The Pros And Cons Of Conscientiousness

Hello dear readers, before continuing to read this article, maybe take a few minutes to ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you more detail-oriented or big-picture?
  • Do you tend to “work hard” first before “play hard”?
  • Do you rarely break promises or show up late?
  • Do you often plan, decide, and like to put stuff on paper?
  • Do you enjoy having a clear schedule rather than going with the flow?

If most of the answers are yes, you might be an individual scoring high in the conscientiousness trait. 

Conscientiousness is a fundamental personality trait—one of the Big Five personality model. This trait reflects the tendency for an individual to be accountable and reliable, organized and detail-oriented. High scorers tend to be ambitious at work and enjoy adhering to norms and rules. On the contrary, people with low levels of conscientiousness are likely more big-picture oriented and spontaneous.

If you want to know how conscientious are you, we recommend to take the Big Five Personality Test here.

Also, if you are a visual learner, you can also follow this video below:

The Six Facets of Conscientiousness

According to the International Personality Item Pool, each dimension of the Big Five Personality Traits comprises six facets, or sub traits. The facets of the conscientiousness domain are:

  • Self-Efficacy: the ability to accomplish things, and desire to achieve and complete tasks. Self-Efficacy enables one to believe that they are competent and self-controlled. Low scorers in conscientiousness might have low self-efficacy.  Low self-efficacy might make them feel that their lives are out of control.
  • Orderliness: the quality of being organized and well-prepared. This facet is manifested when one enjoys making plans and following schedules and routines. Order-oriented people tend to keep things in order and organized and enjoy making and completing to-do lists. People with low levels of conscientiousness on the other hand tend to break rules and be disorganized.
Keeping things in order is one of the favorite things to do for order-oriented people
  • Dutifulness: Dutifulness allows one to have a strong sense of moral responsibility and contentment when following routines, regulations, or contracts. People with low levels of dutifulness view rules as being too confining and restrictive.hey tend to “play hard” before “work hard” and focus more on the present moments rather than long-term goals.  
  • Self-Discipline: the ability an individual has to control and motivate himself or herself to stay on track and make progress in achieving the goals. People with high levels of self-discipline have strong willpower, plus an ability to be persistent on following through with tasks, even unpleasant ones. People who do not have self-discipline tend to fail to self-control and self-motivate to continue the work they are supposed to do. 
  • Cautiousness: The tendency to think through all possible options and potential consequences of a situation before taking action. This also applies in communication where cautiousness means choosing carefully what to say and which words to use. Cautious people are thoughtful and need more time to make decisions. The opposite of being cautious is impulsive
  • Achievement-striving: the tendency to work diligently to achieve success and become the top performer. People having this facet often set their goals high and would love to sacrifice the joyful presence for hard work to accomplish those goals. They are usually internally driven, ambitious, and strive for a better future. On the contrary, people who do not have this tend not to be driven by accomplishments and achievements.

Among the six facets, achievement-striving is one of the elements that is considered to be associated with career success. Since this facet is about setting ambitious goals and striving to achieve them, the downside is that the goals set could be too high or too risky. Also, high scorers could be considered narrow-minded, overly focused. They are too focused to be aware of other options or r alternatives. 

The relationship between conscientiousness and demographic, biological and environmental factors.

The interactions children have with their parents or caregivers in the early development stage can affect their personality traits later in life. A research measured key personality traits from a handful of adults and recorded memories of their parents’ behaviors in their childhood found that children who were able to receive care and affections from their parents tend to score higher in conscientiousness

affection baby baby girl beautiful
Children receiving affections from their parents tend to score higher in conscientiousness.

On another school of thought, other research suggested that a biological basis might also influence levels of conscientiousness. In Canada, 1996, a twin study by Kerry L. Jang  and his research team shows that conscientiousness is possibly inherited through the genes of our parents.

