A Few Simple Questions: A Look at Workplace Personality Tests

| August 18, 2015

Unique 3D character standing outFor an employer almost nothing is worse than hiring a promising new employee, spending time and money training him or her, and then having that employee struggle, get frustrated, and quit soon after starting. For most businesses, short staff turnover times are more than just an annoyance, they can mean unhappy employees, dissatisfied clients, and lost profits. So, how does a business owner make sure that the people they hire are right for the job? According to the new booming industry of Workplace Personality Tests, the answer is just a few simple questions away.

Workplace personality tests have recently become an integral part of the hiring process.  According to The Wall Street Journal, 457 of the Fortune 500 companies use a personality test known as the Clifton StrengthsFinder to match potential employees with job openings.

On the surface, workplace personality tests seem like a fairly obvious way of predicting employee compatibility. Gallup, the owner and operator of the StrengthsFinder test, claim that people who focus on their strengths are six times more likely to remain engaged in their work. By remaining interested and engaged while at work, employees are more productive, friendlier, and are up to three times as likely to say that they have an “excellent quality of life.”  Many employers retain outside firms to screen the process, expecting that promoting workplace synergy on the front end is significantly less costly than constantly replacing staff and repairing the trust of clients who have interacted with a disgruntled employee.

Modern personality tests are also used as predictors of whether a person will thrive in a specific environment – whether as part of a small team or a large corporate infrastructure.  There are also projects in development that can predict which employees should get raises or promotions.  All of this may be the future of Human Resources, which ironically, soon might not have any humans.

On the surface, workplace personality tests seem like a great idea.  But others studies are more cautionary.  First, the test measures a person’s compatibility – it does not measure competence.
Second, some argue that the “average validity” of test results is extremely low. Essentially, the validity of a personality test  is based on the validity of the answers given, and the answers given are solely within the control of the person answering the questions.

As personality tests grow in use, so will corresponding programs teaching applicants how to take them – just giving the answers to get the result that the employer wants to hear.  This defeats the entire purpose of the personality tests, as there is no way to determine what is a truthful or untruthful answer.  This benefits no one, not the employer and not the employee.  It seems entirely counter-productive to apply and prepare for a job that might not be compatible with your skill set or personality mode.

While businesses and scientists try to figure out if personality tests provide valid predictions, there is a more fundamental question that must be answered. Can a person’s entire being be simplified down to a series of yes or no/multiple choice questions? People have personality quirks that no test could ever pick up on. We all have good days and bad days.   People are unpredictable, and that unpredictability is what makes us human. While personality tests might be able to predict how a person with a certain profile will thrive working in a particular office environment, there is still the unique interrelationship of personalities that can never be known until they actually start working and interacting with one another.

Whether they work or not, workplace personality tests are here to stay. Businesses no longer see them as a luxury, but as a gatekeeper, to decrease employee turnover risk and improve workplace synergy.


Category: Management