Companies are always trying to find a way to determine which employee applicants are ideal, with human resource departments spending millions because choosing poorly can be costly to businesses. Naturally, various screening tests and face-to-face interviews are used to determine a potential candidate’s suitability, with personality tests in business seeing increased use. But while it’s safe to say that common workplace personality tests have become somewhat of a norm, just how accurate they are remains to be seen.
Believe it or not, there are over 2,000 personality tests in business used to evaluate employees today. Some are used at the time of hiring while others are utilized later to guide employee development. Likewise, some are specific to an industry or worker-type while others are more general. Depending on a company’s need, there may even be several that are used in combination. For decades, common workplace personality tests have played a role in human resource decisions. But with hybrid and remote work models, they have gained greater traction among employers. Understanding this, it’s worth exploring the subject in more depth, especially since their value continues to be highly debated.
“For a long time, people were comfortable making decisions around talent based on face-to-face interactions. More and more companies have a distributed work force. It’s harder than ever to get to know your people.” – Caitlin MacGregor, Cofounder of Plum
The History of Personality Testing
Despite its popularity today, personality tests have been used for quite a long time for various reasons. The original use of these tests occurred during World War I when the military wished to screen potential soldiers. Military recruiters wanted to identify individuals at higher risk for “shell shock” to assist with placement. But the real boom in such screens, especially involving personality tests in business, dates back to the early 1940s. It was then that Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Myers, introduced the Myers-Briggs test. Despite not having any formal psychology background, they successfully launched one of the most common workplace personality tests today. In fact, over two million of these screens are performed each year.
Certainly, other personality tests in business were devised in the subsequent decades. But the industry boomed once again in the late 1990s when computerized tests became accessible. Over the ensuing ten years, dozens of common workplace personality tests were created with many gaining in popularity. In addition to the Myers-Briggs personality test, others now include Color Code, Plum, PrinciplesYou, and Suited. The boom in these tests were followed by increasing use among corporate human resource departments as well. Based on company surveys, more than a third of human resource sections use these tests now when filling executive-level positions. Indeed, personality tests in business have come a long way in the last century.
“Human behavior is complex, people are complex, situations are complex. Psychometrics can help identify what are some potential areas where a person might need coaching or feedback, or where a person might have blind spots.” – Ben Dattner, Organizational Psychologist and Executive Coach
Rising Demand and Popularity
To some extent, personality tests in business have been popular for a while. But their use appears to have increased significantly since the pandemic. Shifts in workplace environments and employee interactions accounts for these shifts. Even in the aftermath of COVID, many workers enjoy a hybrid or remote workplace structure. But managing employees in these situations pose new challenges for managers. And hiring workers who will perform well in hot job markets introduce similar difficulties for human resource professionals. While applications and interviews still play a strong role, common workplace personality tests are as well. These additional screens offer some insights that could better predict performance in these new workplace settings.
The degree with which companies are relying on these common workplace personality tests naturally vary. Some corporations have invested heavily in these pursuits and believe these strategies improve equity in hiring. In fact, some companies report increases in minority and women hires since using personality tests in business. Others are simply using these screens as adjuncts to their normal hiring processes. Or they are using them to guide training, mentoring and professional development. In all cases, personality tests are playing a larger role in worker assessment and management. And the pandemic appears to have been the most notable stimulus in this regard.
“It’s a different style of working, which means different characteristics will matter. Initiative, self-direction, ability to manage one’s time, the way somebody collaborates.” – Matt Spencer, Co-founder of Suited
A Renewed Area of Academic and Corporate Interest
Despite the increased use and popularity of personality tests in business, the actual research behind these tests is limited. Very few have extensive investigational studies to back up their interpretations and results. As such, many question the validity of these common workplace personality tests and how they’re being utilized. Not only may results be inaccurate or misleading. These tests can also have inherent biases built into their screening questions that were introduced during their development. As a result, it’s clear that greater academic rigor is needed to ensure these personality tests are worthwhile.
At the same time, workplace environments, worker skillsets, and company human resource needs are highly dynamic. This is especially true when it comes to remote work interactions. Questions thus also exist as to whether previously used personality tests in business are still applicable to current settings. The common workplace personality tests of yesterday may no longer effectively measure worker performance now. Here too, greater research and development efforts are needed to ensure these screening tools are fair, just and accurate. In any case, it is evident that personality tests have become well-entrenched in human resource processes. Though there is plenty of room for improvement, these tests aren’t likely to go anywhere as part of employee screenings.