With limited guidelines or consensus on how leaders should choose, administer, and debrief their employees and candidates using workplace assessments, practitioners and academics alike need a code of ethics. The American Psychological Association’s Ethics Code and Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Section Procedures exist, but talent management professionals need a comprehensive understanding of how to use these guidelines when using workplace assessments.
Why Are Ethics in Workplace Assessments So Important?
Why is the study of ethics in the use of assessments so important, and why should we continue to develop and modify existing ethical guidelines for their use? The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) Committee for the Advancement of Professional Ethics states, “We depend on the trust of others in order to do our work and we don’t earn that trust without treating them honestly and respectfully (i.e., ethically).”1 We need standard guidelines for how to handle different situations, especially those in which the best solution varies depending on specific or changing circumstances.
When guidelines don’t exist or talent management professionals do not adhere to them, decision-makers are at risk of doing harm to candidates and employees. For example, it is well known that cognitive tests have the potential for adverse impact when used as the sole factor in hiring decisions because they can bias the selection rate against protected groups of people.
For practitioners to use cognitive tests ethically and avoid discrimination, ethical codes and guidelines need to be considered. When using a cognitive test for selection purposes in an ethical manner, the practitioner must be able to demonstrate that the cognitive test is job relevant and convey that cognitive ability scores predict job performance. At Hogan, we recommend a job analysis and criterion-related validity study, as well as pairing cognitive tests with a well-validated personality assessment. Essentially, scientific evidence is necessary for cognitive tests to be used ethically in the workplace.
So what other ethical considerations do we need to keep in mind when using workplace assessments?
When Is It Appropriate to Use Workplace Assessments?
While SIOP has adopted the APA ethics code, IO psychologists are not the only ones using assessments in the workplace. Our industry colleagues include talent management professionals, consultants, coaches, and other assessment users who all need to keep ethical guidelines in mind when using workplace assessments.
If your organization has psychologists on staff, they should support their psychological opinions with assessments that sufficiently support their theses and conclusions. However, when this is not possible, the psychologist should document the efforts taken and use the information available to them to support their opinions.2
Talent management professionals should use assessments solely for the specific purposes for which they have been validated. For example, if you know an assessment is not validated for selection use, then it would be unethical to utilize that assessment tool for selection purposes. One should be able to request the assessment’s technical manual or other documentation to confirm the purposes for which the assessment has been validated. Additionally, talent management professionals should clearly define what they’re trying to measure and should only use assessments that are aligned with that goal. Only assessments whose validity and reliability have been tested and accepted for the purposes of that goal should be used.2
How Do You Develop a Workplace Assessment?
Assessment developers should have a strong psychological background along with modern scientific knowledge of assessment design, validation, reduction of adverse impact, and recommendations for use.2 Hogan’s own assessments were developed through a rigorous psychometric development process and continue to be updated through a kaizen psychometric approach.
Hogan founders Drs. Robert and Joyce Hogan used the five-factor model (FFM), the most widely agreed upon measure of personality, and socioanalytic theory to write items that reflected the FFM dimensions. Then, they pilot tested these items using undergraduate samples. The pilot testing continued until they had developed 420 items. Those became the first version of the Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), which today uses seven scales and 42 subscales to assess personality. Since then, Hogan has focused on continually improving our assessments.
How Should Workplace Assessments Be Used?
When picking an assessment to use, it is best practice to describe the purpose, norms, validity, and reliability of the processes, as well as your qualifications for administering and interpreting the assessments. Qualifications may include, but are not limited to, product-specific certifications, formal or informal product training, and coaching certification. Check with your assessment provider to confirm what qualifications are required.2
In addition to using valid and reliable assessments, you should use current assessments to base your opinions and decisions. The most up-to-date assessments must serve the purpose of your use of the chosen assessment. Talent management professionals should do their ethical due diligence by asking the assessment publisher when the assessment was last updated, how frequently the assessment is updated, and what updates were made.2
When administering assessments, talent management professionals must obtain the assessment taker’s informed consent, except when a legal requirement exists, the informed consent is implied, or the purpose of the assessment is to determine decision-making ability. When using an interpreter to obtain informed consent, strict confidentiality of test results must be maintained, which includes recommendations and reports.2
After the assessment is completed, the talent management professional should be aware of all persons identified to receive test data and should not release test data to unidentified people. The ethical code is in place to prevent the misrepresentation of test data and to lawfully protect confidential information.2
What Else Should You Know About Ethics in Workplace Assessments?
If you are ever unsure of how to ethically proceed in a given situation, it’s OK! That is a good time to seek professional advice. Current Hogan clients can reach out to their Hogan consultant for assistance and guidance. Additionally, you can reach out to the CAPE committee for support with ethical decision-making and assessment use. The CAPE committee can also provide resources on developing an ethics code, teaching ethics in an academic setting, and guidelines for talent management professionals.
If you will be attending the upcoming SIOP conference, join Hogan’s Paige Brown and the CAPE committee on April 20 at 5:00 p.m. in room 209 to discuss current and future ethical issues—specifically how the integration of assessments, technology, and the workplace shape ethical considerations.
This blog post was written by Paige Brown, MBA, MA, solutions partners consultant.
- Blackman, G. (n.d.). Committee for the Advancement of Professional Ethics (CAPE). Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. https://www.siop.org/Career-Center/Professional-Ethics
- American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (2002, amended effective June 1, 2010, and January 1, 2017). http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/index.html