By Michael Copp, Executive Vice President
Since my career began after getting out of the army in 1984, I have witnessed a growing use of personality tests for career development and staff benchmarking to improve communications and respect for individual differences that contribute to an organization’s success. The most popular instruments include the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DiSC, Big Five2, HIGH5 Test, Truity, and others.1 Heather Harper (2021) writes in her online article, The Best Personality Tests In Ranking Order (2021 Update), that “Studies have found that employees who fit well in an organization are more satisfied and more likely to stay within the organization…” However, along the way, these tests have been increasingly used as a pre-employment assessment of “fit” as defined by hiring managers. I know that I have taken my share of these tests for several leadership roles for which I have applied and it can feel like a crap shoot no matter how well the interview went.
These tools were developed in part to inform our self-discovery about “how you best interact with others, how you need to relax, what motivates you and how you handle stress or pressure…. [and] to understand your own strengths and weakness and learn how you can use these to your advantage.” (Heather Harper, 2021) However, once these tools are used as pre-employment assessments, bias is introduced in the vetting process of candidates; hence, likely eliminating candidates based on their personality traits against a predetermined set of preferred employment traits for specific roles. Furthermore, if candidates are truthful in their responses while having pre-existing medical conditions or disabilities (and in conflict with the U.S. EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission)3, those candidates are inherently at a disadvantage if they are flagged as undesirable. Related questions would likely run afoul with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Many organizations are using personality testing for hiring decisions. However, use of these assessments in ways that are not consistent with EEOC guidelines, can have an adverse or “disparate” impact, which is defined in an online article published by Criteria, Legal Issues Relating to Pre-Employment Testing, as “[having] occur[ed] when members of a protected group or minority (e.g., a particular race, gender, etc.) receive unfavorable employment decisions (e.g., not being hired) more often than another non-minority group.”4 While personality testing in general meet legal defensibility, the reality is that “almost every selection methodology used by employers produces a degree of adverse impact, because each disproportionately excludes members of a protected subgroup.” (ibid) Lawful use of these tools to predict workplace performance must test against job-relatedness and business necessity as measures for “job-related abilities, skills and traits”. (ibid)
A cautionary article, Are Workplace Personality Tests Fair? is a quick read worth your time and can be found online here. “Kyle Behm accused Kroger and six other companies of discrimination against the mentally ill through their use of personality tests.” Behm ultimately committed suicide in 2019 at the age of 29, and according to his father, believing that he was ‘broken’ and an interminably undesirable job applicant.