Personality tests in the workplace by jia20713


Mindful matters:                      Deniz Ones anD stephan Dilchert
lOOk at hOw stanDarDiseD evaluatiOns in the hiring
phase can help Detect Deviant emplOyees.

Personality tests
in the workplace
We make judgments and                         of thousands of individuals, shows that
evaluations about others’ personalities       personality tests relate strongly to
every day – when we meet new                  performance on the job. the evidence
acquaintances, when we catch up               is very clear: organisations can identify
with old friends, and even when we            high performers even before they are
interact with our spouses or partners.        hired using standardised, off-the-shelf
Personality is important – it describes       personality tests. given the high costs
the general tendencies of individuals         associated with employee misbeha-
to feel, think, act, and react in a variety   viours, organisations are not only inter-
of life situations. and our work lives,       ested in identifying high potentials, but
of course, are one of those domains           also in identifying those who will cause
where personality plays a primary role.       harm to the organisation and its mem-
  Organisations have long tried to glean      bers. a single deviant employee may
information on individuals’ personalities     often cause more damage than a few              acts in a given situation. some              agreeable engage in fewer aggressive
for a variety of purposes, including          honest employees who are simply not             employees choose to be deviant by            acts against other individuals.
career counselling, employee develop-         performing well.                                engaging in acts such as fraud and           Organisations can harness the power
ment and coaching, or candidate selec-                                                        theft, but also interpersonal deviance       of standardised personality testing,
tion. the method most commonly used           Finding deviant workers                         such as violence, harassment, and            especially integrity tests, to identify
to try to learn more about someone’s          there are some situational demands              aggression on the job. Others, despite       employees who will avoid deviance.
“character” is the employment inter-          that can push employees towards                 being presented with the same oppor-         Personality tests are a good method
view, and such interviews can be useful       deviant behaviours (for example, an             tunity, will choose to do the right thing,   to pick up warning signs early, before
when properly designed and applied            employee who is strapped for cash               and behave ethically. this, to a large       an applicant becomes an employee
(especially when they are standardised        may be more likely to steal). However,          extent, is determined by employees’          and is entrusted with responsibilities.
to minimise the influence of human            personality is a powerful factor that           temperament, or personality. traits
error and bias).                              determines who engages in deviant               such as integrity, honesty, and              Personality tests versus
  But the science of personality has                                                          conscientiousness play a key role in         monitoring
more powerful tools at its disposal.                                                          determining whether employees steal,         many organisations attempt to monitor
standardised personality tests (whether       tools such as integrity                         embezzle, or otherwise harm their            their employees to discourage and
paper-and-pencil or computer-based)           tests are also cost-                            organisations, co-workers, or clients.       prevent deviant behaviours. From
have a long tradition in occupational                                                         Research that we have conducted in           surveys we know that in the us about
settings, and have proven to be one
                                              effective because they                          this domain shows that personality is        three-quarters of companies monitor
of the most effective tools to predict        are more reliable and                           a strong predictor of avoiding such          internet connections, over 70 per cent
a range of employee outcomes, from            predictive of future                            counter-productivity. specifically,          monitor email, and about 40 per cent
high job performance to avoiding                                                              employees high on conscientiousness          monitor phone calls of their employees.

deviant behaviours on the job.                                                                engage in fewer deviant acts against         these measures are obviously targeted
  Large-scale empirical evidence from                                                         their organisations (such as theft,          at problems such as time theft and to
real world work settings, collected in                                                        unexcused absenteeism, or destruction        correct poor-quality work, but also to
thousands of studies of many hundreds                                                         of property). and employees who are          curtail serious offences such as

54                                                                       I N T H E BL AC K O C T O B E R 2 0 0 9
 Sample personality test questions

 • I work best when I am                       • I often act based on impulse.
     closely supervised.                       • If I gain an unexpected
 •   I believe in “quid pro quo.”                  advantage over someone
 •   It is more important to                       else, I sometimes feel guilty.
     follow rules that are                     •   Once people get on my bad
     well justified than those                     side, I find it hard to be
     that seem haphazard.                          courteous to them.

  How would you fare on a psychological test? INTHEBLACK readers can
  evaluate themselves at

intellectual property theft. given the        IntHeBLaCk readers. But, the advan-
wide variety of counterproductive             tage of standardised tests is that no
behaviours employees can engage in            matter what application, they are very
during their organisational tenure (or        efficient and low-priced compared to
even a single day), monitoring methods        other methods used to assess and
are typically not very effective in           select job candidates, such as assess-
curtailing deviance especially in             ment centres or pre-employment inter-
complex jobs and changing work                views. those methods sometimes are
environments.                                 not associated with direct costs such
                                              as licensing fees, but they almost
Testing in action                             always end up being more expensive,
HR systems need to be designed by             even when just considering the amount
experts who are knowledgeable and             of person hours lost (e.g. for the hiring
adhere to high professional and ethical       manager to interview candidates, or for
standards. Consulting industrial and          the time it takes to discuss candidate
organisational psychologists can design       interview performance and provide
systems and recommend the correct             feedback). But more importantly, tools
tests for use in pre-employment               such as integrity tests are also cost-
candidate assessment. Organisations           effective because they are more relia-
that rely on independent experts are          ble and predictive of future success
more likely to receive recommendations        than most other methods of assessing
that address their needs in the best          job relevant characteristics. Hence,
manner possible.                              not only does an organisation save
  standard, off-the-shelf personality         money by using a cost-efficient
tests can often be purchased for a            method to select its employees, it
relatively small fee per test-taker. the      also actively makes more money as
more elaborate and in-depth a test is         a result, because it hires better
the more expensive it will be, for exam-      candidates than even the best
ple those used for thoroughly evaluat-        interviewers could identify. n
ing high-level managers or screening
personnel for security sensitive              Deniz s. Ones is a professor of psychology
positions. typically, personality tests are   and the holder of the hellervik professorship
made up of several dozens or even             of industrial psychology at the university of
                                              minnesota. stephan Dilchert is an assistant
hundreds of individual questions, such
                                              professor of management at the zicklin
as those found in the box on this page        school of Business (Baruch college), city
and in the online example test for            university of new york.

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