Skip the test if you don't want your personality pegged at work

By Lily Garcia
Sunday, January 31, 2010

My employer is a non-governmental organization. The managers have recently announced that they want all staff to undergo Myers-Briggs personality assessments. I am strongly opposed to undergoing this testing. While I might do it personally, doing it at the workplace and having the results shared with colleagues crosses a big privacy line for me. (They say results will be shared only in aggregate, but given that our teams are small, it will be easy to see who's who, and I don't trust that they will be confidential at all.) Furthermore, I fear it could be harmful to me in terms of projects I am considered for. And basically, I'd just rather not be defined by a label. Do I have any rights to refuse this testing?

I am not sufficiently familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to outline the pros and cons of this particular instrument. I can, however, offer my opinion of the use of personality tests for team-building purposes.

You have aptly identified the two primary concerns of employees who are asked to participate in workplace personality assessments: invasion of privacy and the imposition of reductive labels. We may be very capable of friendliness at work, but it is not a context in which one necessarily expects to divulge psychological intimacies. This feeling of unease is heightened by the fact that good assessments are designed to elicit honesty. In other words, the questions are written in such a way that the significance of the answers is not clear. The fear of being typecast is another major issue that arises in the context of workplace testing. And it is not an illegitimate one. Once your co-workers learn your "type," they may tend to make unfair assumptions about you on that basis -- regarding your motivations, your capabilities, your tolerance for certain workplace stressors.

Then again, the sharing of test results in the aggregate can also facilitate understanding of diverse personality types and lead to more collaborative working relationships. This is the main benefit of a team personality-assessment exercise. It is rarely a bad idea to bring a team together to discuss members' work styles and how they can improve upon their results. The process also allows individual insight into work preferences and issues that may be interfering with productivity and enjoyment.

According to information posted on the Myers & Briggs Foundation's Web site, http://www.myersbriggs.org, it is unethical to use the results of the MBTI to make decisions regarding work assignments. Qualified MBTI administrators, furthermore, will insist that taking the assessment be entirely voluntary and that the individual results be shared with individuals only. The results may be presented to groups in the aggregate, as your organization has informed you. Yet, once you have taken the assessment, you are not bound to the results and you are free to choose a different "best-fit type" to describe yourself.

The leaders of your organization who have organized the MBTI exercise should be prepared for concerns of the sort that you have raised. No employee should be coerced into taking a personality assessment, especially when it is to be shared with others in such a way that confidentiality is not guaranteed. Ask specifically whether the assessment is being administered by a qualified MBTI administrator. If so, you can rest assured that you will not be required to take the assessment and that certain other ethical norms will be followed. If the assessment is not being administered by a qualified MBTI administrator, probe further about the qualifications of the person. In either case, ask whether you may pose your questions to the administrator.

Whatever you may learn about the exact nature of the process, you should feel confident in declining to take the assessment on grounds that you are uncomfortable sharing such personal information in a group setting. This is not based on any legal right to privacy but rather on principles of common-sense management that the leaders of your organization should readily understand. You should, however, be a thoughtful and active contributor to any group discussion concerning the aggregate test results.


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