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Are Personality Tests Ethical During Hiring?

The dawn of a new post-pandemic workforce has given rise to a phenomenon that existed long before COVID. Since the 1900s, employers have used personality tests to assess, compare, and select new employees during the hiring process.

Given the continued surge in remote and hybrid work, many Americans have expressed strong opinions on this controversial topic. As our nation continues to navigate economic turmoil and inflation caused by COVID, some workers are finding themselves in dire financial straits. The mass migration in the workforce not only reshuffled the professional landscape as we know it, but left many without jobs as companies closed their doors.

For some candidates, getting rejected during their job search follows their completion of a personality test. The phenomenon of “typing” employees’ personalities prior to hiring has grown more common among employers over the years, and its popularity has only increased as many Americans turn to remote work.

This begs the question: Are personality tests helping or harming our workforce? More importantly, are personality assessments reducing discriminatory hiring practices, or enabling them? Before we can determine the ethics behind this employment phenomenon, it’s crucial to explore both sides of the argument.

Types of Personality Assessments Used by Employers

There is a wide range of personality assessments available for use today. Employers implement various tests to screen candidates during hiring, such as:

  • The DISC Assessment. This test evaluates your behavioral style and the way you interact with others. Unlike other tests, it doesn’t measure intelligence or aptitude. Instead, it measures your levels of Dominance (D), Interactivity/Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Conscientiousness (C) in both natural and adaptive environments.
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). The MBTI assessment identifies you as 1 of 16 different personality types. These types consist of 4 letters, each with dual options: Introversion/Extraversion (I/E), Sensing/Intuition (S/N), Thinking/Feeling (T/F), and Judging/Perceiving (J/P).
  • The Enneagram. This assessment sorts you into 1 of 9 personality types based on your behaviors, motivations, and fears. All types have a number and a name: Reformer, Helper, Achiever, Individualist, Investigator, Loyalist, Enthusiast, Challenger, and Peacemaker.

To understand whether these tests are helpful or harmful to our workforce, it’s important to weigh potential pros and cons of personality typing in the workplace.

Pros & Cons of Testing Personalities Before Hire

The majority of personality tests aren’t inherently bad. Many people express benefitting from self-discovery after typing themselves, as it can open the door to new opportunities and provide an enhanced understanding of how we interact with each other and the world.

Even in the workforce, personality assessments aren’t always perceived in a negative light. In some instances, personality tests can actually decrease discriminatory practices during the hiring process. For example, an in-person interview between an older white male and a young woman of color might unfold differently than if the older male reviewed the woman’s personality test results on paper beforehand.

Even unconscious biases can cause employers to turn away candidates who would be an enormous asset to the company, whereas a quantifiable and faceless breakdown of a candidate’s personality might prevent this from occurring.

When they are used correctly, there are various potential benefits of implementing personality tests during hiring. Personality assessments can assist with the following:

Pro: Establishing whether a candidate is a good fit for the specific position.

At a foundational level, core personality traits that are considered strengths for one position might be considered weaknesses for another. An employer might hesitate to hire a reserved, cautious, analytical candidate for their sales department—but if there’s an open position on the accounting team, the candidate could be the perfect fit.

Pro: Helping the candidate become more self-aware of how they interact, function, and communicate in the workplace.

Personality assessments can be beneficial both in our careers and personal lives. Results can enlighten an individual to unique behaviors, motivations, and preferred communication style at work. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses can help an employee make conscious choices to benefit their productivity and improve their communication with coworkers and management.

Many Americans have at least a basic understanding of the behaviors and tendencies that make them who they are. However, less Americans comprehend why or how they possess certain traits or behave in a certain way. A personality assessment can analyze our motivations and give us a better idea of how we tick. In many cases, this not only boosts our self-esteem, but can make us more self-aware in all aspects of life—our careers included.

Pro: Determining which applicant would be most fulfilled by the position.

In some cases, it’s hard (if not impossible) to be picky during a job search. Understandably, many of us are willing to settle for tolerable positions to achieve financial security. In other cases, we might be enthusiastic about coming onboard with a new company, and genuinely believe that it’s a perfect fit.

Alas, this isn’t always the case. Many new employees discover too late that the new job isn’t everything they thought it'd be, or that it doesn’t live up to the employer’s romanticized descriptions. In this scenario, personality assessments can be mutually beneficial: if an employer reviews the assessment and determines that you might not feel comfortable or fulfilled in that particular environment, it's best for both parties if you move on.

Despite the potential upsides of employee personality testing, there are some serious cons to consider. Here are some big areas of concern when it comes to using personality tests to make hiring decisions:

Con: Most personality tests aren’t designed to predict job performance.

