THE INC. LIFE

Always Switching Jobs? You Could Blame Your DNA, Study Says

Apparently, some people are just genetically predisposed to job-hop. What can employers do about this?

Share on
BY Cristina Morales - 09 Aug 2017

switching jobs

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Some people hold on to their jobs for decades at a time (sometimes even for life!), while others regularly hop from one job to another in search for greener pastures. Why do some people switch jobs more frequently than others?

We can chalk up people’s decision to quit based on environmental factors like a bad boss, unhealthy work relationships, or an unsuitable organizational structure. But according to researchers from the CUHK Business School, your relationship with work and your job can be traced to your genes.

“People are not randomly assigned to work environments; instead, they select themselves, and/or are selected into compatible work environments to garner the optimal level of person-environment fit,” says lead researcher Professor Wendong Li in a media release.

In their study, the researchers took note of three traits that are generally agreed to be influenced by genetics:

1. General mental ability

This refers to an individual’s abilities to “learn, reason, and solve problems”. Individuals with high mental ability usually outperform individuals with low mental ability, so intuitively, you’d think that the higher your mental ability, the higher your job satisfaction.

2. Positive affectivity (PA)

PA and NA or negative affectivity are traits that describe how an individual experiences positive and negative emotions, respectively. To put simply, people with high PA are more likely to be confident, enthusiastic, and energetic. The researchers hypothesized that high-PA individuals are more likely to select or create positive work situations, boosting job satisfaction.

3. Negative affectivity (NA)

Meanwhile, people with high NA often experience feelings of sadness, lethargy, and similar negative emotions. The researchers speculated that high-NA individuals could foster negative work circumstances, resulting in low job satisfaction.

"People with high positive affectivity are sensitive to positive environmental cues and thus likely to perceive themselves and the world in a positive light, whereas those with high negative affectivity tend to view themselves and their environment through a negative lens," says Li.

The results

Curiously, the researchers found that general mental ability doesn’t play a significant part in job satisfaction. In other words, being smarter might mean that you perform better at your job, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be more satisfied. However, positive affectivity and negative affectivity—especially PA—do affect an individual’s job satisfaction.

The researchers found that these genetic influences become less important over time. "We found that when participants were around 21 years old, genetic influences explained 31.2 percent of the variance in job satisfaction,” says Li. “However, genetic influences on job measured at age 25 and age 30 dropped significantly to 18.7 percent and 19.8 percent.”

As an individual grows older, environmental factors play a more significant part in job satisfaction.

"During early adulthood, employees' job satisfaction levels may be more shaped by environmental factors such as organizational practices (e.g., leadership, performance management, and reward systems) and economic situations,” Li continues. “These external factors may become increasingly important over time.”

What now?

Both organizations and employees have something to learn from this research, but first, it is important to note that while genes do play a part in shaping an individual’s personality, they aren’t the end-all-and-be-all of a person’s identity. After all, research has found that personality traits can change over time.

In an Inc. article, Melody Wilding says individuals could make efforts to be more positive by changing the way they process stressful experiences. “The way you deal with stressful events impacts your effectiveness as an entrepreneur, so it's worthwhile discovering your explanatory style,” she says.

Meanwhile, organizations could implement practices that focus on personality traits instead of just performance. For example, they could try hiring individuals with high positive affectivity, instead of just focusing on mental ability or performance. They could also implement programs that reinforce certain personality traits in their employees.

"Organizations should pay more attention to the importance of employees' personality traits in customizing their practices, as it shows in our study that positive affectivity is important in boosting job satisfaction,” says Li. “This is similar to personalized medicine.”