Understanding the nuances of person-environment fit, and the wonderful consequences of getting it right Content produced for Medium
When we put the right person in the right situation, they flourish.
Despite this relative truism however, disentangling what constitutes the right situation is more complex than it may at first appear.
What is person-environment fit?
The literature on person-environment (P-E) fit spans several decades. In it’s broadest sense, P-E fit can be divided into several levels.
Firstly, there’s the degree of match between the person and the job itself (person-job fit). This tends to be more easily measured, and might include tangible aspects such as skills, experience, general mental ability, and so forth.
Next, we can study the degree of match between a person and their direct superior (person-supervisor fit) and colleagues (person-group fit).
Finally, we can analyse the degree to which the intrinsic values and principles guiding the individual represent those of the company more widely (person-organisation fit).
We should be careful when assuming that ‘similar’ is necessarily ‘better’. Diversity in the workplace is a valuable asset. In the P-E literature, a clear distinction has been made between complimentary (where the individual attributes are congruent with a specific role in a specific organisation) and supplementary fit (where the attributes are mutual between the two).
What factors influence P-E fit?
The so-called ‘strength’ of a situation is important. Where job roles are prescriptive, clearly defined and with a narrow set of expectations, the potential contribution of one’s own personality as a predictor of job performance is lower. Meaning that, in roles that are less clearly defined, or with greater room for autonomy, the fit becomes more important.
What difference does fit make?
Broadly, P-E fit predicts job motivation, wellbeing, intention to quit, and performance. However, there are nuances to consider, particularly cross-culturally. An intricate reviewhighlighted that, relative to North American and European cohorts, more collectivistic cultures in East Asia place a heavier emphasis on the relational elements of P-E fit, such as supervisor and group relationships, over the more rational and objective aspects typical of the West.
P-E fit cannot be taught, or easily manipulated. But it can, and should, be measured. When used correctly, P-E fit has demonstrated to add incremental validity over and above personality measures as a candidate selection tool.
So, according to the research evidence as it currently stands, achieving the right P-E fit can be seen as a great way of ensuring the job satisfaction and wellbeing of a workforce, a good way of ensuring commitment to the organisation, and to some extent, performance on the job.
Provided it is assessed appropriately alongside other metrics, this can be a great way of finding the people who thrive.
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Patrick is a UK-based Clinical Psychologist. As well as a passion for workplace psychology, he is also a proud employee of the UK National Health Service and runs a private clinical practice in Oxford, UK.