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Chapter 3 Understanding People at Work: Individual Differences and Perception

Learning Objectives

After reading this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Define personality and describe how it affects work behaviors.
  2. Understand the role of values in determining work behaviors.
  3. Explain the process of perception and how it affects work behaviors.
  4. Understand how individual differences affect ethics.
  5. Understand cross-cultural influences on individual differences and perception.

Kronos Uses Science to Match Candidates to Jobs

Figure 3.1

Devices such as these are used to help select employees at kiosks located within retail stores.

You are interviewing a candidate for a position as a cashier in a supermarket. You need someone polite, courteous, patient, and dependable. The candidate you are talking to seems nice. But how do you know who is the right person for the job? Will the job candidate like the job or get bored? Will they have a lot of accidents on the job or be fired for misconduct? Don’t you wish you knew before hiring? One company approaches this problem scientifically, saving companies time and money on hiring hourly wage employees.

Retail employers do a lot of hiring, given their growth and high turnover rate. According to one estimate, replacing an employee who leaves in retail costs companies around $4,000. High turnover also endangers customer service. Therefore, retail employers have an incentive to screen people carefully so that they hire people with the best chance of being successful and happy on the job. Unicru, an employee selection company, developed software that quickly became a market leader in screening of hourly workers. The company was acquired by Massachusetts-based Kronos Inc. in 2006.

The idea behind the software is simple: If you have a lot of employees and keep track of your data over time, you have access to an enormous resource. By analyzing this data, you can specify the profile of the “ideal” employee. The software captures the profile of the potential high performers, and applicants are screened to assess their fit with this particular profile. More important, the profile is continuously updated as new employees are hired. As the database gets larger, the software does a better job of identifying the right people for the job.

If you applied for a job in retail, you may have already been a part of this database: The users of this system include giants such as Albertsons, Universal Studios, Costco Wholesale Corporation, Macy’s, Blockbuster Inc., Target Brands Inc., and other retailers and chain restaurants. In companies such as Target or Blockbuster, applicants use a kiosk in the store to answer a list of questions and to enter their background, salary history, and other information. In other companies, such as some in the trucking industry, candidates enter the data through the Web site of the company they are applying to. The software screens people on basic criteria such as availability in scheduling as well as personality traits.

Candidates are asked to agree or disagree with statements such as “slow people irritate me” or “I don’t act polite when I don’t want to.” After the candidates complete the questions, hiring managers are sent a report complete with a color-coded suggested course of action. Red means the candidate does not fit the job, yellow means proceed with caution, and green means the candidate can be hired on the spot. Interestingly, the company contends that faking answers to the questions of the software is not easy because it is difficult for candidates to predict the desired profile. For example, according to their research, being a successful salesman has less to do with being an extraverted and sociable person and more to do with a passion for the company’s product.

Matching candidates to jobs has long been viewed as a key way of ensuring high performance and low turnover in the workplace, and advances in computer technology are making it easier and more efficient to assess candidate-job fit. Companies using such technology are cutting down the time it takes to hire people, and it is estimated that using such techniques lowers their turnover by 10%–30%.

Individuals bring a number of differences to work, such as unique personalities, values, emotions, and moods. When new employees enter organizations, their stable or transient characteristics affect how they behave and perform. Moreover, companies hire people with the expectation that those individuals have certain skills, abilities, personalities, and values. Therefore, it is important to understand individual characteristics that matter for employee behaviors at work.