This is a student guest post from Landen P. Fulton. Landen is a Charlotte native and currently an undergraduate student studying philosophy and economics at Virginia Tech. His future plans include pursuing a career in law and continuing to examine ethics.
Personality tests have become increasingly popular since the twentieth century, with the Myers-Briggs Personality Test being the most notable of them all. As over 300 million tests have been distributed since its release, the Myer-Briggs assessment has resonated with millions of its participants. This test, along with various other personality questionnaires, is now normalized in use among employers. Not only are tests taken for an individual’s personal interest or enjoyment, but they are now implemented into schools, businesses, and many other institutions.
The widespread use of these personality tests has developed into a highly lucrative industry. The Myers-Briggs foundation alone generates $20 million in revenue each year and the personality industry is increasingly prosperous. Currently, 13% of US employers take advantage of personality tests, and approximately 10,000 employees, 2,500 colleges, and 200 federal agencies use the Myers-Briggs instrument. Despite the industry’s success, concerns about their authenticity have caused various controversies since their release. As the Myers-Briggs test and others are implemented into the workplace, certain laws and ethical guidelines are infringed upon. This creates the need for the personalities of employees to be protected in the workplace just as their other inherent traits are.
What Is It?
Although you’re probably familiar with the test formatting and results, essentially the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality test composed of a series of questions that categorizes people into one of sixteen types of personalities. All types are composed of a four-letter combination, each letter indicating a major component of one’s persona. The options include Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E), Sensing (S) or Intuition (N), Thinking (T) or Feeling (F), and Judging (J) or Perceiving (P). Today, the Myers-Briggs Foundation states that the questionnaire produces a 90% accuracy rate and a 90% average retest correlation. Despite these optimistic claims, the true accuracy of the test is widely criticized as many people question its validity. The psychology behind each individual is highly complex; therefore, one’s entire psyche cannot be simply reduced to four letters, causing the tests to overstate claims based on their limited questions. Still, the test can still be an indicator of individuals’ preferences, attitudes, opinions, and ways of interacting with others.
How Are Prospective Employers Using It?
Due to its indicative qualities, the assessment has been implemented in the hiring process by companies around the world. By using the test, many corporations attempt to learn about their candidates through more than just a resume and a brief interview.
During their employment process, companies use signaling to infer their candidates’ qualifications and help determine their hiring decisions. Signals are viewed as a display of the candidates’ characteristics and work ethic based on their past experiences. These may include one’s college grade point average, success at a previous job, or even the MBTI. Yet in this situation, the use of the personality tests is seen to be unjust even by its own creators. The Myers & Briggs Foundation’s ethical guidelines state: “it is not ethical to use the MBTI instrument for hiring or for deciding job assignments.”
Despite this, 89 of the Fortune 100 companies and thousands of other corporations and government agencies across the United States currently use the MBTI assessment and other personality questionnaires. Some employers even require their candidates to take the assessment, knowing that they are looking for a specific personality type that they assume to be the most suitable for the particular position. This is because certain personality types are commonly correlated with various characteristics, creating stereotypes and giving preconceived ideas to the corporations who evaluate them. For example, certain types are known for being better for leadership or customer service, while others are more inclined to excel in data analysis positions. The perception of certain types often leads to unjust misconceptions as companies look for a specific personality classification in their candidates. Though, in regards to actual job performance, the evaluation holds minimal weight.
The test itself was originally created to indicate various aspects of an individual’s persona, not predict their behavior. Additionally, the test is subject to bias. The individuals participating in the MBTI assessment often misjudge their own character or perform confirmation bias by attempting to attain a specific result on the test, thinking the result is what their potential employers are searching for. If corporations believe in the exam’s accuracy, eliminating certain candidates by the type they receive on the assessment causes its use to be unethical in the hiring process. Although the tests’ results are not as accurate as thought to be and not predictive of an individual’s behavior, many companies utilize these tests as if they are suggestive of future job performance.
Is It Legal?
With Regard to Title VII
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that it is unlawful for an employer “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Each of these characteristics are definitive aspects of an individual’s identity. If an employer were to assume that the Myers-Briggs assessment was to be an accurate indicator, the candidate’s personality would also be viewed as a major, deep-rooted feature of each individual’s identity as well. Therefore, the Title VII act would, legally, protect the workers from personality discrimination also.
Additionally, the Title VII Act states that it is illegal for “employers to limit, segregate, or classify its employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect their status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Since the employer administering these personality tests believe in their accuracy, the results could violate the act. The assessments allow companies to classify their employees by personality type and therefore by assumed strengths. These results would hinder employees from being hired or promoted if they were to apply for a position outside of their predicted area of strength. The Act protects workers from discrimination by inherent aspects of their identity; one’s personality, or assumed personality, is included as one of these features. Therefore, as an employer violates these protections, their actions would legally and ethically be considered unjust by the mandate.
With Regard to the EEOC
The Myer-Briggs assessment is able to indicate certain aspects of one’s persona but is not able to predict one’s actions or behavior. Each individual seeking a job may very well be able to effectively accomplish each task required by the position they are pursuing, regardless of their personality type. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requires that each section of an employer’s hiring process be strictly job-related and “properly validated for the positions and purposes for which they are used.” The assessment is not designed to predict job applicants’ performance and could potentially distract employers from other qualifications their candidates may have. Because the validity of the test is questionable, the candidates’ specific personality types should ultimately be viewed as irrelevant and as an obstruction to the authenticity of a company’s hiring process.
With Regard to Privacy Concerns
Not only would workers’ rights be infringed upon by the violation of the previous laws, but privacy concerns due to the implementation of personality testing are raised as well. While the MBTI does not violate federal intrusive protection acts, many states across the US have specific right to privacy laws that would still be infringed upon. For example, Massachusetts has a broad law that prohibits employers from using any written examinations to render a diagnostic opinion regarding an individual’s honesty. Numerous personality tests include highly personal or even intrusive questions that employers may be able to view, despite their lack of contribution to the job the participant is pursuing, and could undesirably expose an individual’s personal affairs to the company. This infringes upon certain states’ right to privacy laws and the EEOC as well. Additionally, these questions may invade the individual’s personal information by asking questions that could be indicative of the candidate’s mental health. This would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents employers from asking health-related questions during the hiring process. By making mental illnesses easier for employers to detect, the use of personality tests and other pre-job assessments could potentially violate the law. Overall, the participant’s own right to privacy would be infringed upon, as revealing unwanted information could be considered as an unethical action committed by the corporation.
The Bottom Line
The number of institutions that implement these personality tests is ever-increasing. Despite its popularity, the Title VII Act, EEOC, Americans with Disabilities Act, and states’ right to privacy laws should all theoretically protect workers from this unethical assessment. The normalization of the Myers-Briggs personality test has created misconceptions of each person’s type, despite its results not being indicative of future job performance. Even the Myers & Briggs Foundation recognizes this. With more and more use of these assessments, more individuals’ rights are violated and are unjustly discriminated against based on an innate feature of their identity. Individuality should be valued in the workplace, just as diversity is, and assessments such as the MBTI obstruct its authenticity, causing these assessments to break the ethics and laws that they were built around.
If you need help auditing the legality of your hiring process, restructuring hiring documentation, or otherwise protecting your business from potential legal missteps, consult with an experienced business law attorney.