Fox School of BusinessIdea Marketplace

Do Birds of a Feather Fly to Work Together?

September 17th, 2018

Posted in:

When looking for a new job, applicants typically consider a large number of organizations,looking for the right fit. Companies do the same, tending to hire job applicants who have similar attributes to those of their incumbents, all other things being equal.

In-Sue Oh, Brian Holtz, and You Jin Kim, three professors in the Fox School of Business’s Department of Human Resources Management, along with two other co-authors, studied why individuals are more likely to be attracted to, selected by, and stay longer in organizations that fit their personality. Their research explored this phenomenon, called the theory of attraction-selection-attrition (ASA), and found that organizations are becoming increasingly homogenous over time.

Their new study examines how different personality traits contribute to ASA processes that promote within‐organization homogeneity and between-organization heterogeneity progression over time. Their article, “Do Birds of a Feather Flock, Fly, and Continue to Fly Together? The Differential and Cumulative Effects of Attraction, Selection, and Attrition on Personality-Based Within-Organization Homogeneity and Between-Organization Heterogeneity Progression over Time,” was recently accepted for publication in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

The ASA theory works on multiple levels: first, individuals tend to estimate, consciously or not, the extent of similarity between their own personality and the characteristics of potential employers. Because of this, people are attracted to organizations that best fit their personality and submit employment applications accordingly.

Next, the hiring managers reviewing the applications tend to favor and select those who they believe best fit the organizational characteristics, as well as those who are similar to their own personalities.

When newcomers join the organization, for the next several months up to one year, they evaluate the true fit between the organization and their personality. “People whohave a similar personality to that of their managers are more likely to have a higher chance of promotion. Those who don’t fit their managers’ personality are more likely to be unhappy,” says Oh. Newcomers who feel that they do not fit may decide to leave, this contributing to the level of attrition at the company.

In this study, the researchers tracked the personality profile changes and career trajectories of the employees of three South Korean companies from the manufacturing sector, the banking industry, and the pharmaceutical industry. The researchers used the five‐factor model (FFM) of personality traits—extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience, agreeableness and neuroticism—to determine the employee’s personality.

“Through the process of attraction, selection, and attrition, people at an organization become more homogeneous in terms of their personality,” says Oh. “We showed that through the reduction in the standard deviation in extraversion or other personality traits.”

The study was the first to examine this phenomenon of within‐organization homogeneity, or the similarity of employees’ personalities, over time. This study also examined between‐organization heterogeneity progression over time to see whether and how similar personalities within organizations contributes to inter-firm differences.

In viewing changes over time, the researchers found that selection is most responsible for the within‐organization homogenization, whereas attraction contributes most to between‐organization heterogeneity. In terms of personality traits, the progression of within-organization homogeneity over time was mostly driven by extraversion, but between-organization heterogeneity was influenced by neuroticism.

“Different organizations attract different people, select different people, and retain different people,” says Oh. “Because of that reduction in variance within organizations over time, organizations will become more different [from each other] over time, even within the same sector.”

Overall, this study provides an inside look at how personality functions as human capital resources within organizations and how personalities are unevenly distributed across organizations. This study extends Oh’s previous research on the impact of personality-based human capital resources on firm-level labor productivity and financial performance.

In today’s world, as more companies turn to artificial intelligence and technology to help screen for applicants, understanding the types of employees that are attracted to and will stay with a company are invaluable to human resource managers. By understanding how these processes work over time, the researchers also share insights in terms of human resource management practices.  

Learn more about research from the Fox School on the Idea Marketplace.

For more stories and news, follow the Fox School on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

See All Idea Marketplace Posts