The Ethics of Personality Tests for Employers
Personality tests and the workforce
Personality tests are today a common factor of life in the workforce. Personality tests are tests which are designed to categorize the personality traits of an individual through a series of questions and answers which, when tallied using a specific formula unique to that personality tests, are intended to describe that individual in general terms. The most common and popular personality test is the Myers-Briggs test, which has 16 different categories which are the result of a certain combination of answers to the Myers-Briggs personality test. Like most modern personality tests, the results of the Myers-Briggs personality test are general descriptions. For example, the category result of "ENTJ" describes people who achieve this result as: "Frank, decisive, assumes leadership readily. Quickly see illogical and inefficient procedures and policies, develop and implement comprehensive systems to solve organizational problems. Enjoy long-term planning and goal setting. Usually well-informed, well read, enjoy expanding their knowledge and passing it on to others. Forceful in presenting their ideas."
Other results may categorize people as being shy, introverted, outgoing, someone that does or doesn’t work well with others, and so on. The general goal of any personality test is to reveal something about the individual who took the test. Personality tests, however, are considered to be somewhat controversial when they are used in any form of practical application—such as in the workforce. In the workforce, personality tests are commonly used in the guise of job applications and job appraisals. A company may require any potential employee applicants to take a personality test and may base their final hiring decision on the results which occur. A company may also have current employees undertake a personality test in order to determine where they may be placed within the company, whether or not they are applicable for promotion or advancement, and other work related actions. It is not uncommon, for example, for companies to require employees who wish to be promoted to an upper level position to take a personality test which may help the company determine how that employee will react or behave when given that position. In general, employers justify the use of such personality tests because they can be a relatively easy way to reduce the behavior of an employee, or potential employee, based on their personality.
The ethics of personality tests
Personality tests, however, are not without their source of controversy. While personality tests are generally considered to be harmless when they are taken for entertainment or personal purposes, many psychologists consider their use during practical or real-world situations to be controversial. This is because personality tests are not completely personalized or tailored to the individual—all personality tests have specific results or outcomes,
such as the aforementioned ‘ENJF” category which is a Myers-Brigg personality test result. Because these outcomes are not personalized, many psychologists maintain that they can have no real benefit in the workforce. One study even compared their effectiveness at determining an individual’s personality to that of astrological signs—while the results may have some ring of truth, they are not showing a complete picture of the individual’s personality or characteristics. In essence, they reduce employees to stereotypes, regardless of their unique personality traits. Someone may be labeled forceful or aggressive in the workplace because of their answers to the test, regardless of their real behavior—likewise, someone may be considered too weak or meek for a promotion because of how they answered the personality test, when in reality they are more than capable of handling the increased responsibility.
Even the makers of certain personality tests discourage their use by employers in any sort of official capacity. The Myers-Brigg foundation warns employers that their tests should not be used to determine someone’s ability to be hired or their ability to perform certain works assignments or even their chance of being promoted to a higher position within the company. Employers often ignore this warning from the foundation for a variety of reason. One unfortunately common reason is that many employers would rather have an easy and concise way of eliminating potential employees or employees from the possibility of being hired through paperwork—that is, the results of the test—rather than through observation or further interviewers. It is much easier, for example, to round up the files of all employees who had a certain result for a personality test and choose among them for advancement rather than interview and look at each employee on an individual and personal case-by-case basis.
However, there are some ways in which psychologist’s belief that personality testing may be appropriately used in the workplace. Personality tests, as many studies have shown, can help people discover certain traits about themselves which they may want to eliminate or improve—such as a tendency to back down from decisions or their potential to be confident and aggressive. In this case, employers can take advantage of the potential benefits of personality tests by administering them on an optional basis and—most importantly—only using the results to the personal benefit of the employee, for their own private use. The results of the tests should not be used to determine workplace decisions; rather, they should be given to employees to look over privately for their own benefit, rather than for the supposed benefit of a company.
Studies have shown that personality tests are not inherently harmful in the workplace. The most important factor is how employers use these personality tests and how they allow these tests to affect decisions which are made in the company or within the business. Employers should be careful not to use personality tests to determine decisions, such as who to hire or who to advance, but instead use them to allow employees the chance to improve themselves and improve the quality of work they provide for their company.