Personality Testing

Finally, a bit of common sense. This article was on Stuff 10 September 2013.


Job Personality Tests May be Illegal


Last updated 05:00 10/09/2013

Government agencies spent more than $1.5 million on personality and ability testing in the past year – and some departments may be using the results to swing the axe on employees.

Employment lawyers and psychologists say the increasing use of psychometric testing as part of restructures and redundancies in the public service could be illegal.

In July, The Dominion Post revealed the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the Department of Conservation had used psychometric testing in this way.

At the ministry, 135 health and safety inspectors had to take psychometric personality tests as part of restructuring in February.

The Hogan Assessments’ The Science of Personality test asked them to answer true or false to questions such as: “I hate opera singing”, “I like to try new, exotic foods”, “I can use a microscope”, and “my best friends know how to party”.

An Employment Court decision earlier this year found a psychometric test was unfair and used “irrelevant criteria” for deciding on redundancies.

Now, new information provided to the Public Service Association under the Official Information Act shows the use of psychometric tests for internal restructuring is widespread.

At least 12 government departments indicated they used the testing as part of restructuring or change management. It was used by all departments as a recruitment tool but some restricted its use to management roles.

The Ministry of Education, Ministry for Culture and Heritage, and Ministry for the Environment used tests for both recruitment and restructures.

However, the Ministry of Education said using testing for internal roles or during organisational change was uncommon.

Even spooks were not exempt, with the Government Communications Security Bureau spending $43,359 on tests for all roles last year.

The highest spending was by the Department of Corrections, where $376,439 was paid to five consultancies for testing in the last financial year. Testing was used as part of restructuring only for specific roles.

Psychometric testing has risen in popularity since first being used to identify battle-ready soldiers by the British in World War I.

Employment lawyer Barbara Buckett said she had seen its use “creeping in” to restructuring. “The government sector is the worst offender – it is being used to weed people out.”

Under the State Sector Act, chief executives were required to choose the most suitable candidate. “If it’s found these tests don’t relate to suitability, that would be a breach of the act and the law.”

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said it was calling on the State Services Commissioner to halt the use of testing for restructures.

“When you’re restructuring, you are dealing with people who are your staff. They will have had performance reviews – there should be very little you find out about that person from a psychometric test you don’t already know.”

But a State Services Commission spokeswoman disagreed, saying: “Such testing, in order to obtain a full picture of a candidate, is a legitimate tool alongside others, such as interviews and reference checking, to come to a considered decision on employing the best people.”

In a decision in April, Employment Court Chief Judge Graeme Colgan awarded a former Transfield Services worker $15,000 for wrongful dismissal after a psychometric test was used as part of redundancy considerations.

He ruled the test was irrelevant, of dubious value and led to a “plainly wrong” conclusion.


Department of Corrections: $376,439. Mainly for recruitment. In restructures, used only for internal applicants going for certain roles.

State Services Commission: $121,898. Recruitment for chief executive roles.

Ministry of Education: $96,933. Recruitment and restructures.

Inland Revenue: $95,760. Recruitment, not generally used in restructures.

Department of Conservation: $89,589. Recruitment and restructures.

*Figures provided to the Public Service Association under the Official Information Act

– © Fairfax NZ News

McWilliams Consulting