Truth and consequences: study finds honest employees rate better

By Jade Mardirosian
Staff Writer

Honesty may be the best policy after all.

New findings from a Baylor study, “A New Trait on the Market: Honesty–Humility as a Unique Predictor of Job Performance Ratings,” have found that employees who exhibit honesty and humility score higher in job performance, as rated by their employers.

“[The study found] honesty-humility, which to some degree is a slightly understudied personality trait, is a predictor of job performance,” Megan Johnson, a Baylor doctoral candidate and lead writer on the study, said. “This is unique because to date, nobody has found honesty-humility to predict that.”

The study, conducted by Baylor researchers and a Nevada business consultant, surveyed 269 employees who provide home health care to patients who Johnson described as difficult. The data came from 20 different states and 25 different agencies within those states. Supervisors measured the performance of the employees.

Dr. Wade Rowatt, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, helped lead the study.

“The main finding [of the research] is that honesty-humility correlates with supervisor rating of job performance,” Rowatt said. “The second big finding is that honesty-humility predicts job performance above and beyond things like conscientiousness and agreeableness. The third thing is that we think the correlation is only going to be found in some jobs and positions. The participants in our study were working with challenging clients. These people are more likeable, and we don’t think these would be predictable of a sales performance or entertainment position.”

Johnson said the ratings were conducted by supervisors rating the employees on a variety of job skills.

“The 35 skills were quite a range, [including] able to manage money, able to manage medical care, listened effectively, had effective reading skills, were responsible and [the survey] asked how they performed each of these tasks,” Johnson said.

The researchers concluded that the employees who considered themselves to be honest and humble scored significantly higher than those who didn’t on their job performance by their supervisors.

Employees with honesty and humility were defined in the study as those who displayed high levels of fairness, greed-avoidance, sincerity and modesty.

Johnson said these findings will affect how prospective employees are evaluated before being hired.

“This study will help employers, one, understand that humility and honesty are important personality traits for employees to have, especially those in care giving roles,” Johnson said. “And two, it will provide a justification for a means to screen potential employees on desirable traits, such as honesty-humility, that will help them better perform certain jobs. This will help employers find better fits for certain positions within their companies.”

Johnson said honesty and humility are important personality traits that are sometimes underrated.

“My hope is that people will see that [honesty-humility] is positive with personal relationships and can also be positive with certain types of jobs,” Johnson said.

Rowatt said he hopes people start seeing humility as a character strength and not as a weakness.

“Some people think of humility as lowliness, but humility is definitely a positive quality and just because humble people might be more quiet, doesn’t mean that they don’t have strengths,” Rowatt said.

The study was published in the April issue of the scientific academic journal, “Personality and Individual Differences.”