Friends of the Behavioral Economics Club, this week we present the paper “Evolutionary benefits of personality traits when facing workplace bullying” by Daderman, A. M. and Basinska, B. A. (2021), in which authors study, following the behavioral economics’ perspective, whether personality traits that benefit facing workplace bullying exist.

The bullying phenomena is known by everybody, due to its frightening consequences observed in children and young people and how they suffer in their schools.

Nevertheless, it is a situation that also appears in workplaces and affects the well-being, life quality and mental health of grown-ups. It is estimated that between 2 and 30% of working people worldwide are targets of workplace bullying.

But, what is workplace bullying, exactly?

It occurs when an employee, without the possibility to control the situation, is exposed to frequent and prolonged escalation of destructive acts and attitudes, such as harassment, offensiveness, and social exclusion which negatively and persistently affect his or her work.

Suffering this kind of work environment has been significantly related to mental health problems like anxiety or depression, poor welfare (for instance, low quality of life or poor sleep) and physical ill health such as headache.

Due to the importance and impact of this phenomena, more and more researchers invest their time and resources in study how it affects people, how to prevent it, and other related aspects.

Authors of this paper wonder, from the behavioral economics’ perspective, whether personality traits that benefit facing workplace bullying exist.

Namely, whether personality traits that protect people from this phenomenon exist, or, from an evolutionary prism, that allow adaptation to workplace bullying.

In order to that, authors carried out a study with a total of 316 participants. Personality questionnaires were given to them and there were analyzed anonymously.

The results showed that, as it was hypothesized by authors, there are two personality traits that make easier to face workplace bullying. These are openness and Machiavellianism.

People who are high in openness are more open to varying and new experiences, and are more creative and flexible, broad-minded, and curious, which transforms the experience of uncomfortable situations with other people from being frightening to being challenging.

Thus, possessing high values of openness was probably a valuable trait for our ancestors when managing more negative acts and behavior from others.

Moreover, prior studies suggest that people high in openness have greater stress resilience, and better stress regulation compared to people low in openness. Consequently, the former can use a wider range of coping repertoire, which can help them apply coping strategies more effectively in a hostile work environment.

On the other hand, there’s Machiavellianism. It is supposed that and employee high in Machiavellianism has an inherent, evolution-related power that helps develop, and effectively use, different contacts and coalitions for their own goals. Even when they are criticized, rejected or otherwise attacked.

When it comes about facing workplace bullying, Machiavellians may use their superficial charm in order to overcome it.

These people are experts in effective tactics for managing ruthless and unscrupulous persons. Besides, some of their aims would be to keep power and a good reputation.

It is important to remind that workplace bullying affects negatively to self-esteem and self-concept. Thus, having a strong belief in one’s own qualities as a natural leader, as Machiavellians do, being strategically minded and capable of building coalitions, are some advantages that allow to face a hostile work environment.

Plus, this kind of people have a competitive interpersonal style that helps them to be confident.

It is also important to see this personality trait not only as socially aversive (due to it being part of the Dark Triad), but also as beneficial for health-related overcoming of negative acts by co-workers in today’s tough workplace environments.

A limitation that exists in this study, is that questionnaires used were abbreviated versions of the original ones. That is why appears the possibility of some traits not being correctly scored.

Future research should follow this way, focus on correct this limitation and give to the participants the original questionnaires in order to be completely rigorous.

Despite this minor limitation, authors conclude that, as they thought, from an evolutionary perspective and behavioral economics’ point of view, high levels of some personality traits probably present adaptative advantages. Possessing openness and Machiavellianism may be an adaptative evolutionary development resulting in natural protective benefits for employees facing bullying in the workplace.

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