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The Effect of Memory, Intelligence and Personality on Employee Performance and Behaviour Essay

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Updated: Jul 15th, 2021

Introduction

Individuals’ behaviours and performance at work are an important topic in research in human resources management, psychology and some other disciplines. There is a variety of studies that suggest that leadership and management play a key role in determining employee performance (Carter, Armenakis, Field, & Mossholder, 2013; Sundi, 2013). However, some theorists believe that there are certain individual factors that are essential to excellent behaviour and performance.

Memory, intelligence and personality are among such factors, as they are valuable in predicting employees’ reactions to different tasks and environments. For instance, memory can help employees to succeed in applying their practical and theoretical knowledge in their work, while intelligence and personality could be linked to motivation and diligence.

Theoretical knowledge on memory, intelligence and personality make it possible to evaluate the influence of these factors on work performance and behaviours. The research in this area could contribute to human resources management by supporting leaders with information that is critical to recruitment, task allocation and many other internal processes. As successful human resources management has a positive influence on business operations and performance, this research is important to businesses in all areas of the industry. The present paper will seek to explain the theoretical background on memory, intelligence and personality and evaluate the influence of these factors on work performance and employee behaviours.

Theoretical Background

Theories of Memory

The current understanding of memory in neuroscience and psychology is somewhat limited, as there are several different models of memory available. The theory of the general memory process holds that memory consists of three key processes: encoding, storage and retrieval (Norman, 2013). By this theory, once the information is received by one or more of our senses, it is then encoded and stored until it is necessary to recall it. Memory performance thus depends on the speed and efficiency of these three processes, as well as the overall capacity of our memory.

A different model called the storage, and transfer model defines memory as an arrangement of three different stores: sensory, short-term and long-term (Piaget & Inhelder, 2015). The information passes through each of these stores while it is interpreted by the brain and remembered (Piaget & Inhelder, 2015). Each stage involved in the process has a different length, with the sensory stage being the shortest one. After memory items pass on to the short-term store, they are rehearsed and remembered, thus entering the long-term store. This model is particularly useful in learning because it shows how the repetition of information contributes to its preservation in the long term (Piaget & Inhelder, 2015). This particular theory of memory gave rise to another concept called working memory.

The working memory model explains how information is maintained and applied in a short period. Similarly to the short-term store, working memory has a limited capacity and involves subvocal rehearsal to memorise items (Baddeley, 2013). However, instead of passing the information to the long-term store, working memory uses it to complete a particular task (Aben, Stapert, & Blokland, 2013). Therefore, working memory is connected to the improved performance of tasks that require memorising items for a short period of time, such as entering a cell phone number or solving maths problems.

Theories of Intelligence

There are various approaches to intelligence, each having a distinctive theoretical foundation. First of all, many theorists believe intelligence to be determined by biological variables, including nerve conduction velocity, brain size and hemispheric specialisation (Sternberg, 2013). According to this theory, intelligence is greatly influenced by genetics, as this factor affects brain structure. Secondly, Charles Spearman’s theory of general intelligence can be used to explain individual differences in cognitive abilities. Spearman believed that general intelligence predicted people’s performance in different tasks (Schneider & Flanagan, 2014).

The author of this theory also thought that there was only one type of intelligence. Thus, if a person had general intelligence, they would score high on tasks that required mathematical skills, as well as those that evaluated spatial or linguistic abilities (MacDonald, 2013). The first tests that measured intelligence relied on the theory of general intelligence and judged an individual’s cognitive skills by presenting them with various types of problems.

The notion of general intelligence received critique from theorists that insisted that people could have different types of intelligence. For instance, Thurstone’s theory of primary mental abilities defined intelligence in terms of different variables, such as verbal comprehension, numerical skills, linguistic fluency and others (Schneider & Flanagan, 2014). Similarly, Gardner’s model of multiple intelligences holds that there is no such thing as general intelligence.

Instead, there are eight types of intelligence, and it is almost impossible for a person to excel in all of them evenly (Adcock, 2014). These theories appear to be more realistic in the contemporary working environment, as they explain why people are better at certain types of tasks and worse at others.

Sternberg’s theory of triarchic intelligence offers a similar approach but focuses on particular skills and their application. The author states that there are three types of intelligence: analytical, creative and practical (Ekinci, 2014). Analytical intelligence determines individuals’ problem-solving skills, creative intelligence is responsible for applying knowledge and skills to new situations, and practical intelligence helps people to adjust to new challenges and environments (Ekinci, 2014).

This theory of intelligence is more general than Gardner’s model of multiple intelligences, which makes it flexible in terms of application to different individuals and circumstances. New and emerging theories of intelligence seek to explore the relationship between biological and cognitive variables further and improve methods to test and measure the intelligence of individuals (Conway & Kovacs, 2015).

