The Big Five represents a model that organizes personality traits into broad groupings that summarize more specific personality facets. These personality traits are relevant to organizations today because research has shown they have the potential to predict workplace behaviors and attitudes, such as performance and engagement.

The Big Five originated from the lexical hypothesis, which stated that the most important individual traits for defining personality eventually become a part of language. In 1936, Gordon Allport and H.S. Odbert investigated this hypothesis by categorizing a list of 4,500 non-physical adjectives to describe personality. In 1963, Warren Norman and Lewis Goldberg further developed this list into five main categories that are purported to encompass every individual personality trait. The list today is known as the Big Five: agreeableness, conscientiousness, extraversion, neuroticism/emotional stability and openness to experience.


People who are categorized as being high in agreeableness tend to be accommodating and helpful in the workplace, as they want to please others. An employee who is agreeable is known for being warm and cooperative, thus receptive and optimistic when it comes to training. A person’s level of agreeableness can impact their effectiveness in goal setting, organization, motivation and overall job performance. It can also impact their level of retention after a training program, allowing for a higher chance of successfully applying training on the job.


Conscientiousness, or an employee’s tendency to be organized, to be dependable and to strive for achievement, is often associated with learning and career success. Conscientious people are motivated to be at the top of their game in both training and work performance. Research shows this motivation to achieve relates to an employee’s effectiveness in the workplace and to learning. Conscientious people are typically known for higher rates of retention after training and for successfully applying what they learned in training on the job.

Additionally, knowing where trainees are on the conscientiousness spectrum can facilitate instructional design. For example, different characteristics of LMS design or learning programs might prove beneficial for conscientious people to keep track of their training while also helping those who are lower in conscientiousness stay actively engaged through friendly reminders or guidance.


Individuals who are high in this personality trait are typically known as extroverts: people who are outgoing and may benefit from or thrive during social interactions. Those with low extraversion are known as introverts. They typically are very thoughtful, benefit from reflection and are focused inward.  Employees who are introverts can benefit from either working and training alone or in small groups; however, this doesn’t mean team-oriented tasks or training programs should be avoided.

Overall, while extraversion consists of multiple aspects, researchers have found that levels of energy, self-confidence and charisma can impact learning effectiveness the most. As such, extraversion can increase effectiveness and success in leadership, job performance, training retention and outcomes, and teamwork and team performance.

Neuroticism/Emotional Stability

This characteristic is most associated with people who are moody and/or emotionally unstable. Employees who are high in neuroticism perform well in positions where they can produce original and innovative ideas.

For training, those who experience a healthy amount of anxiety in the workplace do well in teams, because they are concerned with succeeding in their job and training performance or team performance. Different levels of emotional stability can predict successes in leadership, career, transferring training, expectations in overall job performance, and cohesion in teamwork and team performance.

Openness to Experience

Openness to experience is associated with a person’s level of intellectual curiosity and creativity. This category is most commonly associated with people who are intuitive and can use their imaginations for both business and personal purposes. As such, an employee high in openness to experience is likely to unintentionally increase their productivity in training and job performance in their own innovative ways. They’re also likely to do well with new adaptations in training programs, such as with the adoption of new virtual learning tools.

Openness to experience can predict successes in leadership, career and the successful transfer of training. This trait can also show an increase in effectiveness for leadership, goal setting, organization, motivation, training outcomes, teamwork and team performance, and overall job satisfaction.