Person–environment fit (P–E fit) is defined as the degree to which individual and environmental characteristics match (Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, & Johnson, 2005). Person characteristics may include an individual’s biological or psychological needs, values, goals, abilities, or personality, while environmental characteristics could include job demands, cultural values, rewards, or various environmental conditions like shelter, heat, or food availability (Cable & Edwards, 2004). Due to its important implications in the workplace, person–environment fit has always been a prominent theme in the field of Industrial and organizational psychology.
Person–environment fit can be understood as a specific type of person–situation interaction that specifies match between corresponding person and environment dimensions. (Ostroff & Schulte, 2007) Even though person–situation interactions as they relate to fit have been discussed in the scientific literature for several decades, much confusion still exists on how to conceptualize and operationalize person–environment fit (Guan et al., 2010). This is due partly to the fact that person–environment fit encompasses a number of subsets, such as person–supervisor fit and person–job fit, which have all been shown to be distinct from one another (Chatman, 1991). Nevertheless, the tendency to assume positive outcomes from a good person–environment fit is widely accepted such that high congruence between corresponding person characteristics and environment characteristics yields more positive outcomes. (Ostroff & Schulte, 2007)
Person–organization fit (P–O fit) is the most widely studied area of person–environment fit, and is defined by Kristof (1996) as, "the compatibility between people and organizations that occurs when (a) at least one entity provides what the other needs, (b) they share similar fundamental characteristics, or (c) both". High value congruence is a large facet of person–organization fit, which implies a strong culture and shared values among coworkers. This can translate to increased levels of trust and a shared sense of corporate community (Boone & Hartog, 2011). This high value congruence would in turn reap benefits for the organization itself, including reduced turnover, increased citizenship behaviors, and organizational commitment (Andrews et al., 2010; Gregory et al., 2010). The attraction–selection–attrition theory states that individuals are attracted to and seek to work for organizations where they perceive high levels of person–organization fit (Gregory et al., 2010). A strong person–organization fit can also lead to reduced turnover and increased organizational citizenship behaviors (Andrews, Baker, & Hunt, 2010)
Person–job fit, or P–J fit, refers to the compatibility between a person’s characteristics and those of a specific job (Kristof-Brown & Guay, 2011). The complementary perspective has been the foundation for person–job fit. This includes the traditional view of selection that emphasizes the matching of employee KSAs and other qualities to job demands (Ployhart, Schneider, & Schmitt, 2006). The discrepancy models of job satisfaction and stress that focus on employees’ needs and desires being met by the supplies provided by their job (Caplan, 1983; French et al., 1974, 1982; Harrison, 1978; Locke, 1969; Porter, 1961, 1962).
Person–group fit, or P–G fit, is a relatively new topic with regard to person–environment fit. Since person–group fit is so new, limited research has been conducted to demonstrate how the psychological compatibility between coworkers influences individual outcomes in group situations. However, a study by Boone & Hartog (2011) revealed that person–group fit is most strongly related to group-oriented outcomes like co-worker satisfaction and feelings of cohesion.
Person–person fit is conceptualized as the fit between an individual's culture preferences and those preferences of others. It corresponds to the similarity-attraction hypothesis which states people are drawn to similar others based on their values, attitudes, and opinions (Van Vianen, 2000). The most studied type of person–person fit is person–supervisor fit, which can include coworker dyads, mentors and protégés, supervisors and subordinates, or even applicants and recruiters. Research has shown that person–supervisor fit is most strongly related to supervisor-oriented outcomes like supervisor satisfaction (Boone & Hartog, 2011).
Training and development
Training and development on the job can be used to update or enhance skills or knowledge so employees are more in tune with the requirements and demands of their jobs, or to prepare them to make the transition into new ones. Training can be used as a socialization method, or as a way of making the employee aware of the organization’s desired values, which would aid in increasing person–organization fit (Boone & Hartog, 2011). As people learn about the organization they are working for through either company-initiated or self-initiated socialization, they should be able to be more accurate in their appraisal of fit or misfit. Furthermore, there is evidence that employees come to identify with their organization over time by mirroring its values, and socialization is a critical part of this process (Kristof-Brown & Guay, 2011).
