Many people think about genetics as being something that affects hair and eye color, but they do not think about whether genetic factors play a role in the workplace. In fact, there is increasing evidence that people are profoundly influenced by their genes on every level. That does not mean that environment has no effect, but it may be less important than it seems.

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Genetics, Environment and Worker Satisfaction

Why do people choose the jobs they do? Why do people thrive in some jobs and not others? Some scientists would say it is because of genetics.

According to an article in Wharton Magazine, job satisfaction has a genetic basis. The values and interests people bring into the workplace, their leadership abilities, how they interact with others and more can all be traced back to genes. Environment is certainly a factor as well, but studies have also found that genetic differences tend to have a bigger influence when environmental conditions are similar. This does not mean that there is no point in trying to improve workplace dynamics or acquire a skill that does not come naturally. However, recognizing the role of genetic factors in the workplace, including how they influence temperament and ability, can help a workplace better understand that influencing employee behavior can be complex. Some employees may be hardwired to respond better to certain types of incentives, workspaces and management styles than others.

Genetics and Success

The notion of employees being hardwired raises some equally complex questions about the ethics of rewarding people for whom skills such as leadership come naturally. Rewards in the workplace are basically predicated on the idea that everyone has the same opportunities to rise to certain positions. However, at what point does rewarding people for certain types of skills become a matter of rewarding them for having certain genes? Of course, this is an oversimplification of the issue. Furthermore, it is clear that certain workplace dynamics can be altered by changes in the environment although even how a person reacts to certain environments may have a genetic basis.

Occupational Health and Genetics

Physical genetic traits are easier to identify and test for than traits such as leadership, and it is unlikely that scientists will be identifying a “leadership gene” anytime soon as they have identified genes associated with a certain disease. However, some genes do affect a worker’s susceptibility to certain diseases. The gene itself will not cause the disease, but the disease may occur when it is triggered by the workplace environment. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, this also raises a number of ethical questions about who already has access to a worker’s medical history and genetic profile, who should have that access and what should be done with that information. For example, one question is whether employers would have the right to refuse a job to a worker more likely to develop an occupational disease.

The question of whether nature or nurture is a greater influence on people is an old one, and despite new research, it is unlikely to be solved soon. It seems clear that there are still many unanswered questions regarding the degree to which genetic factors play a role in the workplace, but in the years ahead, employees and employers may increasingly confront them.