At the end of the day, most personality assessments weren’t created with employment in mind. Instead, many tests are designed with the purpose of self-discovery, personal fulfillment, and the ways that we can connect with ourselves and each other.

This isn’t to say that personality tests can’t be helpful in the workplace, but it does mean that employers should exercise caution when basing hiring decisions on personality typing. In fact, Sherrie Haynie of The Myers-Briggs Company states that the MBTI personality assessment “shouldn’t be used in hiring, but rather for team-building, conflict management, leadership development and other non-selective purposes.”

Con: Personality typing isn’t 100% accurate.

When it comes to personality typing, some people test better (or more honestly) than others. Candidates who feel nervous, pressured, or rush through the test can receive inaccurate results. Others will “stretch the truth” in an effort to test as a better fit for the job they desire.

While personality tests are based in psychological principles, this doesn’t mean they’re built on concrete science. At the end of the day, personality assessments are a two-dimensional representation of a human being—and in some cases, it’s simply impossible to reduce a person to a generic description on paper.

Con: Personality assessments can be discriminatory.

Sometimes, personality testing can mask characteristics associated with protected classes under the EEOC (such as race, age, sex, and religion). While this is a favorable outcome, other candidates aren’t as lucky when it comes to dodging biases created by personality tests.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of disability. For job seekers with mental health conditions and other disabilities (such as bipolar disorder, clinical depression, autoimmune diseases, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and more), personality typing can result in unjust disqualification from the applicant pool.

This discrimination is largely due to the nature of certain questions included in personality assessments. For example, someone without a disability or mental health disorder will likely rate themselves differently for statement-based questions, such as:

  • “I find it easy to make new friends.”
  • “I often experience mood changes.”
  • “I’m consistently energized throughout the day.”
  • “I’m not easily distracted while working.”

For example, an applicant who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or ADHD probably experiences emotions, mood changes, and energy fluctuations differently than a neurotypical applicant.

Similarly, an applicant diagnosed with lupus or multiple sclerosis (MS) might find it difficult to be honest about pain and fatigue during a flareup, as it can tarnish their employability in the eyes of an employer. More importantly, personality typing can put pressure on candidates to disclose their disability—an obligation that they’re protected from under federal law.

Legal Implications: Is Personality Testing Discriminatory?

The ethics of employee personality typing can be murky. Like many areas of our legal system, there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to employment law. However, various lawsuits have been filed against employers for using personality tests in a manner that violates federal law.

Personality tests can offer valuable insights to employees and employers alike when it comes to determining our motivations, interactions, and how we adapt under pressure. Still, there’s a fine line between helpful and harmful when it comes to personality assessments in the workplace. It’s important to understand the distinction between psychological tendencies and evidence-based science.

Keep in mind that personality tests were designed by humans, and are thus susceptible to unconscious biases and other flaws. For example, because many personality assessments were created decades ago, they were consequently designed within a particular parameter…one that caters to the all-male, all-white perspective.

The DISC assessment, for instance, was coined in 1928 by psychologist William Moulton Marston—a time when American women made up less than one-quarter of the American workforce, as opposed to making up roughly half of our workforce today.

While it can be tricky to prove discriminatory personality typing in a court of law, it’s still an achievable feat. An experienced employment law attorney can help determine which evidence, if any, shows that you’ve been unfairly discriminated against as an employee or applicant. Although there can be exceptions, personality assessments rarely discriminate on the basis of protected classes. More often than not, candidates who suffer the most from personality typing are workers who live with a chronic disability.

Here are some potential signs that an employer may be using personality typing in a discriminatory way:

  • They disqualify candidates based on personal typing alone.
  • They manually remove problematic questions from the test.
  • They neglect to inform candidates of the purpose behind the test.
  • They immediately rule out candidates of a certain “type.”
  • They fail to see the bigger picture by reducing candidates to two-dimensional descriptors.

Polaris Law Group Can Help Protect Your Rights

Being wronged by a former or prospective employer can have life-altering consequences. For some Americans, a discriminatory act can prevent them from having a roof over their head or putting food on the table for their family. No one deserves to be the victim of snap judgements, especially when it comes to maintaining financial security.

If you feel like you’ve been unfairly discriminated against on the basis of a protected class, disability, or mental health condition, you have the right to fight back—and you don’t have to fight alone. Our skilled discrimination lawyer has spent more than 25 years recovering millions of dollars for wronged employees.

Don’t sacrifice financial stability because a company attempted to reduce you to a “type” on paper. Take a stand now by speaking out against unfair hiring practices. Asserting your rights today can help the employees of tomorrow find their voices, too.

Are you a victim of unfair hiring practices? Don’t wait to take action. Call (888) 796-4010 to schedule your free consultation.

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