Personality tests are the horoscopes of the office
On his first day working at the University of Phoenix, Eric Shapiro found out the good news: He had tested red-yellow.
To the layperson this doesn’t mean much. But to those well-versed in the psychology of Dr. Taylor Hartman’s ‘Color Code,’ it was a career-maker.
Red meant you were a person motivated by power and yellow by fun. This was an ideal combination for someone looking to climb the ranks in an admissions team that demanded the ability to schmooze and then hit recruitment targets.
As Shapiro rose to be a manager, he became fluent in the color-code vocabulary. It helped him diagnose office problems (“Sally is struggling because she’s a blue, so when she gets rejected on the phone she stews about it”) and identify areas for professional growth (“Billy, the yellow guy, is really good on the phone, but he can’t sit still because he’s always trying to crack jokes”).
The taxonomy didn’t typically have a direct influence on hiring decisions, Shapiro said, but managers knew which color types were most likely to thrive when reviewing applications.
The code is just one example of the kinds of psychometric tests being administered in workplaces. The most popular of the group is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, roughly based on Dr. Carl Jung’s psychology, which has sorted some 50 million subjects into introvert or extrovert, sensing or intuiting, thinking or feeling and judging or perceiving.
Personality tests deliver on the complexities of interpersonal office dynamics, but without the intimate process of speaking with employees to determine their quirks and preferences.
They appeal also, perhaps, for the same reason astrology, numerology and other hocuspocus systems do: because it’s fun to divide people into categories.
Katherine Wang, a consultant at a consulting firms, said she found out her MyersBriggs profile at her first company training. Immediately, she was seated with others who shared her type for conversation on how their traits might affect their work. Wang was skeptical at first, but within a few months she came to appreciate the test. It provided a shorthand to talk about a whole range of personal needs: how much you like to fill your calendar or how you want your manager to give feedback.
Alison Green, creator of the popular blog ‘Ask a Manager,’ said she has received a number of letters from people whose careers were directly affected by their Myers-Briggs results. She has heard from workers denied leadership opportunities because of their personality types. Given the broad consensus about its lack of scientific validity, Green is alarmed by heavy reliance on the test.
“It shouldn’t be a tool to assign work or decide who to promote,” Green said. “Pushing it on employees who aren’t into personality tests ends up alienating them or making them uncomfortable.”
RED WHITE BLUE YELLOW