Job Related Stress Factors

I would like to share with you an experience that I had with one of my clients that should serve as a wake up call regarding an applicant's "job fit."  I made a presentation to a local company and everything went well except that the vice president of human resources regarded personality assessments as having about the same accuracy and validity as the horoscopes that appear in the newspaper.  I challenged the CEO to test the accuracy of the assessment by testing ten of his current employees.  I told him that the assessments would be accurate enough for him to identify each employee even if I did not put the names on the reports.  He accepted the challenge and ten employees were evaluated.

It took the company about three weeks to get all of the completed assessments back to me.  I processed the reports and reviewed them with the CEO and his managers in a group meeting.  The evaluations indicated that there were two employees that should have not been hired for their current positions.  One employee definitely had an ethics problem and this was very much of a concern since she handled large sums of money.  The committee was very impressed because they had terminated the individual several days before I delivered the results.  The company had determined that she was indeed embezzling company funds for many years.

The second evaluation was another major concern because the lady was a total mismatch for the position in regards to her personality, however her mental abilities were very good.  I told the CEO and the committee that I did not see how she could last over two months in her current position.  I advised them to consider moving her to a different position that would be a better match for her strengths instead of zeroing in on her weaknesses.  The assessment report clearly showed that she was not recommended for her current position but did show other jobs within the company that would have been a very good match for her.  She had some excellent abilities, she was simply miscast in a position that virtually guaranteed her failure.

After a thorough review of all of the evaluations, the company was very impressed because nine out of the ten assessment reports had a very high degree of accuracy.  The sticking point was concerning the employee whose report indicated that she was mismatched for her position.  The company felt that she was the best employee that they had ever hired.  What they wanted to do was to see what was so special about her so that they could hire more applicants just like her.  If they had gone by the assessment report, none of the managers would have hired her for that position.

I explained to the company that she was an employee that they would not want to clone for that position.  The assessment report indicated a high degree of accuracy.   They were intrigued by the accuracy of the other reports and could not understand why that report was so incorrect.  They reminded me of my statement that I didn't see how the employee could last in her present job for over two months.  The fact was that she had already been employed for six weeks and was doing an excellent job.

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Core behaviors and job fit

I explained to the company that the assessment measured core behavior.  That is our "natural" behavior.  When an employee is first hired, they try very hard to be exactly what the company wants them to be and they will modify their behavior somewhat to adapt to their new environment.  Normally we return to our core behavior within two months because it causes us a lot of stress to operate outside of our core behavior for any extended period of time.

That is the reason that you want to "match" people to jobs.  It is very difficult to get the employee to change their natural behavior.  At any rate, I knew that the company would always question the accuracy of the evaluation reports and that they would be second-guessing the results.  I thanked them for their participation and advised them that since they were not totally satisfied with the results that there would be no charge for the evaluations.

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Do not take the results with a "grain of salt"

Two weeks later I received a call from the company's executive secretary stating that they would like to be billed for the evaluations that I had done for them.  They also wanted to know if I would do more assessments for the company.  I advised her that it would not be a good idea because they would view each evaluation with suspicion and that they would end up relying on their "gut" feelings.  The assessments would never provide enough value to the company if they were viewed as hit and miss regarding the accuracy.  She told me that the company did have faith in the assessment system.  I asked her what brought about the change in attitude and she told me that she was not at liberty to discuss the matter.  She then transferred the phone call to the CEO.

The CEO advised me that the lady in question had not shown up for work on the day that I delivered the assessment reports and they had not heard from her since.  About a week and a half later the company received a call from a psychiatrist stating that the employee had suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalized.  The psychiatrist stated that the lady's background did not seem to indicate any problems.  Her husband had told the psychiatrist that the problem seemed to begin developing shortly after she had started her new job.  The psychiatrist wanted to know if there might have been anything that had occurred at the company that could have caused or contributed to the mental breakdown.

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Hiring mistakes can be very costly to both parties

The CEO told the psychiatrist that the lady had been doing an excellent job.  He then shared the results contained in the Achiever assessment report with the psychiatrist and asked him if he thought that any of the factors mentioned in the report had any bearing on the mental breakdown.  The psychiatrist responded that in this case it had everything to do with the breakdown.  The psychiatrist thanked the CEO for sharing the evaluation results with him.  Now that he knew what originated the problem, he felt that he had a better understanding of how to treat the patient.

The CEO admitted to me that he felt a bit of guilt about the entire matter.  If he had tested the lady prior to her employment, he would have never hired her for that position.  He now saw pre-employment testing as a two way street.  Not only does the candidate have to be a good match for the company, the position offered has to be a good match for the applicant as well.  He said that he realized that what had happened would cause the lady and her family a great deal of anguish.

Not only was it a tragedy for the family, it was also a disaster for the company.  On the last night that she worked there, she apparently trashed all of the computer programs that she had been working on and destroyed all of the back-ups.  Not only was all of her six weeks of work down the drain, so was her predecessor's work who had been there two and a half years. He also recognized that being confined to a mental institution is very expensive.  He was concerned that it could have a very significant impact on his group health insurance premiums or his workman's compensation premiums, depending on how the claim was to be handled.

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Example of core behaviors and job related stress

I want to provide you with a clear example of what happened in this case.  Many cases of depression and anxiety seem to involve the inability to cope with domestic or work related problems.  My experience has been that it is more of a matter of how well the individual's cognitive abilities and personality match those required by the job.  Let's use an example of an exercise device called a bull-worker that is used to develop the chest muscles.  It can be made of rubber or several springs with grips on each end.  A person holds one end in each hand and stretches his arms out in order to put a strain on the chest muscles.  You have probably seen them advertised on television.

If a person is in a job that matches his mental abilities and personality, it is the equivalent of holding the bull-worker in a relaxed position.  A job like that does not cause stress.  The person is basically doing a job that is comfortable and natural for them.  In the case where an individual is mismatched for a job, visualize having to stretch the bull-worker for an additional inch for every personality dimension or mental aptitude where the individual is outside the recommended parameters of the hiring pattern.  We can all cope with a little stretch for a little while, but when we have to stretch the bull-worker for 8 to 10 inches, we just can't hold on for that long without having to do some serious straining.  Stress is the mental and emotional equivalent to that physical strain that we experience when we have to stretch ourselves too far.  If you laid down the bull-worker after holding it for 15 minutes with 8 inches of stretch, your muscles would continue to quiver for a while and they would probably be sore the next day.

The major difference between physical stress and emotional and mental stress is that we can leave the exercise environment behind us.  We cannot leave the stress environment behind us.  We carry it with us in our minds and our emotions.  If we hire a person into a job where he is going to have to give a lot of stretch, he will take that stress home with him in the evening.  It will put a strain on his domestic relations and they will in turn cause more stress.  Eventually the straw will come that breaks the camel's back unless some of the stress factors are reduced.  An employee that is well matched to the job will have enough stretch in reserve to meet the requirements of a high stress period.

Please always remember that testing is a two way street.  Not only does it provide a mechanism for matching the person with the job from the company's standpoint, it also tells you how beneficial the match up is for the individual.  Individuals that are properly matched against the job requirements will have higher levels of job performance and overall job satisfaction.


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