In the workplace, performance appraisal and recognition or rewards can be used to stimulate skill-building and knowledge enhancement (Boone & Hartog, 2011), which would thereby enhance person–job fit. Expanding upon this notion, Cable and Judge (1994) showed that compensation systems have a direct effect on job search decisions, and additionally, the effects of compensation systems on job search decisions are strengthened when the applicant’s personality characteristics fit with the various components of the compensation system. When an employer’s aim is to strengthen person–organization fit, they can use performance appraisal to focus on an employee’s value and goal congruence, and ensure the individual’s goals are in line with the company’s goals.
On a group-level, organizations could evaluate the achievement of a group or team goal. Recognizing and supporting this achievement would build trust in the idea that everyone is contributing to the collective for the greater good, and aid in increasing person–group fit (Boone & Hartog, 2011).
Schneider (1987) proposed attraction–selection–attrition (ASA) model which addresses how attraction, selection and attrition could generate high levels of fit in an organization. The model is based on the proposition that it is the collective characteristics that define an organization. As a result, through the ASA process, organizations become more homogeneous with respect to people in them.
The attraction process of the model explains how employees find organizations attractive when they see congruence between characteristics of themselves and values of the organizations. The next step in ASA process is formal or informal selection procedures used by the organization during recruitment and hiring of applicants that fit the organization.
From the employee life cycle, recruitment and selection are the first stages that are taken into account when considering person–environment fit. The complementary model would posit that selection processes may work in part to select individuals whose values are compatible with the values of the organization, and screening out those whose values are incompatible (Chatman, 1991). Additionally, in accordance with supplementary fit models, an applicant will seek out and apply to organizations that they feel represent the values that he or she may have. This theory is exemplified through a study by Bretz and Judge (1994), which found that individuals who scored high on team orientation measures were likely to pick an organization that had good work–family policies in place. Along this same vein, when job searching, applicants will look for job characteristics such as the amount of participation they will have, autonomy, and the overall design of the job. These characteristics are shown to be significantly and positively related to person–organization and person–job fit (Boone & Hartog, 2011), which is positively associated the measurement of job satisfaction one year after entry (Chatman, 2011).
The last process in ASA model is attrition, which outlines that the misfitting employee would be more likely to make errors once hired, and therefore leave the organization. Thus, the people who do not fit choose or are forced to leave, and the people remaining are a more homogeneous group than those who were originally hired (Kristof-Brown & Guay, 2011), which should then result in higher levels of fit for individuals in an organization.
Lastly, the research suggests that for a better fit between an employee and a job, organization, or group to be more probable, it is important to spend an adequate amount of time with the applicant. This is because spending time with members before they enter the firm has been found to be positively associated with the alignment between individual values and firm values at entry (Chatman, 1991). Furthermore, if there are more extensive HR practices in place in the selection phase of hiring, then people are more likely to report that they experience better fits with their job and the organization as a whole (Boon et al., 2011).
There are few studies that have taken upon the task of trying to synthesize the different types of fit in order to draw significant conclusions about the true impact of fit on individual-level outcomes. However, some progress has been made, but most of the existing reviews have been non-quantitative, undifferentiated between various types of fit, or focused solely on single types of person–environment fit (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005).
Person–environment fit has been linked to a number of affective outcomes, including job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and intent to quit. Among which, job satisfaction is the attitude most strongly predicted by person–job fit (Kristof-Brown & Guay, 2011). Stress has also been demonstrated as a consequence of poor person–environment fit, especially in the absence of the complementary fit dimension (Kristof-Brown & Guay, 2011). Since main effects of E are often greater than those of P, making insufficient supplies (P > E) is more detrimental for attitudes than excess supplies (P < E). (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005)
Compatibility between the person and the environment can be assessed directly or indirectly, depending on the measure. Direct measures of perceived fit are typically used when Person-Environment fit is conceptualized as general compatibility. These measures ask an individual to report the fit that he or she believes exists. Examples of questions in direct measures are “How well do you think you fit in the organization?” or “How well do your skills match the requirements of your job?” An assumption is made such that individuals assess P and E characteristics and then determine how compatible they are. Although research has shown that these judgements are highly related to job attitudes (Yang et al., 2008), they have been criticized because they confound the independent effects of the person and the environment with their joint effect, and are also biased by human perception (Kristof-Brown, 2005).
Indirect measures measure P and E separately, each dimension is weighted equally, and then fit index calculated as the relationship between them (Kristof-Brown, 2005). Indirect assessments of fit allow for the individual estimates of person and environment to be calculated in addition to the interaction between the two constructs (Yang et al., 2008). P characteristics are generally measured through self-report while E characteristics can be reported by others and organizations. The French, Harrison, and colleagues differentiated subjective fit, which are the match between P and E as they perceived by employees, from the objective fit, which is the match between P and E independent of employees' perception.
