Workplace Dynamics

Maximizing diversity in lifestyles, working styles and personality types to work better together Michael Lin

Author’s note: While a lot of the discussion in this article centers on the workplace, readers who are not currently in the workforce, such as students or retirees, can apply these same diversity principles to any group activity. There is a section toward the end of the article titled “Outside of Work Context” that explains how the principles can be applied to these readers.

Photo: iStock.com/brightstars

When you think of diversity, one or more of the following traits1 may come to mind: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies. Although I could write about many of these topics and how they relate to the actuarial profession, in light of the current political and social climate, I’d like to discuss a nuanced version of diversity: differences in the way we like to work and collaborate with colleagues. Through this article, my goal is to open up conversations with your teams, managers or reports on how to have a more effective and inclusive workplace from areas of diversity that may not be top of mind when you think of “diversity.”

Many of us are currently working from home amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, and there may be a mental health crisis2,3 looming. We are all dealing with varying levels of burnout and frustration after more than six months of disruption to both our personal and professional lives. Considering the differences in the ways we prefer to work and collaborate can help remote teams work better together now and improve our teamwork when we return to the office.

Working and Collaborating With Colleagues

Think of your boss, peers and reports. What is it like working with each of them? How do they like to work? Do they complete work early, or do they wait until the deadline? What is each of them working toward? What makes them effective at performing their jobs? What have you done to make it easier, or consequently harder, for them to do their jobs effectively? Do you know? Have you asked?

Whether you can answer none, some or all of these questions, I’d like to share frameworks around how working styles and personalities differ. Through these frameworks, I’m hoping you can take a few minutes to think about those with whom you work closely. Further, I’m going to highlight what we can each do to learn more about our colleagues to help them perform their jobs better or more effectively.

Life Patterns

Broadly speaking, there are hidden patterns found in everyday life that are similar for actuaries and nonactuaries. Daniel Pink, author of When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, describes4 how people’s cognitive abilities and mood change throughout the day in similar patterns. For most people, there are three stages: a peak, trough and rebound. For some, the three stages occur throughout the day in this exact order. An alternative order is backward: rebound, trough and peak. Pink classifies5 a person who experiences the first order as a “lark” and the second as an “owl.” Pink states that most people fall into a third bird classification that is a blend of lark and owl.

Regardless of bird type, enabling yourself to perform the right task based on the three stages of a day will allow you (or your peers) to work more effectively. For instance, performing analytical work that requires attention to detail and extra thought would be best during the peak stage. For larks, that would mean doing analytical work in the mornings; an owl should perform this work during the late afternoon or early evening.

What type of bird are you? How are you scheduling your workday to maximize your work output? If you are a boss, how are you helping, or impeding, your reports?

Working Styles

With the three stages of a day in mind, we can transition to our working styles, which include the type of work we like, how we prefer to work with others and what type of role we play on teams. Here are several frameworks to give a sense of the various types of working styles.

The Harvard Business Review suggests6 there are four types of people in an office:

  1. Logical, analytical and data-oriented
  2. Organized, plan-focused and detail-oriented
  3. Supportive, expressive and emotionally oriented
  4. Strategic, integrative and idea-oriented

Deloitte classifies7 working styles into four core patterns of behaviors:

  1. Pioneers, who seek possibilities and spark energy and imagination
  2. Drivers, who like a challenge and generate momentum
  3. Guardians, who crave stability and bring order and rigor
  4. Integrators, who desire connection and bring teams together

Inc. Magazine classifies8 working styles in a different structure of four styles:

  1. Doing
  2. Leading
  3. Loving
  4. Learning

You’ll notice these three frameworks all have similar classifications. For example, Harvard Business Review’s “strategic, integrative and idea-oriented” worker is similar to Inc. Magazine’s “leading” working style.

Pick one of these frameworks and think about where you, your colleagues, bosses and reports fall within that framework. You or your colleagues may fall into none or more than one of the categories. These frameworks are a starting point and are not meant to be an exhaustive list of working styles.

How have the different working styles affected how you work together? Do you recognize any misalignments of team roles or responsibilities based on these working styles? Of course, we cannot only perform roles and responsibilities aligned with our working styles or preferences, but we should be aware of and play to the strengths of others, if possible.

