Punk Rock HR Question #30: Personality Tests Are For Suckers


Dear Laurie,

As a prefatory note, you don’t look very punk rocker-ish which, for my money, is a much more satisfactory state of affairs.

I’m writing to solicit your opinion on the use of the Briggs-Myer and FIRO-B in a OD-team building day and half session for my employer which is a state special district. We’re a small group and I would be fairly described as low in rank and have little or no influence on operations or strategy; however, the session was mandatory for all 22 of us including a couple who are ranked even lower then I am. I am not in Human Resources.

Staff and board members (the latter did not participate in the team building session) took both tests via the internet and I am almost sure that an explanatory section assured us that individual results would not be identified as such. In other words, there would be no way that my results would be public knowledge or discussed. However, that’s exactly what happened. Everybody’s personal results were made public and something of synanon-like session was tacked on to the part of the Briggs-Myer fest. We are expected to do the FIRO-B part today and some of it has already taken place where small teams were asked to evaluate several anonymous FIRO-B profiles which turned out to be our own!

Would you consider this an ethical use of these tests? What legal obligation am I under to participate in this process, especially when I strenuously object to the public display of the test results, even if I thought they were accurate? The psychologist leading this exercise is a well-respected individual and has apparently written a couple of books on team building.

Thanks for any insight you might offer.


– Anonymous


Dear Anonymous,

Oh boy, I feel your pain. I believe that personality tests in the workforce are bullshit. Plain & simple. Here are other things that I believe —

  • I believe that it’s important to understand your strengths & weaknesses as a human being.
  • I believe that it’s important for you to understand how your behaviors & actions impact your team.
  • I believe in self-improvement.
  • I believe that you can learn to be more self-aware and conscious of your behaviors through activities other than pseudo-Jungian psychology.

I haven’t found anyone who can clearly articulate the true difference between Myers-Briggs (which is rooted in a subjective, post-Freudian psychology) and astrology. You can cast my astrological chart as a Capricorn or you can call me an INFJ. There’s not much difference in the pseudo-scientific results from the MBTI exercise (in my humble and non-PhD opinion).

Back to your questions:

  • Your team building activity seems poorly executed, confusing & vague. (Go figure.) Generally, personal MBTI results are complied and presented to you in a private manner so you can review the data. The data of your team is aggregated and rolled up into a larger report that is used in a session to discuss the team’s strengths and weaknesses.

As to the legality of being compelled to participate, I always defer to common sense. This is America and you are not required to participate in an activity and/or keep a job that you find objectionable or unethical. Unfortunately, your organization is not compelled to employ you as a low-ranking colleague (as you described yourself) if you’re not meeting performance expectations. Most companies link performance, funny enough, to the act of responding to the feedback from faux-scientific personality tests based on a flawed, oppressive, and subjective Jungian psychology.

For my money, the issues of team building and personality tests are smokescreens for a bigger discussion you should have with yourself. Is it time to look for a new job when time & effort at your current job is spent dissecting MBTI and FIRO-B results instead of focusing on activities that are linked to performance, your team’s abilities, and the financial results of the company?

I’d be curious to read comments from other HR bloggers & professionals. Evil HR Lady and HR Wench also provide excellent legal & technical HR advice.

Best of luck,

PS – I’m age-appropriate punk rock, which really means that I’m lame and I wear comfortable shoes.

Previous post:

Next post: