Original Research

Ethical challenges in assessment centres in South Africa

Vuyani R. Muleya, Linda Fourie, Sandra Schlebusch
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 43 | a1324 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v43i0.1324 | © 2017 Vuyani R. Muleya, Linda Fourie, Sandra Schlebusch | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 November 2015 | Published: 28 September 2017

About the author(s)

Vuyani R. Muleya, Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Linda Fourie, Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
Sandra Schlebusch, LEMASA Pty Ltd, Pretoria, South Africa


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Abstract

Orientation: Assessment Centres (ACs) are used globally for the selection and development of candidates. Limited empirical evidence exists of the ethical challenges encountered in the use of ACs, especially in South Africa (SA).

Research purpose: Firstly, to explore possible ethical challenges related to ACs in SA from the vantage point of the practitioner and, secondly, to search for possible solutions to these.

Motivation for the study: Decisions based on AC outcomes have profound implications for participants and organisations, and it is essential to understand potential ethical challenges to minimise these, specifically in the SA context, given its socio-political history, multiculturalism, diversity and pertinent legal considerations.

Research design, approach and method: A qualitative, interpretative research design was chosen. Data were collected by means of a semi-structured survey that was completed by 96 AC practitioners who attended an AC conference. Content analysis and thematic interpretation were used to make sense of the data. The preliminary findings were assessed by a focus group of purposively selected subject-matter experts (n = 16) who provided informed insights, which were incorporated into the final findings. The focus group suggested ways in which specific ethical challenges may be addressed.

Main findings: The findings revealed many ethical challenges that can be better understood within a broad framework encompassing 10 themes: Universal ethical values; multicultural global contexts; the regulatory-legal framework for ACs in SA; characteristics of the assessor; psychometric properties of the AC; characteristics of the participant; bias and prejudice; governance of the AC process; ethical culture of the employer organisation and the evasive nature of ethics as a concept.

Practical and managerial implications: Considerable risk exists for the unethical use of ACs. An awareness of possible areas of risk may assist AC stakeholders in their search for ethical AC use.

Contribution or value-add: The study may contribute to an evidence-based understanding of the ethical aspects of ACs. The recommendations may also benefit all AC stakeholders who wish to use ACs ethically.


Keywords

assessment centres; industrial psychology; personnel psychology; selection; development; fairness; ethical challenges

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