Personality Testing by Employers: Balancing the Need for Qualified Workers with Individual Rights.

Author:Smith, Robert A.


Personality testing for the workplace has grown into a business worth $500 million annually and continues to grow at a rate of 10 to 15% per year (Weber & Dwoskin, 2014). In an increasingly competitive global market, organizations are predictably concerned with and under pressure to hire applicants who demonstrate the traits indicative of the best likelihood of success and longevity in certain positions. As many as 60 to 70% of job candidates in the United States are subject to testing for personality and other cognitive traits and skills, a percentage that has nearly doubled in a five-year period (Weber & Dwoskin, 2014). As such, "it is critical for organizations to understand what differences among individuals systematically affect job performance so that the candidates with the greatest probability of success can be hired" (Martin, 2017, para. 5). The perception of a candidate's ability to handle future challenges on the job is often being measured squarely on an applicant's personality traits. An international study has shown that there is an increasing demand for job candidates who are fully engaged, adaptable, collaborative, and enjoyable to work with, which are all traits that relate to an individual candidate's personality (Hyper Island, 2014).

In 2013, nearly seventy percent of American workers were disengaged from their work, costing businesses approximately $500 billion in profits (Baez III, 2014). This cost is due to the fact that disengaged workers tend to be absent from work more often, are less satisfied with their employment, and have more work-related accidents than their engaged counterparts (Baez III, 2014). The percentage of disengaged workers in the U.S. remains largely unchanged as recently as 2017 (Corbin, 2017). Properly crafted and administered personality tests can have the potential to assist employers in making more successful hires by increasing their ability to match the culture of their businesses to the personalities of particular applicants thus, increasing employee engagement. This is vital as a disengaged worker with a personality incompatible with his or her work environment can create a toxic atmosphere for other workers and can potentially cost an employer up to five times the worker's salary (Baez III, 2014).

Hiring managers may be putting greater emphasis on personality traits rather than competency when making hiring decisions. In the technology, communication, and business development sectors, of the more than five hundred leaders polled, organizational leaders found creativity and drive to be among the most desirable personality traits, somewhat overshadowing competencies such as problem solving and idea generation (Hyper Island, 2014). In 2014, Xerox Corporation attributed a reduction in customer service job attrition by 20 or more days and claimed that applicants who tested highly for the empathy trait tended to excel in customer service positions (Weber & Dwoskin, 2014). The perception of many hiring managers is that they can train their employees to learn basic job-related skills, while it is difficult, if not impossible, to change personality traits.

Benefits and Potential Negative Effects of Employer Personality Testing

Some research indicates a strong correlation between certain personality traits and job success and that it may be worthwhile for managers to consider employees' personality traits when assigning certain duties on the job. For instance, an employee who tends to be autonomous may prefer to be in roles where they have the latitude to make their own decisions, whereas workers who favor a team environment may do well in a more non-leadership, generic role (Mielach, 2013). Placing an employee in a job that does not fit well with his or her personality traits leads to lower engagement, 21% lower productivity, and 45% higher turnover rates, which can get costly for employers (Feldman, n.d.). While the National Commission on Testing and Public Policy posits that employee selection tools, such as personality tests, are not perfect and should not be favored over factors like past performance and relevant experience, this position falls short of acknowledging that all selection tools, with the traditional interview being no exception, contain imperfections (Baez III, 2014).

A properly administered, professionally constructed personality test can reveal traits that may not be readily apparent on a candidate's resume and can help employers improve methods to keep future employees engaged and assign them to teams that would be most appropriate for both the candidate and the organization (Herbst, 2017). Conversely, this type of testing can be time consuming and can cost employers anywhere from $100 to $5000 per applicant (Herbst, 2017). Perhaps one of the most significant drawbacks in the area of personality testing is the lack of regulation at the federal level, which leaves the possibility for any organization to create a personality test on its own, without the input of those with training in this specific area, potentially leading to problems (Herbst, 2017). Further, if employers blindly screen applicants based solely on the results of their personality test results, it can lead them to focus too heavily on a single trait and potentially screen out applicants who would have been a good fit for the job based on other factors. Additionally, it is important to recognize that individual traits may be more or less important depending upon the type of job performance being considered, e.g., effective managers or leaders (Van der Lin, Pelt, Dunkel, & Born, 2017).

Measuring Personality Traits

The most supported measurements for personality traits are based on the "Big Five Model" that utilizes five categories of personality traits, which include: agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism and emotional stability, conscientiousness, and openness to experience (Baez, 2013). These traits are correlated with job performance and can predict certain employee performance outcomes such as lower turnover and absenteeism, exceptional customer service, higher instances of teamwork and leadership, and overall job satisfaction and commitment (Baez, 2013). Employers use several different types of tests to help quantify where an applicant or current employee's personality traits may fall on the "Big Five Model." The two most prevalent tests for these categories are the NEO-Personality Inventory and the Personality Characteristics Inventory (PCI). Each of these tests use a series of questions. For instance, the PCI consists of 150...

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