Can my employer force me to take a personality test?

Reader: I work for a small arts nonprofit of about 50 employees, in an almost janitorial labor-type position, and I really enjoy my job. The new executive director has decided we all need to get to know each other better and had us fill out a DiSC review to find out “who we are and where our strengths are.” I was not interested in participating, but everyone had to do it, and I was told it was private.

We were rounded up into a company meeting where everyone’s results were printed out and distributed for comment so “we could understand one another.” Many of our managers scored high in leadership skills; I was big in task-oriented jobs (I could have told them that). We are supposed to do this every year to see “how our scores evolve.”

I really disliked the entire process and don’t want to repeat it. What is your take on these kinds of review assessments? Is this something I can be forced to do, or can I opt out without fear of reprisal?

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Karla: DiSC, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram and other professional “sorting hats” can be useful starting points to get people to think about what they value, how they communicate, and what motivates or hinders them — all useful information to have when dealing with colleagues or trying to map out one’s own strengths and challenges.

Like any assessment tool, they can be harmful if used to pigeonhole people into rigid roles based on what their personalities “should” lead them to do, or to assign higher inherent value to certain types over others. In any job, there should be room for a spectrum of introverts to extroverts, analytical to intuitive thinkers, process-focused to outcome-focused types.

Employers should not use tests to force you into a specific slot, but to get you thinking about how your edges fit with those of other people, and maybe to see what you have in common with people you don’t typically interact with.

How much employees get out of these exercises depends on the degree to which the employer is invested in the activity and whether participation is mandatory or encouraged but voluntary. You know better than I where your employer fits in these examples, and whether the employer’s goal is looking like an “employer of choice” on the surface, or actually generating thoughtful conversation among workers.

It’s a mark in your employer’s favor that everyone in your small organization was included in this activity, even if you would prefer to be left out. Think about the message implicit in trying to include all staffers, regardless of rank or department or job type: Everyone here matters. Everyone’s personality is valid and worth trying to understand. Now think about what message it would send if certain categories of employees or managers were excluded. In this case, it’s better to err on the side of inclusion.

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I get your frustration with being made to undergo a process that told you nothing new or useful about yourself, especially if it took time from more urgent matters. And it’s disconcerting that your results were shared after you were led to believe they would be private; sharing, like participation, should be encouraged but voluntary.

Employer-sponsored personality assessments are like office parties and other nonwork events: Some people unironically enjoy them. Others have little interest, but see them as an opportunity to view their colleagues — and let those colleagues view them — in a more personal context. Some grudgingly participate because of how their absence might be interpreted. And some simply decline to participate, or arrange to have personal leave or another conflict scheduled during that time.

So if the new director follows through on requiring a retake next year, what’s the right path for you?

Assuming you’re not being asked to do something illegal, immoral or unsafe, it’s generally prudent to go along with what your employer asks of you during your paid work hours — particularly if being sociable and approachable is important to your performance evaluations and promotion opportunities.

Outside those parameters? Again, you know better than I whether saying “no thanks” to future sessions, or even offering feedback on your underwhelming experience, is worth the risk to how you’re perceived by management. If you decide it isn’t, then as a sometime INTJ on the Myers-Briggs matrix, I offer my sympathies — and a reminder, speaking of camaraderie, that probably at least one other person in attendance will share your antipathy and would be happy to commiserate in private.

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