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Individual differences and wellbeing

As we have seen, there are a number of situational factors that have the potential to affect employee wellbeing.

However, individual differences are important and can be a contributing factor in how an individual responds to a situation.

Individual differences and responses to stress

According to Arnold and Randall, individual differences can affect a person’s response to stress in one of the following ways:

  • Individual differences can have a direct effect on stress outcomes. Arnold and Randall (2016: 420) give the example of an anxious employee, who may experience stress across a number of work situations.

  • Individual differences can have a moderating effect in the stressor-strain relationship; having or not having certain personality characteristics, could mean that a situation may be stressful for one person, but not for another. Arnold and Randall (2016: 420) give the example of an extrovert being in an isolated work situation; not having people around may prove stressful for the individual.

  • Individual differences may have a direct perpetual influence, and effect a persons’ perception of what their job is like. Arnold and Randall (2016: 420) provide an example of a person who may be high in need for control and who is aware of the limitations of their actual control at work. This may result in stress and have a subsequent effect on wellbeing.

The effect of particular individual differences

There are a number of individual differences that can determine how an employee responds to stressful situations, some of which are discussed briefly below:


Personality can affect many aspects of a person’s working life, with a number of theories asserting that wellbeing is closely related to personality.

In a meta-analysis of 142 studies examining the relationship between personality traits and wellbeing, a direct relationship was found between neuroticism and happiness, life satisfaction and negative effect, and a direct relationship between positive effect and extroversion, and agreeableness (DeNeve and Cooper 1998).

Cognitive styles

A person’s cognitive style will also impact how they respond to stressful situations, some elements may include:

Locus of control

This is the amount of control a person believes they have in their life

  • A person with an internal locus of control will feel they can influence their life
  • A person with an external locus of control will feel that they have less control and that outcomes are determined by things external of themselves.


The extent to which a person believes they are capable of achieving something.


The confidence a person has in their own capability and how worthy they deem themselves to be.

Psychological flexibility

According to Arnold and Randall, cognitive flexibility is:

‘The extent to which a person uses thinking strategies that allow them to focus on actions (ie doing their job) while at the same time recognising and accepting in a non-judgemental way that the events going on in their mind, such as fear or worry, are unhelpful thoughts.’

(Arnold and Randall 2016: 420)

This can be seen as exercising a mindful approach.


According to Neenan and Dryden, resilience is:

‘A set of flexible, cognitive behavioural and emotional responses to acute or chronic adversities’.

(Dryden 2011: 134)

Put another way, resilience is a person’s ability to bounce back from difficult and pressing situations. A person with high levels of resilience should, in theory, be more capable of handling difficult situations in comparison to someone with low levels of resilience.

(Adapted from Arnold and Randall 2016)

Your task

Can you think of a work situation where a particular personality trait may be helpful or even problematic?

You may want to bring Mary Lucas from the introductory video into your answer.

Explain your answer in the comments. Don’t forget to ‘like’ or reply to posts you find useful or interesting.


Arnold, J., Randall, R. (2016) Work Psychology: Understanding Human Behaviour in the Workplace [online] Harlow, England: Pearson. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=COV_ALMA2183136280002011&context=L&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=LSCOP_COV&isFrbr=true&tab=local&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

DeNeve, K., Cooper, H., Eisenberg, N. (1998) ‘The Happy Personality: A Meta-Analysis of 137 Personality Traits and Subjective Well-Being’. Psychological Bulletin [online] 124 (2), 197-229. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=TN_apa_articles10.1037/0033-2909.124.2.197&context=PC&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=Primo_Central&tab=remote&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

Dryden, W. (2011) Understanding Psychological Health the REBT Perspective [online] Hove: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=COV_ALMA5188434060002011&context=L&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=LSCOP_COV&tab=local&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

Meadows, M.,P. Shreffler, K.,M. Mullins-Sweatt S.,N. ‘Occupational Stressors and Resilience in Critical Occupations: The Role of Personality’ in Perrewe, P. and Ganster, D.,C. (2011) The role of Individual Differences in Occupational Stress and Well-being [online] (1st edn Research in Occupational Stress and Well-being Vol 9.) Bingley: Emerald Group. available from https://locate.coventry.ac.uk/primo-explore/fulldisplay?docid=COV_ALMA5197531480002011&context=L&vid=COV_VU1&search_scope=LSCOP_COV&tab=local&lang=en_US [10th May 2019]

Further reading

For further reading on the factors that affect employee wellbeing, see the discussion in Arnold and Randall (2016) Chapter 10.

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This article is from the free online course:

Wellbeing at Work: An Introduction

Coventry University