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The Paradox of Neuroticism and Vigilance Work

Alexander R. Marbut (The University of Alabama, USA)
Peter D. Harms (The University of Alabama, USA)

Examining the Paradox of Occupational Stressors: Building Resilience or Creating Depletion

ISBN: 978-1-80455-086-1, eISBN: 978-1-80455-085-4

Publication date: 10 October 2022


A key feature of performance in many professions is that of vigilance, carefully monitoring one’s environment for potential threats. However, some of the characteristics that may make someone successful in such work may also be more likely to make them fail in the long-term as a result of burnout, fatigue, and other symptoms commonly associated with chronic stress. Among these characteristics, neuroticism is particularly relevant. To exert the effort that vigilance work requires, sensitivity to threats, a core aspect of neuroticism, may be necessary. This is evidenced by higher rates of neuroticism in vigilance-related professions such as information technology (IT). However, other aspects of neuroticism could attenuate performance by making individuals more distractible and prone to burnout, withdrawal, and emotional outbursts. Four perspectives provide insight to this neuroticism–vigilance paradox: facet-level analysis, trait activation, necessary conditions, and job characteristics. Across these perspectives, it is expected that too little neuroticism will render employees unable to perform vigilance tasks effectively due to lack of care while too much neuroticism will cause employees to become overwhelmed by work pressures. Contextual and personological moderators of the neuroticism–vigilance relationship are discussed, as well as two behavioral styles expected to manifest from neuroticism that could explain how neuroticism may be associated with either good or bad performance-relevant outcomes.



Marbut, A.R. and Harms, P.D. (2022), "The Paradox of Neuroticism and Vigilance Work", Perrewé, P.L., Harms, P.D. and Chang, C.-H.(D). (Ed.) Examining the Paradox of Occupational Stressors: Building Resilience or Creating Depletion (Research in Occupational Stress and Well Being, Vol. 20), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 129-149.



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