Demographic factors can also contribute to the changes in conscientiousness levels. Research by Van den Akker suggested that conscientiousness tends to increase as we grow older and acquire relatively enough social experience. 

The upsides of conscientiousness: lower likelihood of accidents and higher empathy

In a study called “The Five‐Factor Model, Conscientiousness, and Driving Accident Involvement” by Winfred Arthur Jr. and William G. Graziano in 1996, conscientious people are less likely to be involved in driving accidents than those with less conscientious personality traits. This is a direct result of conscientious people being careful, cautious, and self-discipline. 

red and yellow hatchback axa crash tests
Conscientiousness individuals are less likely to be involved in car accidents

Conscientious people tend to be more empathetic towards other people, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. Since they will not take action without pondering possible options and consequences, they are rarely in a situation of advertently offending or upsetting others by either their words or actions.

The downsides of conscientiousness: bureaucracy and “anal personality”

The conscientiousness paradox: higher conscientiousness in to poorer and less democratic societies

On the national scale, the research found that “countries with high average levels of conscientiousness tend to be poorer, less democratic, and have a lower life expectancy compared to their less conscientious counterparts”. Although some scholars suggest that between-country comparisons of conscientiousness are not valid and convincing enough to yield a result, this led them to think there is the existence of “conscientiousness paradox”. This can be simply interpreted that, when levels of conscientiousness go too high, instead of yielding a better result, for instance, more productive at work, the reality is entirely opposite. 

Conscientiousness used to be defined as a pathological

According to Freud, “one group of his patients stood out from the rest: their discerning traits were cleanliness, conscientiousness, frugality, and stubbornness – that is, an anal personality.

Fortunately, conscientiousness has a more appealing connotation these days. Conscientiousness is widely considered a positive trait that an employee or a worker should have for productivity, long-term contribution, and organizational loyalty. As a result, one might be tempted to assume that “the more, the better”. 

High conscientiousness correlates to poorer workplace performance

Conscientiousness in practice is: “observing rules, focusing on the work, staying on schedule, keeping promises, and being reliable”.  It is only productive if the motivation comes from inside, not from the external desire for social rewards

“Hypocrisy is not genuine conscientiousness”

An over-conscientious employee can become compulsive perfectionists and workaholics. They might also be seen as being inflexible and non-adaptive. “Pedantry, a neurotic adherence to routine and perfectionism, are examples of extreme conscientiousness”. This can be seen as a manager insists on doing or organizing things in a particular way and it has to be perfect… according to his opinions! Or an employee takes more than half an hour just to fix minor visualization details of the report. Simply put, conscientiousness in doing the wrong things only results in bureaucracy and low productivity.

Too much conscientiousness correlates to poorer workplace performance

The above statement used to be a hypothesis yet has been empirically confirmed by a summary study, suggesting that the overly high levels of conscientiousness of an employee quickly turn into “detriment“ if he or she was assigned a simple task.

In short, overly conscientious people tend to spend unnecessary extra time making decisions, and “the ability to improvise and prioritize is lost”. These people also are prone to be exposed to “rapid burnout”, thus feeling faster than others, which lowers their work performance and productivity. 

Conclusion: the importance of conscientiousness

Conscientiousness plays a vital role in both individual improvement and working organizations. Individuals can leverage the power of conscientiousness to cultivate and grow personal development on a daily basis. In a working environment, this personality trait helps to boost team performance and drive the team towards accomplishing the goals set. It is also one of the keystone ingredients in a productive employee and a successful manager.

Summary: Levels of conscientiousness and behaviors

Big-picture orientedDetail-orientedBecome a perfectionist
Prefer deadlines and schedulesEnjoy spontaneous situations 
“Play harder” firstHard-workingBecome Workaholic
Stay relaxed, rarely take things seriouslyResponsible when taking actions or speakingBecome Inflexible and non-adaptive
Break rules, disobeyAdhere to norms and rulesBeing stubbornly compulsive


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