Op-ed: Stop relying on Myers-Briggs in the office

Test offers 'little reliability'

Myers-Briggs personality types do not help managers achieve harmony, productivity, or success in the office, Joshua Kim writes in an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) uses 93 questions to classify people based on four dimensions of personality:

  • Extroversion vs. introversion;
  • Sensing vs. intuition;
  • Thinking vs. feeling; and
  • Judging vs. perceiving.

About 2 million people take the MBTI each year, often as part of an effort to improve workplace dynamics. Increasingly, personality tests are popping up in interviews and college applications.

"The intentions behind utilizing the MBTI are all good," Kim says. But "social scientists have long known that the MBTI has little reliability, and even worse validity."

Kim points to a recent Vox article that cites multiple studies calling into question the usefulness of MBTI. For example, some researchers have concluded that most people do not fall exclusively into one MBTI category or the other—but somewhere in the middle.

In the article, Joseph Stromberg and Estelle Caswell also contend that the test provides a static, simplified picture of personality, which actually changes over time.

"Depending on our mood when we take the test, for instance, we may or may not think that we sympathize with people," say Stromberg and Caswell. "But the test simply tells us whether we're 'thinking' or 'feeling' based on how we answered a handful of binary questions, with no room in between."

Kim says that the personality types fail to predict occupational success or job performance but that people keep taking the test because they love to categorize themselves and see their personality traits framed in a positive light.

In lieu of crystal ball, admissions directors look to personality tests

Kim is particularly concerned that relying too much on MBTI and other personality tests distracts managers from addressing real workplace issues.

"If getting the best out of our people only requires us to understand and work with their 'unique' personality type, then we are off the hook for fighting for adequate staffing—private office spaces—and reasonable degrees of autonomy and security for our employees," he writes (Kim, "Blog U," Inside Higher Ed, 1/24; Stromberg/Caswell, Vox, 10/8/2015).

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