IF YOU want to be successful at work, there is one trait that you need above all others. It isn’t creativity, or emotional intelligence, or people skills, or experience, or judgment or even native wit. It is conscientiousness.

All the academic studies have been saying as much for decades, suggesting that this is what sorts out those who do well from those who don’t. However, now it turns out that being conscientious yourself is only a starter. What you also need is a husband or wife who is conscientious.

According to a study soon to be published in Psychological Science, the character traits of the person you marry have an effect on how well you do at work — a fair or foul wind from him or her can determine whether you get promoted or get a pay rise and whether you find your days in the office tolerable — or not.

Researchers at Washington University in St Louis have spent the past five years studying married couples — most of whom both work — and matching the success of each against five personality traits of their other halves: extroversion, openness, agreeableness, neuroticism and conscientiousness. They found that the last one had a large positive effect: people with conscientious husbands and wives did better.

This makes sense for three reasons. First, a conscientious spouse is more likely to remember to take the rubbish out and to make sure there is something for supper. If you marry someone like this, you don’t have to get entirely bogged down in such things yourself.

Second, they set a great example. If they are organised and punctual and diligent — all those unfashionable but utterly wonderful things that conscientious people always are — it helps you to be so too.

And third, if you were smart enough to marry someone like this, your home will be a well-oiled machine, which means that you are going to turn up at work considerably less stressed than colleagues who arrive from a hearth that is chaotic and where bills go unpaid and parents’ evenings are forgotten.

Yet what is surprising, given the considerable charms of conscientiousness, is that we keep so quiet about it. It is not something anyone ever boasts about. It is not cool and it’s certainly not sexy.

This report adds to the pile of studies that tell us that the world belongs to the conscientious. Variously they show that conscientious kids do best, that the conscientious are happier at work, and even that they live longer.

In a way it is not surprising, given that 90% of success is showing up. Conscientious people get there on time, floss their teeth, do what they are meant to do, are reasonably motivated, good at planning and good at refusing to eat that marshmallow just now. This makes them precisely the sort of people who are well suited to the twin institutions of work and marriage.

Yet what is surprising, given the considerable charms of conscientiousness, is that we keep so quiet about it. It is not something anyone ever boasts about. It is not cool and it’s certainly not sexy.

On LinkedIn in the UK, only 92,000 of its 15-million members admit to being conscientious. By contrast, about 12-million claim to have "people skills" while more than 7-million profess themselves to be creative. This proves what we know already — that people talk total tosh about themselves on careers websites. But it also proves that there are a lot of conscientious workers out there who are desperately and pointlessly hiding lights under bushels.

Even more baffling is that employers appear to have almost no interest in hiring people who are good at getting things done. Of all the jobs being advertised on the site, only 200 specify conscientiousness as something they are looking for — while 8,000 insist on passion as a prerequisite. I see EY is trying to hire a passionate IT forensics associate, while JPMorgan is after a passionate oversight and controls officer — when they ought to be looking for conscientious ones instead. Both employers and candidates are engaged in an elaborate pretence that all jobs are going to be meaningful and creative, which is silly when everyone knows most are routine and involve grinding through an endless pile of boring e-mails.

When it comes to marriage, conscientiousness is even more absent from the hiring process — which is even more dangerous as it is far easier to sack someone than to divorce them. I have never heard anyone say "what I first loved about my husband is his conscientiousness". Equally, it is not something that crops up in internet dating. On The Times website, there is a long list of suggested adjectives to describe yourself — including loyal, trustworthy, wild and moody — but conscientious doesn’t feature at all.

What is needed is a great rebranding of the trait. We don’t need to pretend it is cool or sexy; we just need to value it for what it is: something that makes work and life run a lot more smoothly.

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