“Before the big crash 2008 it was very much about cohesion—let’s have some fun together because business is going great,” he says. “Now there’s been a steady trend with the global financial situation, with companies expecting more return on investment. They want to be more forensic. They still want events to be fun, but it’s more about what it means and how they can use it.”
The right stuff
So what can looking at personality, rather than just raw ability, tell an employer about a potential hire?
Research shows some measures of personality can predict job performance and employee motivation. A 2016 meta-analysis of personnel selection procedures found that a general abilities test combined with an integrity test, which is correlated with personality traits, was one of the best combinations for accurately predicting job performance.
"There are two parts to anybody's work performance. One part is maximal performance, described as ‘can do’ behavior. The other is typical performance, described as ‘will do’ behavior,” says Deniz Ones, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota. “What personality predicts well is typical performance."
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Ones is quick to point out that workplace assessments typically only measure normal adult personality traits, and are distinct from the diagnostic tools used by psychologists, although these do play a role in the selection process for specific occupations where it’s necessary to screen for things like emotional stability, such as in pilots or law enforcement officers.
Still, her studies have illustrated just how consistent people’s personalities are at work and at home. In one, counterproductive behaviors in someone’s personal life, such as deception, were correlated to counterproductive behaviors in the workplace, including embezzlement. “There is an underlying behavioral tendency that is not that different, it's just a different manifestation,” says Ones. Ones has also found that conscientiousness is predictive of positive work behavior while she says extroversion is indicative of good performance in managerial jobs.
In another study, four of the Big Five personality traits - extraversion, agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness - predicted the performance of medical students in the later stages of their clinical training. By their seventh year of medical school, students who were higher in extraversion, agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness had higher grades.
An imperfect science
A crucial step for companies looking to use personality assessments to hire new staff is to identify which personality traits work for them, but this is not a trivial task. Few of us can be easily packaged into neat, predetermined profiles. Desired traits can vary widely across departments, roles, and even geographic location, since the culture might differ from office to office, and the desired profile takes a lot of careful consideration.
“The key is to develop the instrument in the right way, put the science behind it, test it over time [and] create a conversation within the organization about what it means them,” says Jim Harter, chief scientist of workplace management and well-being at performance management consultancy Gallup and coauthor of 12: The Elements of Great Managing. “It isn’t perfect, but it improves your chances [of selecting the right candidate] substantially.”