Personality and perception during the COVID-19 crisis

Posted 15 December 2020 by
John Hackston, Head of Thought Leadership, The Myers-Briggs Company

Purpose and scope of the COVID-19 personality and perceptions survey

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on people’s lives, both at home and at work. Many have lost their jobs, and those who remain may experience additional pressure, stress, or feelings of ‘survivor guilt’. More widely, many people are worried about the economy, or the health of their family and friends, or a myriad of other concerns.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) assessment is already widely used to build self-awareness and help people understand their reaction to stress. As such, it can provide the basis for guidelines to help individuals and organizations adapt to the effects of the pandemic. This report describes the results of a survey into the relationship of personality type and other factors to feelings, concerns and attitudes to the pandemic, and to working during the pandemic. Data was collected between May and September 2020. The results have been used to create practical recommendations and guidelines.

These, and the survey results, are summarized below.


The major findings include:

Implications and recommendations

The results of this survey present something of a contradiction. When asked to describe their feelings about the COVID pandemic, most people tended to use negative words, and to show a fairly high degree of concern about some aspects of the crisis, most notably about the economy going into recession.

Yet when asked specific questions about their working lives, many tended to give rather more positive answers. This suggests that for many of those in work, their expectations and worries about the COVID pandemic may be more negative than their day to day lived experience. People were worried about the bigger picture and about how COVID was affecting others, and were somewhat more stressed than usual, but were generally more positive about their jobs. However, those who did see their working lives in a more negative way will also had greater concerns about the wider picture and used more negative words.

Those seeing the COVID pandemic and their working lives in a more negative and less adaptive way were more likely to be female, younger, have personality preferences for Feeling rather than Thinking, have been laid off or furloughed, be working non-remotely rather than remotely, be working full-time, and be in a more senior role, especially at executive or senior managerial levels. These results can help HR professionals, managers, and individual workers identify who may be more at psychological risk while working during the COVID pandemic. With reference to personality differences, they have been used as the basis for creating guidelines to help people to adapt better to the situation. Detailed personality type-based guidelines are shown earlier in this report.

Guilt about still having a job was most keenly felt by women with a Feeling personality preference who had recently transitioned to become remote workers. Many managers have a Thinking preference and may therefore be less prone themselves to survivor guilt, so it is important for them to appreciate that this could be a factor in an employee’s well-being and performance.

Treating those who were laid off in a humane way, and letting remaining staff know this, reassuring survivors that even if they had been prepared to give up their own jobs this would not have made a difference, and avoiding over-emphatic congratulations on still having a job can help. When individuals feel that their psychological contract with an organization has been broken they may start looking for another job, and those with a Feeling preference might walk away from their jobs and the organization without explanation or warning if they think their values have been compromised.

The data suggests that those who are not able to work remotely, or who have chosen not to do so, may be having a more negative working experience than remote workers. Realistically, many organizations will be looking to have employees working from home for some time to come. Even after the pandemic has subsided and lockdowns and social distancing are no longer being enforced, remote working is likely to be attractive to organizations for financial reasons, and to many employees seeking to reduce commuting and increase time spent with family and friends.

The results of this research can help guide organizations as the features of working from home employees enjoy, those that they do not, and how people with different personality preferences may react to these in different ways.

Download the full research report here.