Researchers Highlight Concerns About Personality Testing in Workplace Training

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While personality tests in the workplace setting were originally used for personnel selection, human research departments (HRDs) have increasingly employed personality tests in workplace training despite the paucity of evidence supporting their use for this purpose.

Several concerns about the use of personality testing in workplace training were identified in a 2017 study by Lundgren et al., who analyzed multiple case studies. Using data collected in Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands between 2012 and 2016, the researchers reviewed interviews, test reports, product flyers and email correspondence from publishers, associations, psychologists and HRD practitioners.

Lundgren et al. found a lack of collaboration between HRD practitioners and psychologists with respect to the use of personality tests in workplace training. For example, when selecting which personality test(s) to use, psychologists emphasize the importance of psychometric properties such as validity and reliability, while HRD practitioners often prioritize other parameters, such as cost, perceived ease of use, or historical precedent (i.e., use of whatever tests have been used by the organization in the past even if those tests are suboptimal to achieve the organization’s current intended purpose). Furthermore, the researchers found that psychologists generally believe personality tests should be selected and administered by trained psychologists, while HRD practitioners typically regard personality test selection and administration as part of their skill set.

This lack of collaboration between HRD practitioners and psychologists with respect to the use of personality testing in workplace training, and since membership to most national psychological associations is not available to HRD practitioners, the latter often rely on test publishers and marketers for access to personality tests and for information regarding which test(s) to use and best practices with respect to test administration. This, in turn, strengthens the influence of commercial, rather than scientific, factors on HRD practitioners and their use of personality testing in workplace training.

The researchers also found that both HRD practitioners and employees, perhaps due to such factors as expediency and lack of expertise with regards to the appropriate use and interpretation of personality tests, may use personality tests in the workplace to categorize employees. This may lead to employees being pigeonholed, inhibiting effective workplace training.

A related concern is how test feedback is used. In order to facilitate effective training and development, it is important that test feedback not be perceived as an end, but rather as a starting point. The latter may be undermined if employees are pigeonholed by their test results.

Another concern identified with respect to the use of personality testing in workplace training is that of data privacy. While there are strict rules that govern confidentiality in academic research and in psychometric testing conducted by licensed mental health workers, HRDs may not be aware of, and adhere to, these standards. Questions such as who receives test feedback and how results are stored involve important ethical and legal considerations.

In sum, the researchers concluded that while decisions regarding personality testing in workplace
training are generally initiated and made by HRD practitioners who hold the budget for such training,
there is typically little scientific oversight for the use of such tests in the workplace. Bridging the gap between psychologists and HRD practitioners, and combining scientific evidence with practical application, would help to optimize the use of personality testing in workplace training and to measure its impact on organizational outcomes.

This article was edited by Emi Krishnamurthy and Zoe Frazer-Klotz.