Get Psyched

Failing The Test

While employers like Hamilton say they see benefits, psychological testing is not without its critics. Bob Schaeffer, public education director of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based National Center for Fair & Open Testing, dismisses psychological testing as too arbitrary, like trying to use astrology to understand someone's personality. "You're trying to quantify the unquantifiable," says Schaeffer, who advises small employers to rely instead on probationary hiring periods to confirm the right fit. He believes psychological testing is a big turnoff to employees, who wonder about the purpose of the questions.

Critics also point out the lack of federal regulation or content standards for psychological testing. Without legal limits, they contend, tests could include intensely personal questions. Maltby says it's tempting for employers to go in blindly. Many outsource to psychological testing firms, then defer to the other party's expertise as they would with an accountant or a lawyer. Those who do, says Maltby, often never look at the actual tests, only the results. "Over-reliance is a major danger. Employers need to do their homework," he says. He suggests employers take the tests themselves: "If you're offended by the questions, chances are employees will be, too."

Failing to pay attention can be costly. A number of lawsuits have been filed over the years by employees complaining about the integrity tests they were required to take. In one California case, a male applicant applying for a security job sued Target Stores after he was required to take a version of the MMPI. The 704 questions on the test included "I have often wished that I was a girl" and "Was there ever a time in your life that you liked to play with dolls?" which the applicant found offensive. Target Stores lost the case in court, settled the lawsuit for $1.5 million and discontinued use of the test. California and Rhode Island have since outlawed making job applicants take the MMPI. Both Sirbasku and Kendall agree that employers need to make sure the tests they use don't go over the line. Find out whether tests are certified and graded by actual psychologists.

Maltby adds that employers need to be aware they may be losing good potential workers by requiring them to take tests. "About one-third of the time, the best candidates are being screened out," he contends.

In today's tight labor market, employers may be more concerned about filling empty desks than assessing the right fit. That could be one reason why, according to AMA, the number of companies using psychological testing decreased from 52 to 33 percent between 1998 and 1999.

Office, Sweet Office
Telecommuting is for the birds.

Telecommuting may be a hot buzzword, but it's lukewarm as an actual trend. A national survey released in May by the Radcliffe Public Policy Center and Harris Interactive Inc. reveals that only 50 percent of 1,008 respondents had any interest in telecommuting. In fact, 70 percent preferred flextime or a four-day workweek. Why this negative view of telecommuting? "People want to maintain distinct boundaries between work and home," says Radcliffe's Shannon Quinn. "They indicated that telecommuting would make them available 24/7, and they wanted a better life balance."

Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog,

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This article was originally published in the January 2001 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Get Psyched.

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