Difference Scores and Profile Correlation
Up until the 1990s, studies of indirect fit typically operationalized this concept by combining two or more different measures into a single index, where it was common to use the algebraic different between actual and desired job attributes to measure "fit" (i.e., Fit= X-Y; Edwards, 1991), (Yang et al., 2008). Absolute values of difference scores and squared difference scores also used to be implemented to assess fit. However, although these methods of calculation seem appealing because of their simplicity, they are accompanied by major analytical flaws, namely, for predicting more variance than is possible (Yang et al., 2008). In addition to this flaw, sampling strategies and the potential for common method bias can also vary widely across studies, which has an adverse affect on the interpretation of some of these results (Kristof-Brown et al, 2005).
More recently, polynomial regression has called the overall idea of person–environment fit into question. This approach avoids combining person and environment measures into a single score that captures “fit,” (Kristof-Brown et al., 2005), which is a method that has been known to suffer from several limitations (i.e. reduced reliability, ambiguous interpretation, confounded effects, untested statistical restraints, and reduction of three-dimensional relationships into two dimensions (Edwards, 2002)). The use of polynomial regression has allowed researchers to find a moderate impact of the environment, and a meaningful impact of the person separately. In this type of compatibility assessment measure, both P and E, and their associated higher-order terms (P2, P X E, and E2) are included as predictors, and the issue of collapsing the P and E variables into a single fit score is avoided. The general expression for this equation is as follows:
- Z=b0 +b1P+b2E+b3P2 +b4PE+b5E2
In this equation, “P represents a person’s level of characteristic (i.e. personal value), E is the corresponding environmental characteristic (i.e. organizational value), and Z is the individual outcome being predicted (i.e. job satisfaction),” (Kristof & Guay, 2011).
According to Kristof-Brown et al. (2005), because P and E and the dependent variables are all distinct, fit relationships are depicted in three-dimensional surface plots. The characteristics of these surface plots can then be examined to determine whether a fit relationship is supported.
Because there are more relevant components placed in each regression equation, polynomial regression analysis allows researchers to predict more variance than traditional "fit" indices, which only have two components (Yang et al., 2008). Due to the fact that many of the terms in the regression equation are curvilinear, they require complex steps for interpreting results that may be confusing for those who are not familiar with this process. Additionally, it may be unclear how all of the components in polynomial regression analysis measure the extent of fit (Yang et al., 2008). Lastly, there could also be a potential problem in the degree to which the measurement of the variables (i.e., P and E) attains an appropriate level of statistical quality so that the results are strong (Yang et al., 2008). For these reasons, researchers have highlighted the importance of cross-validating results that have been found by using polynomial regression analysis.
Supplementary fit refers to the similarity between characteristics of a person and characteristics of the environment, or other persons within the environment (Boone & Hartog,2011) Based on compatibility that derives from similarity (Kristof-Brown & Guay, 2011), a person fits into some environmental context because he/she supplements, embellishes, or possesses characteristics that are similar to other individuals in the environment (Kristof-Brown & Guay, 2011)
Complementary fit occurs when a person’s characteristics "make whole" the environment or add to it what is missing (Kristof-Brown & Guay, 2011). When individuals and environments complement one another by addressing each other’s needs, such as when an environment provides opportunities for achievement that are concordant with the individuals’ needs for achievement or when an individual with exceptional problem solving skills is in an environment that is in turmoil (Beasley et al., 2012). Piasentin and Chapman (2006) found that only a small portion of the workforce perceive fit due to complementarity while most view fit as supplementary (resulting from being similar to others). Journal of occupational and organizational psychology, 80 (2), 341-354.
Implications for practice
Person–environment fit has important implications for organizations because it is critical for them to establish and maintain a “good fit” between people and their jobs. Companies use a substantial amount of resources when recruiting new employees, and it is crucial for them to ensure that these new hires will align with the environment they are thrust into. Furthermore, it has been theorized that person–environment fit can mediate the relation of group-specific workplace experiences with job outcomes (Velez & Moradi, 2012).
- Industrial and organizational psychology
- Job satisfaction
- Organizational commitment
- Organizational culture
- Organizational climate
- Organizational psychology
- Organizational socialization
- Personality–job fit theory
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