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The Role of Integrity Assessments in the Workplace

27 October 2011

± minute read

    The Role of Integrity Assessments in the Workplace
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What are integrity assessments? Integrity testing is not a novel practice in industrial and organizational settings. Internationally integrity tests have been utilised for many years. In fact, the first academic review for this category of assessments was published more than 30 years ago (Sackett & Decker, 1979). In South Africa, the practice of integrity testing remained relatively obscure until recently. The use of integrity assessments has gradually increased and the demand for such assessments continues to rise steadily. Integrity tests were originally developed in the USA to identify dishonest job applicants after legislation was implemented to prohibit the use of polygraph testing. Since then, integrity tests have evolved to be much more than mere replacements for polygraph tests. Today, the primary focus of integrity measures is the prediction of counterproductive work behaviours (CWB). Integrity tests typically refer to two categories of assessment labelled ‘overt’ and ‘covert or personality-oriented’ tests (Sackett, Buris, & Callahan, 1989). Overt assessments enquire directly about an individual’s attitudes toward counterproductive work behaviours such as theft. Such measures typically include questions related to the punitiveness of theft, ruminations about theft, as well as the individual’s history of engaging in such behaviour’s. Included would also be questions pertaining to the individual’s honesty in general. In the second category - covert or personality oriented assessments - a more indirect approach is followed in measuring counterproductive tendencies. These assessments tend to have a broader focus than overt tests in that they focus on a range of counterproductive work behaviours other than theft and honesty such as hostility, social conformity, attitudes towards authority, dependability etc.

 Why do organisations use Integrity Assessments in their Selection Processes? 

Integrity is viewed as a psychological construct which impacts on work behaviour and is receiving considerable amounts of attention in the various psychology domains (Barnard, Schurink et al., 2008). The hiring of new employees always carries some risk and there is growing awareness of the prevalence of workplace theft and counter productivity, both of which negatively affect an organisation’s bottom line (U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment, 1990). Integrity tests are often validated in their use by the many return on investment benefits citations available. Organisations use indicators such as shrinkage or loss inventories and customer satisfaction reports to assess the benefits of integrity assessments (Roberts, 2011). Organisations are thus seeing the potential benefits of making use of these tools in order to protect them by using the tools as a method of ensuring that they hire honest, productive employees who will be more likely to have a positive effect on their bottom line (Mahomed, 2006). This is especially so for high risk organisations such as financial services, security companies, mines etc. 

What are the main problems with integrity assessments? 

Internationally, the question of the validity of integrity assessment tools can be problematic as honesty and integrity are extremely difficult constructs to define with enough precision to allow for empirical measurement of those constructs (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, 1990). A common criticism is that integrity assessments tend to have high failure rates or very stringent scoring which may result in the rejection of honest employees (Mahomed, 2006). This implies that employees who should be selected could be excluded for reasons which are not necessarily adequate – such as a truly honest person validating items which impact negatively on their scoring, or an individual who is truly honest and answers the assessment accurately who is seen as being “too good to be true”. In the same breath, employers need to be extra cautious when hiring new staff members – risks cannot be taken in these trying economic times and it is most likely worth the risk of turning down potential acceptable employees in favour of preventing possible loss to the organisation. Another possible dilemma is that the nature of integrity assessments is such that informing test takers of the purpose of the assessment may impact on the way in which they answer the questions. This could be challenge as informed consent is an essential part of the assessment process in South Africa (Mahomed, 2006). However, the same problem applies to most types of assessment with the exception of ability tests for which it is not possible to ‘fake good’.

How well do integrity tests work?

 Some integrity tests are designed to predict specific CWB’s, however research has demonstrated that they tend to predict most CWB’s equally well (Berry et al., 2007). This is because most CWB’s are related to one another. So, this means that an individual who engages in one CWB is also likely to engage in other CWB’s (Bennett & Robinson, 2000; Sackett & DeVore, 2002; Berry, Ones & Sackett, 2007). With regards to the validity of integrity tests, Ones, Visweswaren and Schmidt (1993) conducted a massive meta-analytic study in which they analysed the results from 665 validity studies. This study represents the largest and most comprehensive study of this sort to date. For the prediction of CWB’s other than theft, Ones et al. (1993) reported validity for overt tests of .39 and .29 for personality oriented measures. The credibility interval was lower for overt tests. Thus there appears to be no basis to choose one type of test over another. For theft in particular, both overt and personality-oriented tests had validity coefficients of .33. Integrity tests therefore had good validity with regards to the prediction of CWB’s. In addition to the CWB’s, integrity tests have also been found to predict job performance (Ones et al., 1993). In fact, integrity tests are the “personnel selection method with the greatest incremental validity in predicting job performance over cognitive ability” (Berry et al., 2007, p. 2). For both overt and personality oriented measures Ones et al. (1993) reported coefficients of .41 for the prediction of job performance. 

To Conclude

The debates around the use of integrity assessments in the workplace are likely to continue. In this context practitioners should take into account the context and purpose for which the integrity assessment is being used. As with other assessments, integrity tests should always be part of a comprehensive battery of assessment tools. Integrity assessments have been shown to work well and to have benefits to organisations in terms of their bottom line and in reducing the risk involved in appointing new staff members As such, they may be a valuable addition in the selection process, particularly in the current South African economic climate and context. If you have any questions relating to integrity assessments, please email info@jvrafrica.co.za. 

 References Berry, C. M., Sackett, P. R., & Wiemann, S. (2007). A review of recent developments in integrity test research.  Personnel Psychology, 60, 271-301. Sackett, P. R., Buris, L. R., & Callahan, C. (1989). Integrity testing for personnel selection: An update. Personnel Psychology, 42, 491-529. Sackett, P. R., & Decker, P. J. (1979). Detection of deception in the employment context: A review and critique. Personnel Psychology, 32, 487-506. Ones, D. S., Visweswaren, C. & Schmidt, F. (1993). Comprehensive meta-analysis of integrity test validities: Findings and implications for personnel selection and theories of job performance. Journal of Applied Psychology Monograph, 78, 679-703. US Congress office of Technology Assessment, The Use of Integrity Tests for Pre-Employment Screening, OTA-SET-442, Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, September 1990. Mahomed, Master’s Thesis: Integrity Testing, University of KwaZulu-Natal, 2006 Mumford, Connelly et al, On the Construct Validity of Integrity Tests: Individual and Situational Factors as Predictors of Test Performance, International Journal of Selection and Assessment, Vol. 9, No. 3, September 2001 Barnard, Schurink et al, A Conceptual Framework of Integrity, South African Journal of Industrial Psychology, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2008, pp40-49 Roberts, Your Cheating Heart, HR Magazine, June 2011

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