Theories of Personality

Personality is a highly complex notion in psychology, and there are also different theories as to what defines it. In evolutionary psychology, personality is determined by a set of natural and biological factors and is thus influenced by genetics and epigenetics (Figueredo et al., 2015).

The biological view of personality development is similar, and Eysenck (2017) argues that emotional expressions, individual preferences and other personal characteristics are influenced by the inner workings of the brain and genetic factors. Another approach to the theoretical study of personality is the trait theory. There are several different trait theories available, but the five factors model is perhaps the most prominent one. According to the five-factor model of personality, an individual’s personality is determined in terms of five traits: extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness (Syed, Saeed, & Farrukh, 2015).

The degree to which a particular quality is expressed in an individual depends both on social factors, such as the environment and upbringing, and biological factors, such as brain activity and inherited risk of mental disorders. The five-factor theory is widely used in research on employee performance and behaviour because it applies to various business settings.

Behaviour and Performance at Work

Memory

Based on the exploration of the memory theories above, it is possible to suggest that memory is linked to improved job performance. For example, memory can contribute to an employee’s success in tasks that involve applying certain information or prior experience. In particular, the storage and transfer model can be helpful in explaining how employees apply existing knowledge to various processes, such as problem-solving (Piaget & Inhelder, 2015).

The working memory model also suggests that working memory can improve job performance if an employee is tasked with handling and applying information. According to Aben et al. (2013), working memory is particularly useful during complex span tasks, such as counting, reading, computation and mental tracking. Depending on the employee’s particular job duties, excellent results in these areas can contribute to their overall job performance. Working memory is also linked to a higher level of general intelligence, which can also enhance work results (Hill et al., 2013). Thus, memory could be linked to employee performance, but it is unclear if it has any effects on behaviour.

Intelligence

It is a generally accepted idea that employees who have a higher level of intelligence are more likely to be successful in work. Indeed, various models of intelligence can be applied to explain employee performance. For instance, according to the general intelligence theory, intelligent employees are likely to succeed in all types of tasks, thus achieving higher performance levels (Schneider & Flanagan, 2014).

Other theories of intelligence, on the other hand, show that particular types of intelligence can result in improved results in some tasks. For example, according to Thurstone’s theory, high verbal comprehension and linguistic fluency could improve work results for employees who are tasked with communication or analysing written information (Schneider & Flanagan, 2014).

Nevertheless, most intelligence theories examined above cannot be used to explain employee behaviour. Sternberg’s theory of triarchic intelligence offers more insight into how both performance and employee behaviour can be defined by their intelligence. Analytical intelligence would be particularly useful for enhancing job performance, whereas practical intelligence could contribute to positive behaviours by improving employees’ mental flexibility and their ability to adapt their behaviour to the needs of the organisation.

Personality

Trait personality theories can also be used to explain job performance and employee behaviour. For example, in the five-factor theory, the employees’ agreeableness and extraversion would contribute to a positive organisational climate, which results in improved behaviour and work outcomes (Anitha, 2014). Furthermore, conscientiousness and openness proved to be associated with organisational commitment, which plays a significant role in employee behaviour and performance (Ahmad, Ather, & Hussain, 2014; Syed et al., 2015).

Openness can also be linked to employees’ capacity to adapt to new circumstances, which, in turn, would promote performance and positive behaviours during organisational changes. Some research also suggested that positive personality traits in the five-factor model are associated with purposeful goal-setting and improved motivation of employees (Barrick, Mount, & Li, 2013). Therefore, the five-factor personality theory can be used to explain both job performance and employee behaviour based on employees’ traits.

Limitations

Based on the analysis above, some theories allow stating that memory, intelligence and personality determine employee performance and behaviour. However, there are some limitations that show that these characteristics are not the only important variables predicting work outcomes. While memory can be linked to performance outcomes in some tasks, there is no evidence that great memory would result in better employee behaviour. Similarly, while some intelligence theories show a correlation between intelligence, performance and behaviour, they do not prove that intelligence has a deciding effect on these outcomes.

While intelligence, memory and personality could have a positive influence on motivation, organisational commitment and success at various tasks, it is also critical to consider other variables that determine employee performance and behaviours. For example, research shows a significant link between specific leadership styles and employee performance (Iqbal, Anwar, & Haider, 2015). Similarly, better performance and behaviour can be encouraged using appropriate rewards and recognition schemes since these improve motivation and engagement (Khan, Shahid, Nawab, & Wali, 2013). Hence, while leaders should consider individual characteristics when making hiring decisions, they should also apply relevant leadership and motivation theories to achieve optimal results.

