The old jokes about people “going postal” in the workplace have taken on a sinister meaning as cubicle shootouts make headline news and post-9/11 wariness keeps us on the alert for signs of aggression among our co-workers. But what’s scarier, because it’s far more prevalent, is the low-key violence of employees whose delinquent behavior on the job wreaks havoc on day-to-day operations. To arm yourself against “desk rage,” check out an innovative test from the University of Tennessee that helps employers spot potentially aggressive workers during the hiring process.
Developed in 2001 by Larry James and Michael D. McIntyre, industrial psychologists at the University of Tennessee’s College of Business Administration, the 25-question screening tool, dubbed the Conditional Reasoning Test of Aggression, is designed to identify people who will probably indulge in disruptive acts like absenteeism, arguing, lying, rule breaking, and stealing. Although other psychological tests measure aggression, they are usually unreliable because they depend on the test taker to describe himself honestly — a futile undertaking, considering that few job candidates are likely to answer “Yes” to statements like “I often get into fights.” By contrast, the conditional reasoning test, says McIntyre, gives a candidate problems to solve rather than asking for a self-description. Since the respondent doesn’t know what is being measured, he or she is more likely to answer candidly. The problem-solving strategies that a test taker uses indicate how prone he or she is to hostile behavior.
The test has been validated in numerous demographic and job groups across a wide range of industries and businesses, including three UPS facilities. McIntyre notes that it is particularly applicable to logistics. “In the warehouse environment, people are under enormous time pressure to move a lot of material in a short time,” he says. “Employees also have a lot of access to products, and many logistics operations have drivers who handle very valuable payloads for people — equipment and products worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.”
With so much at stake, identifying a potentially antagonistic worker is critical. Another wrinkle is that a company can face legal action in cases of workplace violence: For example, the state of Hawaii has cited Xerox for failing to spot an aggressive employee who killed seven of his co-workers. The new test, McIntyre says, “gives employers information about an applicant that they wouldn’t have otherwise.”
The test, which can be administered and scored by the employer, costs $125 for a pack of 25. For more information, contact Michael D. McIntyre, Ph.D., Management Department, 408 Stokely Management Center, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-0545; phone: (865) 974-1664; fax: (865) 974-3163; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Test yourself! See how you score on these sample questions from the Conditional Reasoning Test of Aggression:
American cars have gotten better in the last 15 years. American car makers started to build better cars when they began to lose business to the Japanese. Many American buyers thought that foreign cars were better made.
Which of the following is the most logical conclusion based on the above?
a. America was the world’s largest producer of airplanes 15 years ago.
b. Swedish car makers lost business in America 15 years ago.
c. The Japanese knew more than Americans about building good cars 15 years ago.
d. American car makers built cars to wear out 15 years ago, so they could make a lot of money selling parts.
The old saying “an eye for an eye” means that if someone hurts you, then you should hurt that person back. If you are hit, then you should hit back; if someone burns your house, then you should burn that person’s house.
Which of the following is the biggest problem with the “eye for an eye” plan?
a. It tells people to “turn the other cheek.”
b. It offers no way to settle a conflict in a friendly manner.
c. It can only be used at certain times of the year.
d. People have to wait until they are attacked before they can strike.
The aggressive answer to question 1 is d. This response is based on the aggressive person’s tendency to be cynical or suspicious of other people’s motives and actions.
The aggressive answer to question 2 is also d. This answer is based on the aggressive person’s preference for retaliation over reconciliation and interest in not being victimized or perceived as weak.