Personality Styles

Some of the working style structures also can be closely related, or even overlap, with a person’s personality, or one’s distinctive behaviors, characteristics or traits. Similar to working styles, personality types have been deeply studied. One common personality type framework is known as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).9 MBTI classifies personalities into 16 different types across four dimensions, each of which have two options:

  • Introversion (I) or extraversion (E)
  • Sensing (S) or intuition (N)
  • Thinking (T) or feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) or perceiving (P)

There are many other personality-type frameworks available, such as the enneagram,10 DiSC11 and Hogan assessments.12 Some companies use these tests to better understand prospective employees, while others have deployed them for employees to better understand themselves and their colleagues.13 If your team members have not completed a personality test, it could be a great team-building activity for you to do.

I’ve now covered several frameworks for classifying people, including general cycles of each person’s day (larks and owls), working styles and personality styles. However, you will want to do your own research to tailor any framework to your unique situation.

Applying the Frameworks

Now that we have structure around the differences in cognitive abilities, moods, working styles and personalities, how can we use this information to make working with our colleagues more effective? One way I’ve seen this done is through team learning,14 which is a team meeting during which all members come together for a discussion on working styles, personalities and team or individual norms. Using the knowledge gained from this discussion can help you better calibrate how your team works. The frequency of the learning can vary, depending on how often you change with whom you are working.

You might feel uncomfortable discussing MBTIs or working styles, but it’s an effective way to better understand others and help your colleagues understand you. For example, let’s say a member of your team reveals they are an introvert. When this introvert does not speak up during meetings or calls, it does not mean they do not know what they are doing. The introvert may need extroverted colleagues to give them the opportunity to speak. For meetings, it’s best to provide the materials to be covered to an introvert early, so that they can provide feedback beforehand or have time to prepare a response ahead of the meeting. This introvert also may not enjoy social team gatherings as much as the extroverts—not because the introvert doesn’t like the team, but because these social gatherings feel draining for them. Giving each person time to talk about their personality and working style will enable the entire team to work better with each colleague individually.

Taking this one step further are team and individual norms. Susan Heathfield defines team norms15 as “a set of rules or guidelines that a team establishes to shape the interaction of its members with one another and with employees who are external to the team.”

Some team rules to consider:

  • When will your meetings be?
  • How will you communicate in meetings?
  • How will the team resolve conflicts?

We can even think about each colleague’s individual norms:

  • How do you like to work? Early or late? In solitude or nearby others?
  • If needed, which is preferable: longer workdays or work on weekends?
  • What are personal, nonwork activities that are important for you? Spending time with your kids and family? Post-work exercises?

COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic has disrupted daily work in many ways: We work from home instead of the office; there is no clear separation from work and home life; we are on video calls much of the day; and some of us even juggle two jobs (i.e., full-time actuary and full-time teacher). These shifts may have interrupted your peak, trough and rebound life patterns. For example, you may be in the middle of building the Excel model of your life, and then you get interrupted by your child.

Thus, it’s important to set boundaries for yourself and communicate them with your teams. Some areas to consider:

  • How have your working hours changed? Are you working a consistent schedule? Are you working more or fewer hours? Have you set and maintained “off-limit” hours during which you focus on home life?
  • Are you taking breaks from work? How are you taking breaks? How often? Are they fully detached breaks? Are they inside or outside?
  • Are you caring for a child or other family member during this time? Do your colleagues or boss know?

Building upon the disruptions to the life patterns, the pandemic has impacted personality types as well. This pandemic was supposed to be an introvert’s paradise.16 However, both extroverts and introverts have been affected.17 The extroverted colleague may no longer have the social interactions they previously enjoyed in the office. The current environment may be particularly difficult for this extrovert if they live alone. On the other hand, the introverted teammate has been pushed to participate in videoconferences that can feel intrusive (e.g., significant eye contact) and overwhelming (e.g., many faces on a screen). Further, if the introvert is living with others who are home all day, they are no longer getting alone time to recharge.

Whether you are an extrovert or introvert, have you checked in on your colleagues, especially those who have the opposite personality type? Are you balancing the way you communicate with them? What might they be struggling with at work or at home?

With the COVID-19 pandemic, better understanding of each person’s individual norms—and respecting them—can go a long way to ensuring that each colleague can be as effective as possible when working from home.