Conclusions

All in all, there is a great variety of theories that explain the relationship between individual characteristics and employee performance and behaviour. For instance, good working memory can help employees to perform tasks that require applying information, whereas excellent long-term memory and recall will assist workers in using their prior knowledge and experience to solve problems. Several models of intelligence also suggest that this feature aids employees in acquiring and utilising analytical skills in their work and adapting to changes in the work environment. Trait personality theories provide the most comprehensive look at the relationship between an individual’s characteristics, behaviour and work outcomes.

Based on research, it is evident that certain positive traits enable employees to achieve success by contributing to their engagement and the overall organisational climate. Nevertheless, the theories examined in the paper fail to explain why employees with similar personalities or mental abilities perform differently in various organisations. Leadership and motivation theories can be used to justify these variations, thus providing a more balanced look at employee performance and behaviours.

References

Aben, B., Stapert, S., & Blokland, A. (2012). About the distinction between working memory and short-term memory. Frontiers in Psychology, 3(1), 301-309.

Adcock, P. K. (2014). The longevity of multiple intelligence theory in education. Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin, 80(4), 50-57.

Ahmad, J., Ather, M. R., & Hussain, M. (2014). Impact of Big Five personality traits on job performance (organizational commitment as a mediator). In Management, knowledge and learning international conference proceedings (pp. 25-27). Portorož, Slovenia: Euro-Mediterranean University of Slovenia.

Anitha, J. (2014). Determinants of employee engagement and their impact on employee performance. International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, 63(3), 308-323.

Baddeley, A. D. (2013). The concept of working memory. In S. E. Gathercole (Ed.), Models of short-term memory (pp. 1-27). London, UK: Psychology Press.

Barrick, M. R., Mount, M. K., & Li, N. (2013). The theory of purposeful work behavior: The role of personality, higher-order goals, and job characteristics. Academy of Management Review, 38(1), 132-153.

Carter, M. Z., Armenakis, A. A., Feild, H. S., & Mossholder, K. W. (2013). Transformational leadership, relationship quality, and employee performance during continuous incremental organizational change. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 34(7), 942-958.

Conway, A. R., & Kovacs, K. (2015). New and emerging models of human intelligence. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 6(5), 419-426.

Ekinci, B. (2014). The relationships among Sternberg’s triarchic abilities, Gardner’s multiple intelligences, and academic achievement. Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal, 42(4), 625-633.

Eysenck, H. (2017). The biological basis of personality. New York, NY: Routledge.

Figueredo, A. J., Sefcek, J. A., Vasquez, G., Brumbach, B. H., King, J. E., & Jacobs, W. J. (2015). Evolutionary personality psychology. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 851-877). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Hill, B. D., Foster, J. D., Elliott, E. M., Shelton, J. T., McCain, J., & Gouvier, W. D. (2013). Need for cognition is related to higher general intelligence, fluid intelligence, and crystallized intelligence, but not working memory. Journal of Research in Personality, 47(1), 22-25.

Iqbal, N., Anwar, S., & Haider, N. (2015). Effect of leadership style on employee performance. Arabian Journal of Business and Management Review, 5(5), 1-6.

Khan, I., Shahid, M., Nawab, S., & Wali, S. S. (2013). Influence of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards on employee performance: The banking sector of Pakistan. Academic Research International, 4(1), 282-291.

MacDonald, K. (2013). Human general intelligence as a domain general psychological adaptation. In J. Kush (Ed.), Intelligence quotient: Testing, role of genetics and the environment and social outcomes (pp. 35-54). Hauppauge, NY: Nova Science Publishers.

Norman, D. A. (Ed.). (2013). Models of human memory. Atlanta, GA: Elsevier.

Piaget, J., & Inhelder, B. (2015). Memory and intelligence (psychology revivals). London, UK: Psychology Press.

Schneider, W. J., & Flanagan, D. P. (2015). The relationship between theories of intelligence and intelligence tests. In S. Goldstein, D. Princiotta, & J. A. Naglieri (Eds.), Handbook of intelligence (pp. 317-340). New York, NY: Springer.

Sternberg, R. J. (Ed.). (2013). Thinking and problem solving (vol. 2). Cambridge, MA: Academic Press.

Sundi, K. (2013). Effect of transformational leadership and transactional leadership on employee performance of Konawe Education department at Southeast Sulawesi province. International Journal of Business and Management Invention, 2(12), 50-58.

Syed, N., Saeed, A., & Farrukh, M. (2015). Organization commitment and five factor model of personality: Theory recapitulation. Journal of Asian Business Strategy, 5(8), 183-190.

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