. This means work and career setbacks have a much less negative impact on those with lower conscientiousness. Boyce and colleagues (2010) found periods of unemployment much more damaging to the well-being of those with higher conscientiousness. 


Some positions require flexibility, and the capacity to seize opportunities, change priorities and deviate from the long-term plan. Sometimes, good enough really is good enough, while the perfectionist wastes time on unimportant details. For better or worse, those with lower conscientious can be much faster at adapting to opportunities and change. The artistic and creative fields are dominated by those with lower conscientiousness. Although the connection is complex, low conscientiousness is often associated with higher creativity.

Team Dynamics

A heterogeneous, exceedingly conscientious group can be the least creative. When looking too far into the future, its possible to miss the opportunities right under your nose. Those with lower conscientiousness tend to be more focused on the current moment and situation than long-term planning. The highly conscientious often find their more spontaneous compatriots flighty, flaky or frustrating. But groups benefit from being constructively challenged by those with different points of view. The most creative and adaptable groups will combine the strong planners with the creative and the spontaneous.


It’s not that those with lower conscientiousness cannot be motivated, they are motivated by different things. Those with high conscientiousness are motivated by an internal drive, while those with lower conscientiousness are motivated by the external. That is the environment, the circumstances, the people and what’s going on around them.

Those with lower conscientiousness can work tirelessly when they are motivated by something external. This may involve drawing inspiration from those around them, or the threat of a looming deadline.

So, is it better to have high or low conscientiousness? The answer, of course, depends entirely on how conscientious you are.



Boyce, C. J., Wood, A. M., & Brown, G. D. A. (2010). The dark side of conscientiousness: Conscientious people experience greater drops in life satisfaction following unemployment. Journal of Research in Personality 44, 435 - 539.

Fayard, J. V., Roberts, B. W., Robins, R. W., & Watson, D. Uncovering the affective core of conscientiousness: The role of self-conscious emotions. Journal of Personality, 80(1), 

MacRae, I., & Furnham, A. (2014). High Potential: How to spot, manage and develop talented people at work. London: Bloomsbury.


Ian MacRae

Conscientiousness is an essential trait for entrepreneurs

Conscientiousness is a useful trait in nearly ever career. Those who are conscientious are hardworking, dependable self starters. The research on personality clearly shows conscientiousness is a predictor of nearly every type of success.

Conscientious managers tend to perform better. Conscientious people tend to be more successful in training and education. Conscientious salespeople typically outperform their less conscientious colleagues.

So what of entrepreneurs? Startups are challenging, and small businesses have high mortality rates. In the United States, the Bureau of Labour Statistics [link] finds that 20-25% of businesses fail within the first year, only two-thirds remain after three years, only half are still surviving after six years, and fifteen years on, only one quarter of businesses are still in existence. Irrespective of the year of founding, and positioning in economic cycles, business survival rates are similar. 

The traits of the entrepreneur are important to the business. Unsurprisingly, the evidence shows conscientiousness effectively predicts entrepreneurial success. Ciavarella and colleagues [link] surveyed thousands of graduate students and tracked their progress over 25 years to examine the traits of those who started businesses, survival rates of businesses and business growth. The clear result was that conscientious entrepreneurs are more successful in starting, maintaining and expanding businesses. 

New business rely on the skills, knowledge, personality, experience and other attributes of the person(s) starting the business. There are of course external influences, supply and demand, labour forces conditions, availability of credit, etc. which may affect a business - but a successful entrepreneur must adapt to these external conditions.

This is interesting for two reasons, particularly when comparing the traits of entrepreneurs with successful leaders:

  1. There is a fundamental similarity between managers, leaders and entrepreneurs in the importance of conscientiousness. Higher conscientiousness improves success for both.
  2. Other than conscientiousness, the personality of a successful entrepreneur is very different from a manager or leaders of a large company. For example, while senior executives tend to be very resilient to stressors, many entrepreneurs thrive under stress and those who are conscientious use it as a driving force.

Of course, conscientiousness is not the only important attribute of a successful entrepreneur. Planning and hard work alone is not necessarily sufficient for a successful business. Any aspiring entrepreneur should consider their own conscientiousness; investors beware about investing an entrepreneur who is not conscientious.




Ian MacRae