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The cult of personality tests in the workplace

From Myers-Briggs to Engrams, personality tests are everywhere, even in the workplace – but do they really connect us together?

An older woman wearing purple glasses with tinted lenses and colorful earrings on a dark blue background with a mischievous smile following personality tests.

From the workplace to dating apps, everyone wants to know… Who are you? Are you an introvert, an extrovert, a blue, an orange, a high excite, an execute, compliant, dominant? Do you know what adjectives describe you based on your favorite sandwich or preferred potato preparation? 

Personality quizzes, assessments, and discussions abound, from social media to job interviews. The personality assessment market is estimated to be a $2 billion industry

A New York Times article referred to personality tests as office astrology. The article clearly states why we like personality assessments. We like to divide people into categories. The brain is wired to see patterns, and personality assessments help us organize people based on patterns that are revealed through the assessment. The article also notes one glaring issue with assessments, including the MBTI and color code… The tests don’t work. They lack scientific validity.

Peter Bregman, in the above-cited HBR article, thoughtfully explains that assessments seek to simplify complexity, another thing our brains really like to do. Our desires to simplify and sort are seemingly elegantly met by reducing individuals to relatively easy-to-understand categories. Oh, she is sensitive she’s a blue, so be cautious about what you say around her. Oh, he is an extrovert, so he will love speaking in front of a group. 

I am fascinated by personality assessments and our communal love of them. I love nothing more than knowing what some person I added on Facebook at a bar a decade ago’s favorite dog says about who they are as a person, or the deep meaning of my mother’s preference for tater tots over baked potatoes.  

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However, in work and volunteer spaces, understanding someone’s personality and how it may impact the environment can be critically important. Unfortunately, the most popular assessments may not provide the insight managers and leaders really need. The MBTI is a great example of this. The first and likely most talked about category is introversion/extroversion. Introversion is often associated with being shy, solitary, and thoughtful, while introversion can be associated with impulsiveness, friendliness, and leadership. However, these classifications lack a complex understanding of an individual and how that individual may perform any number of tasks. 

Personality assessments potentially provide fantastic conversation starters but should not be considered key components of hiring and promotion decisions. Personality is far too complex to be boiled down to four letters, a color, or a favorite food. I recommend approaching conversations around personality assessments, especially ones that lack scientific support, with curiosity. Ask the person how they feel about the assessment results. Do they agree? Were they surprised? What did they find most interesting? 

Personality tests likely aren’t going anywhere. There will likely be ebbs and flows in popularity. Assessments will change. And hopefully, more scientific options will continue to be developed to help inform constructive and interesting conversations. 

Kaelin Peterson has a B.A. in Political Science, an MBA, and is currently pursuing an EdD in Performance Improvement Leadership. She currently works as faculty for a non-traditional university focusing on traditionally underserved student populations while also volunteering with a focus on leadership development, values-based leadership, and change management. When not working or doing school work, Kaelin enjoys discovering new foods, quiet spaces, and spending time with her husband and dog.


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