Why ‘Fit’ Matters (Part 1)

By Aoife O’Brien, Empowerment Coaching


It’s important to understand person-environment (P-E) fit, or simply ‘fit’, because it’s a key driver of tangible outcomes in the workplace, both for the individual and for the organisation. The key outcomes associated with fit are either attitudinal (job satisfaction, organisational commitment, psychological well-being and intent to turnover) or behavioural (organisational citizenship behaviours (OCB), withdrawal, actual turnover, job performance, job tenure). The outcome of good fit is beneficial for both employer (productivity, morale, organisational commitment, employee retention) and employee (positive work attitudes, reduced stress). P-E fit can be used to predict outcomes from all phases of work-life – career choice, and which company to join, to job satisfaction or stress related to dissatisfaction, and decisions to resign. In addition to this, fit is also an important consideration in organisational change. This can bring with it its own set of challenges and unless you bring employees on the journey with you, they may feel they no longer fit in the organisation. A ‘good’ fit is said to lead to positive outcomes, the assumption therefore is that a ‘poor’ fit leads to job dissatisfaction and, as a result, turnover.

Defining fit

Fit is defined broadly as: how well an employee is suited to their work environment, based on the compatibility of the characteristics they share. Similarity between the personal attributes and the environmental attributes give rise to certain attitudes and behaviours; a person’s attributes may be needs (physical or psychological), values, goals, abilities or overall personality. The environment may be intrinsic or extrinsic rewards, demands (physical or psychological), culture, environmental conditions (heat, shelter, food). P-E fit broadly encompasses person-organisation (P-O) fit, person-job (P-J) fit, person-group (P-G) fit, and person-supervisor (P-S) fit. Each of these is unique in how they impact on attitudes and behaviour in the environment. P-O and P-J fit are the most widely researched and will be the focus of this essay.

P-J fit & Job satisfaction

P-J fit is how a person’s characteristics and those of the tasks that are performed at work are matched. P-J fit is widely thought to be an important determinant of overall job satisfaction. It can be further broken down into demands-abilities (D-A) fit and needs-supplies (N-S) fit. D-A fit is when the abilities of the employee meet the demands of the job, i.e. the knowledge, skills and attributes (KSAs) of the individual are well matched to those required for the performance of on-the-job tasks. N-S fit is when employees’ needs, desires or preferences are met by the rewards from the jobs that they perform. Needs refers to psychological or physical needs, for example, pay, work structures, autonomy.

N-S fit is more important in determining outcomes than D-A fit, that is to say, as a driver of positive results, it’s more important for organisations to satisfy employees’ needs, than for employees to be able to match their abilities with the demands of the job. One explanation of this could be that employees can improve their skills in order to better match the requirements of the role (there is a possible resolution), but if the organisation is not meeting the psychological or physical needs of the employee, this leads to dissatisfaction and demotivation. Organisations should seek to fit themselves around the needs of the person.

One of the core needs in the workplace is the need for autonomy. A study was conducted on the impact of temporal flexibility on fit and job satisfaction. They found a positive relationship between temporal flexibility (choosing one’s own working hours; a type of autonomy) and job satisfaction, thereby increasing the employees’ perception of fit. Another type of need is the need for growth. This need varies from person to person, but most employees like to learn and grow in the role they are in, therefore it’s important to provide these opportunities through training, learning new skills, exposure to senior members of the team etc.

P-O fit and core values

P-O fit is how well matched an individual is with an organisation. Values congruence is the most commonly used measure of this type of fit. Most studies focus values congruence as key driver of fit, with the assumption that employees that have shared values with an organisation are more likely to stay working there. Goal congruence is also used as a measure of P-O fit, although to a lesser extent.

People are attracted to companies they perceive to be like themselves, recruiters or hiring managers select those who are most like them, and employees will stay if they feel they fit in or leave if they don’t; ‘like attracts like’. The better the fit between individual expectations and the reality of organisational life, the higher the job satisfaction and the longer the tenure. Conversely, the poorer the fit, the lower the satisfaction, and the shorter the tenure. Goals can also be used as a key determinant of fit; if individuals’ goals and organisational goals don’t align, people are likely to leave.

Although the different types of fit are unique and have distinct outcomes in terms of attitudes and behaviour, it can be argued that individuals interact with their entire environment, not subsets of it. P-J fit is more closely related to job-related outcomes, such as job satisfaction and P-O fit to organisational outcomes such as commitment, and OCB. Organisations should look to improve both types of fit in order to improve overall perceived fit.

Fit & misfit – finding the balance

Good fit brings with it an array of positive outcomes, both for the individual as well as the organisation. Benefits for the individual include less stress, more trust, team cohesion, and job satisfaction. Employer benefits include reduced deviance, cynicism, withdrawal and turnover. Some level of misfit can lead to motivation – if employees perceive their misfit as self-caused due to their own limitations, it may spur learning and growth. Too much misfit, however, can lead to demotivation and potentially disgruntled employees. There are some positive consequences of increased fit, such as harmony, cooperation, increased morale, well-being, low turnover and absenteeism, but too much fit can become a problem over time. As time passes, and individuals self-select themselves out of the organisation if they don’t fit, companies tend towards homogeneity, and because of this, they become less agile, less reactive, and therefore less able to adapt to external environmental forces. So, while fit may be the optimal solution for the individual, it could pose a threat to organisational effectiveness, competitiveness and ultimately profitability the longer time passes. Experts agree that organisations need to maintain a level of diversity in order to remain competitive, so it’s crucial to find the right balance between diversity of thought and congruence of values.

In part 2 of this article published tomorrow Aoife discusses the effect on turnover and what can be done about it…