Outside of Work Context

For those who are not currently in the workforce, such as students or retirees, these frameworks and lessons can be applied to nonwork situations.

Students

Students can reframe all the questions in the previous section in the context of school, such as with group projects. It may not be possible to talk with your peers about your MBTI or the way you work, but think of a recent school project and the various team members involved. Do you see differences in personality or working styles? Were there any struggles during the project? What could have been done differently? What would you do differently in the next group project?

Thinking about these differences across fellow high school and college students is not much different than in the workplace. It can help you discover what type of work environment you might like to be in when you finish school. It may even be a great conversation with older siblings and friends who have started working—or even your parents—to understand the struggles they have had with colleagues or peers. Understanding how to work well with others now while you are in school will prepare you for the workplace.

Additionally, you can reframe the questions in the context of an internship or a prospective workplace. The questions can guide you in finding the right “fit” in the workplace, because these are great questions that can help you understand the type of manager who can best help you succeed.

I have mentored a number of college students during the recruiting process. Frequently, I find what drives them is the company name or the dollar signs in the offer letter. Some of these students have come back to me saying, “The job was not what I expected.” The reasons for their dissatisfaction are often the fit with colleagues or bosses—it didn’t work well.

It can be hard to tease out how a boss will manage during an interview, but you can always ask questions: How long do they work each day? What are their responsibilities outside of work? What are they looking for in a report? You also can ask these questions to prospective colleagues. To be clear, neither the company name nor a salary/bonus is an inherent problem. I’m simply highlighting that some students have minimized the importance of who they work with/for and how that impacts their ability to do their job the way they would like.

Other Nonworking Adults

In the same vein as students, we can reframe these questions and set of exercises to address any group situation of which we are a part—coaching youth sports teams, volunteer work, religious groups, actuarial groups and so on. Are you clashing with another parent or team member in any way? Can this be traced back to working styles or personality differences?

Wrap Up

In summary, the way we are effective at work or in a group setting varies from person to person and is affected by our daily patterns of life, working styles and personality types. Again, these are all differences that don’t immediately come to mind when we think about diversity, but they are tremendously important to our effectiveness at work. With many of us working from home for the foreseeable future, I’m hoping this article encourages you to reach out and connect with your bosses, colleagues and reports to discover how we can enable everyone to work together more effectively.

Michael Lin, FSA, MAAA, is a health consultant and actuary.

References:

  1. 1. Queensborough Community College. Definition for Diversity. Queensborough Community College, 2020 (accessed September 4, 2020).
  2. 2. Barnes, Carlin, and Marketa Wills. Mental Health, Suicide, and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Psychology Today, September 1, 2020 (accessed September 4, 2020).
  3. 3. Gold, Jessica A. We’re Basically All Struggling With Mental Health Right Now—Let’s Normalize It. Self, September 1, 2020 (accessed September 4, 2020).
  4. 4. Pink, Daniel. 2018. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. New York: Riverhead Books.
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  8. 8. Prevost, Shelley. 4 Unique Working Styles: What’s Yours? Inc., March 15, 2013 (accessed September 4, 2020).
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  10. 10. Enneagram Institute. The Nine Enneagram Type Descriptions. Enneagram Institute, 2019 (accessed September 4, 2020).
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  13. 13. Everwise. Why Employers Use Personality Tests. Everwise, December 2, 2015 (accessed September 4, 2020).
  14. 14. Albaharna, Maitham, Marla M. Capozzi, and Sasha Zolley. Are You a “Team of Learners,” or Do You Learn as a Team? And Why It Matters. McKinsey & Company, July 28, 2020 (accessed September 4, 2020).
  15. 15. Heathfield, Susan. How and Why to Create Team Norms. The Balance Careers, January 14, 2019 (accessed September 4, 2020).
  16. 16. Ohlheiser, Abby. Lockdown Was Supposed to be an Introvert’s Paradise. It’s Not. MIT Technology Review, April 2, 2020 (accessed September 4, 2020).
  17. 17. Rosenberg, Robin S. Viewpoint: Introverts and Extraverts in the Time of COVID-19. SHRM, April 29, 2020 (accessed September 4, 2020).

Copyright © 2020 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.