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Organisational Psychology – Person-Environment Fit in Organizational Settings

Answers the Question

How do individuals simultaneously desire to fit in terms of being similar to others and be distinctive from others?

How it Began

Person-Environment fit has been a subject of increased interest over the past two decades.  Understanding how the relationship between people and their work environment and the impact that the ‘fit’ between the two elements have on performance, satisfaction, adjustment, turnover, effective team work, creativity and innovation is essential to competitive advantage.  Person-Environment fit is as old as rational thought.  Plato emphasized the importance of matching people to jobs that aligned with their temperament and ability.  In the 1900s theories around congruence began to be developed.  In 1909 Parsons introduced fit in regards to matching individual attributes to those of different vocations.  Person-Environment fit foundational theories stem from Murray’s need-press model and interactionism (1938)

remember-the-interview-is-meant-to-determine-if-youre-a-good-fit-for-the-company

Throughout the 1950s additional models appeared such as needs-supply theory, psychological stress and strain and Ability-Demand Theories.  By the 1960s theories regarding adjustment, and the dynamism of processes involved in Person-Environment Fit were introduced by Dawis & Lofquist (1964).

Since that time the concept of fit is a foundation stone of most organizational research.  Selection and assessment, performance management, Learning and Development, Career management, Leadership, organizational culture, attrition, diversity and stress all use a fit perspective to research behaviour and performance.

Key Terminology

Fulfillment - Individuals needs or values are fulfilled, or individuals’ abilities meet or fulfil the environmental job demands.  Getting what one wants.

Interactionism - The interplay between characteristics of the person and situational factors namely in the form of match or congruence.

Similarity - Congruence between the characteristics of people and the corresponding characteristics of the environment.  Being in accord.

Compilation - Attributes that differ but support and reinforce one another.  Combination of related but distinct characteristics.

In Brief

Person–environment fit theory offers a framework which enables an organisation to assess and predict how characteristics of the individual employee and the organisational work environment determine, jointly, employee engagement, performance and well-being. In understanding the characteristics which are identified as relevant a model for developing interventions to prevent misalignment and/or increase fit.

Person Environment fit can be viewed from the following perspectives;

  • Employee’s needs – needs–supplies fit
  • Job–environment’s demands – demands–abilities fit

The term needs–supplies fit refers to the degree to which the needs of the individual employee, such as the need to use their skills and abilities, are supplied by the work environment and opportunities are available to satisfy the needs of the individual.

Demands–abilities fit refers to the degree to which the job’s demands are met by the employee’s skills and abilities. These two types of fit can overlap. For example, poor work-life balance may leave the organisation’s job role demands unmet as well as damage the individual employee’s need to be able to satisfy others.

A variety of different approaches to the measurement of Person Environment fit enhance the model’s potential for predicting well-being and performance. For example, Edwards and Harrison (1993)used statistical modelling to demonstrate that Person Environment fit explained about 6% more variance in job satisfaction than was explained by measures of Person or Environment characteristics alone.

What does this mean for Organisation Development?

The person-environment fit theory is an important aspect in organisational psychology, and significant in the Diagnosis and Intervention phase of the Organisation Development Cycle.

Measures of Person-Environment fit can also be used to measure and monitor the perceptions of fit amongst the employees and establish a measure of their wellbeing and satisfaction. This is particularly useful in Change interventions, particularly those which have an affect the perceived values and goals of an organisation. For evaluation purposes agreement on a standard measure of Person-environment fit to compare before and after the Organisation Development intervention would be useful in assessing the effects of those changes.

Personal-Environment Fit can be noticed throughout the workplace environment, but managers and leaders rarely consider the cause or effect of personal-environment conflicts in business environments and the subsequent impact of individual, team and organisational performance.  Ongoing comparisons throughout an organisation of person-environment fit vis-a-vis line management capability would also be useful. Person-environment fit can also be utilised in the selection, assessment and recruitment context for improving work-related job performance and approaches to ongoing development and career management.

Whether relating how a person fits in with the demands of a job or resources presented by a job, incongruent person-environment fit can lead to serious conflicts and poor performance in any organisation. Increased levels of stress, absenteeism and lack of productivity are all natural outcomes of person-environment conflicts.

In the area of Stress and Well-being, incongruent person-environment fit inevitably leads to stress. If an employee does not have the same motives, values or beliefs as the organisation where they work then conflict, stress and disaffection can occur because two different ends are trying to be met.

If an organisation places and individual in a position where they are unable to complete the demands of their job, either due to lack of training or unreasonable demands the results can be very stressful. It may be caused by personal lack of ability, skill, or knowledge, which is a result of poor selection and assessment or lack of training. But the problem can also be caused by insufficient funds, staffing shortages or other resources being unavailable. If the means to complete tasks are not available this can be very stressful for an employee.

It is important to match abilities with demands.

Further Reading

Caplan, R. Person-Environment Fit Theory and Organizations: Commensurate Dimensions, Time Perspectives, and Mechanisms