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Thought Leadership in Action

How to Use Personality Testing to Improve Employee Engagement

Are you an introvert, a yellow or a D? Those are some of the terms that describe people’s personalities as measured by common assessments. Employers can use personality tests to gain insight into how employees prefer to process information, make decisions and interact with one another. The most common personality tests used in HR settings include:

These assessments break personalities down in different ways: some, such as DISC, have as few as four outcomes, while the Myers-Briggs assessment yields 16 categorizations. Whatever the result, these designations can help provide employees and company leaders with valuable insights about the organization.

Assessing personalities and sharing the results with employees can be transformational, says Joan Tremblay, an organizational leadership trainer and coach. “In one organization, there had been a 20-plus-year feud between two managers with very different personality styles that affected the morale of each division,” she said. “After the training, everyone finally understood the differences that caused the friction and how to resolve the rift. They have worked cooperatively since.”

This white paper will look at employee engagement and describe how to use these tests effectively to boost engagement in your organization.

What Is Engagement?

“Engagement” can mean a lot of different things for different companies. For some, it simply means job satisfaction. For others, it means the level of commitment or effort employees bring to their jobs; high engagement levels mean employees are willing to go the extra mile and are emotionally connected to their work.

No matter how you define it, self-knowledge through effective personality assessment can affect engagement, experts say. By inviting a personality assessment expert in to administer the process and educate employees on the results, employers can encourage self-reflection, collaboration and understanding among employees.

Insights and Advantages

Simply knowing a personality type as defined by an assessment isn’t enough — employees, managers and leaders will need to know what to do with that information. Learning about each other’s preferences is the biggest step and one that can lead to increased engagement through these factors.

Improved Employee Interaction

Knowing one another’s natural preferences for interaction, decision-making and processing information can help everyone adjust the ways they communicate and build relationships, says Shannon D'Gerolamo, of Success Labs, which uses the Myers-Briggs assessment with clients. When individuals understand that not everyone sees the world as they do, they can then make the effort to communicate more effectively.

Todd Watson, CEO of software company Showit, saw this happen at his organization. After going through the Myers-Briggs assessment, employees spent time studying their own tendencies and the those of their co-workers to understand where they each thrive and how they can support one another’s strengths.

Extroverts on the team get the space they need to talk their ideas out in team meetings, while the introverts get time to put their ideas together before they have to present them, he says. “Everyone works in complementary rather than opposing roles.”

Amanda Santucci, an account executive with Goodwin Group PR, saw the same result at her organization. “We find these tests highly effective in learning how to best interact with each other,” she says. After going through a personality assessment, employees talked about their strengths and weaknesses in a staff meeting, and they keep the tests on file for reference. “It helps us engage with each other because we can better understand why people respond the way they do and what they thrive on. It makes the workplace extremely effective and productive.”

A good trainer will help employees make connections and understand others’ preferences. “If I have self-knowledge, I can observe other people, see how they behave and anticipate what their preferences might be, and then make adjustments with my approach,” D'Gerolamo says. But when employers assess entire teams or departments, everyone can learn about one another, helping to close gaps that might exist because of varying backgrounds, experiences or personality preferences.

Increased Understanding of  Engagement Drivers

When employers better understand employees’ motivations and preferences, they can more effectively manage engagement efforts. Because each company culture is unique, it’s vital to uncover the talents and preferences that drive engagement, says Brett Wells, chief research officer at Talent Plus. A department of introverts might lose engagement if put in an open office plan, for example; people who like to talk through ideas before they act on anything may not find a work-at-home benefit very valuable.

Wells says one health care client Talent Plus worked with found highly engaged employees tended to have higher talent levels than less-engaged employees. For an organization that wants to improve or maintain high engagement, this level of insight can inform hiring. “The health system continues to use this assessment to identify and select applicants who are ‘hardwired’ to be fully engaged,” he says.

Better Management Decisions

The most important factor in how productive and engaged an employee will be is the relationship to his direct supervisor, Tremblay says. Personality assessments can give managers valuable information about their employees and how to best motivate and communicate with them.

“For example, if an employee is task-oriented, as a manager, I won't delve into personal conversations,” Tremblay says. “They aren't comfortable talking about their personal lives, so I will make a connection based on the quality of their work. If an employee is relationship-oriented, then I will get to know them a bit more personally. I will ask about their family or their outside interests and share a bit of mine, too.” Developing these relationships with employees in ways that play to their preferences is a critical factor in engagement, Tremblay says, and managers can match the employees’ personalities to build the most rapport.

Leaders who understand their teams’ strengths and can communicate effectively with them will be able to achieve goals more easily, says Ray McKenzie, founder and principal consultant of Red Beach Advisors. “By using behavior and personality assessments, a leader or manager is able to understand the strengths of their team and areas of improvement for others while placing their team in the right position for success.”

Hiring for Culture

According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 20 percent of companies use assessments to evaluate job candidates. But hiring managers should avoid hiring only on types, D'Gerolamo says. While people have personality preferences, it’s what they do with them that is key. “If a job is 75 percent presentations and a candidate says they hate presentations, that’s not a personality assessment — that’s a behavior they don’t enjoy.”

Instead, employers should take the approach that every personality type has strengths and that preferences are only preferences, not predictions of future behavior. This knowledge can help determine whether someone might fit into a company’s culture.

Santucci says that when her company went through the Myers-Briggs test, employees found they’re almost entirely split between two types. It made them consider whether they hire for certain personalities to match the culture and whether they want to bring in different types to add diversity. “It also made us wonder if our types of personalities were just more drawn to our field of PR,” she says.

How to Use an Assessment Effectively

To get the most out of your personality assessment, experts recommend bringing in a trained facilitator or education team to perform the test and interpret the results. Other tips include:

  • Do your research.Personality assessments measure different things, and the good ones are carefully designed to accurately measure only specific traits. The Myers-Briggs test, for example, is not designed to be a part of the hiring process, according to its publisher. As its website states, people who are different types may excel at the same job for different reasons.
  • Know why you’re using it.Don’t use it as a front-end tool that will make decisions, D'Gerolamo says. “If you’re truly going to be beneficial with it, remember it’s just a preference, and it’s good to know it. Self-awareness helps you know how your natural strengths play out in the workplace.”
  • Communicate clearly.Any time you use a personality assessment, it’s vital that you communicate clearly about what you’re measuring, why you’re doing it and what will be done with the information. You want to get honest responses, but you also want to reassure employees that it isn’t a psychological test and that the company doesn’t value some traits over others. The test is intended to identify how people are, not how they want to be, Watson says.


There is plenty of value to be found in personality assessments, as long as they’re used correctly. The insights your employees can get about themselves and one another can provide a strong foundation for any engagement-boosting initiative you implement. Research your options and be open with employees when you bring in an assessment team. “There’s value to using any of them,” D'Gerolamo says. “It’s just how you use them.”


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