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Neuroticism: A Counterintuitive Edge

How does the ideal employee respond to problems? Most hiring managers would tell you: with a steady hand and a level head. In a culture that values confidence, hiring managers may see social anxiety and self-doubt as a recipe for disaster.

But they might be wrong.

A growing body of research suggests that, in many situations, a neurotic employee is the most effective.

What is neuroticism?

The American Psychologist defines neuroticism as the tendency to experience negative emotions, like anxiety or anger, in response to stress. In other words, a neurotic is someone who is deeply invested in what’s happening around them — to the point where their emotional stability is contingent upon it.

Interestingly, the same traits that make neuroticism seem unfavorable actually give neurotic individuals a competitive edge. Overall, neurotics are workplace assets — more creative and more productive than their peers.

How do they do it?

When neurotic people linger over details their counterparts disregard, they are harnessing what behavioral scientist Daniel Nettle calls their “power of rumination” to go over small details again and again. In a workplace scenario, this means they may be highly detail-oriented, channeling their anxiety into excellence. Additionally, research has shown that the combination of emotional investment and responsibility that neuroticism entails turns these seemingly negative emotions into a sheer productive force.

So before you dismiss neuroticism as just another character flaw, remember that it might just save your company.