How Personality Can Help Protect Public Health (And Your Business)

Public Health

Last weekend, I did something I never thought I’d do. I donned personal protective equipment to run a basic errand. I put on gloves and a mask, and in spite of the warm spring weather, I even wore long sleeves to cover as much of my skin as possible. It felt like I was walking into an operatory for surgery, not like I was walking into a liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine.

Despite the near-constant news regarding preventing the spread of the coronavirus, the salesperson in the liquor store wore no mask or gloves. He folded, refolded, creased, and re-creased the paper bag holding my purchase multiple times. By the time he finished, he had touched every square inch of the bag with his bare hands. A few months ago, I might have found his behavior a little obsessive. But considering the pandemic, the way he handled the bag, coupled with his lack of personal protective equipment, seemed dangerous. He interacts with hundreds of people per day — sometimes from behind a plexiglass shield but often by helping people find their favorite wine, which can involve handing bottles back and forth.

In April, more than 20% of consumers polled by Morning Consult indicated that they would not feel comfortable going out to eat, to a shopping mall, to a movie or theater performance, or to the gym for at least six months.1 A recent International Food Information Council Foundation survey assessed consumers’ opinions about essential workers’ attention to safety. Of those who responded, 43% said that frequently wiping down commonly touched surfaces was important, 28% said that it was important to them for employees to wear gloves, and another 28% said masks were important to them.2 If consumers perceive that front-line or essential workers are not attending to safety, their reluctance to shop may linger or even increase.

Safety: A Matter of Personality

So why would someone ignore basic safety precautions that so many people are concerned about? Because some people are more attentive to safety than others, and this is related to personality. Hogan’s research has identified six safety competencies that impact the prevalence of unsafe behaviors and on-the-job accidents. With our Safety report, we measure these safety competencies using the following scales:

Defiant – Compliant

Those who score high on this scale tend to adhere to organizational guidelines and are usually rule followers. Those on the defiant end of the scale often ignore authority and rules and can be reckless, causing accidents and injuries.

Panicky – Strong

Those who lean toward the panicky end of the scale often buckle under pressure and make mistakes that could prove to be costly or possibly even fatal. Those at the strong end of the spectrum are steady under pressure.

Irritable – Cheerful

Cheerful employees keep their temperament on an even keel, but those who are prone to irritability make mistakes by not staying focused.

Distractible – Vigilant

Those who remain focused on the task at hand usually score on the vigilant side of this scale and tend to be safer than those who are easily distracted.

Reckless – Cautious

Those who score on the reckless end of the scale tend to take unnecessary risks. Cautious scorers evaluate their options before making risky decisions.

Arrogant – Trainable

Low scorers tend to be arrogant, overconfident, and challenging to train. High scorers tend to be trainable, listen to advice, and enjoy learning.

Protection for Public Health

Screening employees for these safety competencies can help organizations do their part to keep their customers safe and flatten the epidemiological curve. As more state and local governments lift their shutdown orders, many business owners are finding themselves in positions to decide whether (or to what extent) they should reopen. When they do so, they assume some responsibility for the health of the public.

Many businesses are implementing enhanced sanitation protocols and new policies regarding personal protective equipment and social distancing. The success of these efforts relies on front-line employees being both safety conscious and trainable. Being able to identify employees whose personalities predispose them to be more attentive to safety can help mitigate the risk of inadvertent disease transmission through day-to-day business operations.

Protection for Your Business

Aside from helping to protect public health, screening staff for these safety competencies can also be good for business. Right now, consumers want businesses to be vigilant about safety. By knowing who will be more or less inclined to take it seriously, organizations can dramatically reduce costs associated with unsafe behavior and potentially increase customers’ willingness to shop, order takeout food, or use a delivery service.

These savings will add up, especially for businesses in industries affected most directly by the current economic crisis. We’ve estimated the comprehensive effect that the Hogan Safety report has had historically by analyzing our data on the reports we’ve generated for our clients, data on the report’s accuracy in distinguishing safe employees from their less-safe colleagues, and the most recent government statistics on workplace accidents. Our research shows a whopping $43.7 million USD in safety-related savings to organizations and an estimated ROI of 538% from using the Hogan Safety report.

Although employees’ safety precautions won’t necessarily increase the number of consumers who visit a store or use a service, unsafe employee behaviors will almost certainly have a negative impact on the bottom line. More importantly, the health of the public is at stake. It is time to ensure you are hiring and coaching employees who will be attentive to their own, their coworkers’, and their customers’ safety. Your future business may depend on it.

* Click here to register for our next webinar, “Safety Is No Accident – Using Personality to Improve the Safety of Your Organization,” on Thursday, June 4, hosted by Hogan’s Kristin Switzer and Kirsten Mosier.


  1. Meyers, A. (2020, April 10). When consumers say they’ll feel OK about dining out and other activities. Morning Consult.
  2. International Food Information Council Foundation. (2020, April 14). Consumer survey: COVID-19’s impact on food purchasing, eating behaviors, and perceptions of food safety.