Person-organization fit: using normative behaviors to predict workplace satisfaction, stress and intentions to stay.

Author:Arbour, Simone


With the increasing use of technology keeping employees in closer contact with the office and blurring the lines between work and personal time, the need to understand how and why employees thrive in certain organizational settings becomes a real concern for organizational researchers and practitioners. Person-organization (P-O) fit is one approach that has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years as a method of determining whether an employee might succeed and enjoy being in a given work environment, or fall short and ultimately choose to leave the organization or be let go. There is clear indication in the literature that P-O fit is related to organizational commitment, job satisfaction, turnover intentions, and employee stress (Chapman, Uggersleve, Carroll, Piasentin, & Jones, 2005; Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, & Johnson, 2005; Verquer, Beehr, & Wagner, 2003; Kristoff, 1996).

While P-O fit research has received a surge of interest in recent years, its precise conceptualization, measurement and use is of some debate. For example, the literature on P-O fit suggests that academic researchers and practitioners disagree not only on the measurement of the P-O fit construct, but if and when it should be used in applied settings (Schneider, Smith & Goldstein, 2000). Specifically, the academic literature suggests that P-O fit research has failed to demonstrate extensive evidence of its utility, especially when applied as a predictor of various occupational outcomes such as employees' job satisfaction or psychological and physical wellbeing (Hesketh & Myors, 1997; Tinsley, 1999). On the other hand, from a practitioner's perspective, it seems somewhat intuitive that the use of such a construct (i.e. the "fit" between an individual and his/her organization) would assist organizational researchers and managers in understanding the relation between employee and organization. It is these contrasting views that have sparked a debate between organizational researchers and practitioners.

The purpose of the present study is to build upon the existing fit literature by applying an approach to the operationalization and measurement of the P-O fit construct that focuses more on expectations of how employees should behave rather than on the formal and tacit values of the workplace. In particular, the present study will use the fit between perceived actual and ideal workplace behavioral norm expectations to predict individual employee workplace stress and intention to stay. To date, P-O fit research using preferred and actual organizational culture as a fit dimension has focused on a values-based approach, and has therefore operationalized fit as the correspondence between the values of the employee and those of the organization (Piasentin & Chapman, 2006; Billsberry, Ambrosini, Moss-Jones and Marsh, 2005; Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman & Johnson, 2005; Kristof, 1996). This approach has been criticized on the basis that an organization's values may be implicit and therefore unknown to the employee and, as a result, difficult to articulate (Billsberry et al., 2005, Kristof-Brown, et al., 2005). By using overt workplace behavioral norms that are at the superficial level of the organization's culture, we hope to address this criticism and improve the predictive validity of P-O fit when using actual and ideal organizational culture as a fit dimension.

Since organizational culture itself is predictive of a number of individual-level outcomes, it is important to determine the extent to which P-O fit can explain workplace outcomes above and beyond organizational culture alone. This type of analysis will assist in determining the degree of unique variance in job satisfaction, intention to stay and stress that is explained by the P-O fit construct as operationalized by behavioral norm expectations. Such an analysis has not yet been explored, and would address specific criticisms related to the predictive ability and meaningful application of the P-O fit construct beyond the direct main effect of the work environment.


While P-O fit can be broadly defined as the compatibility between individuals and organizations, some of the conceptual confusion associated with fit research has resulted from the fact that P-O fit can be defined in different ways. For example, there are two distinct subtypes of fit utilized in organizational research: supplementary fit and complementary fit (Cable & Edwards, 2004). Supplementary fit occurs when a person and an organization possess similar or matching fundamental characteristics. For example, supplementary fit would be high if both the individual employee and the organization possessed and endorsed the same values, such as autonomy or creativity. Complementary fit, on the other hand, exists when one entity possesses characteristics that the other wants or needs. Complementary fit would be high if the individual employee possessed skills that the organization required to get a particular job done or if the organization provided rewards or compensation that the individual employee might need or want (Cable and Edwards, 2004; Kristof, 1996).

In addition to the complementary and supplementary approaches to fit, it should also be noted that some researchers also make a distinction between demands-abilities fit and needs-supplies fit (Edwards, 1996; Kristof, 1996). Using the demands-abilities approach, fit occurs when an individual has the abilities required to meet the demands of the organization. In this case, abilities can include any skills, knowledge, time and energy the employee possesses to meet environmental demands and challenges (e.g. role expectations associated with a particular job, project completion speed, etc.; Edwards, 1996). On the other hand, needs-supplies fit is defined as the correspondence between the needs, desires and preferences of the individual employee and the organizational supplies available to fulfill those needs (Edwards, 1996; Kristof, 1996). Using the needs-supplies conceptualization, fit might be characterized as the match between a person's values (e.g. autonomy) and the capability of the organization to fulfill those values (e.g. to provide the employee with an autonomous work experience).

While the demands-abilities and needs-supplies aspects of fit are considered a second perspective to the complementary and supplementary fit approaches, it is difficult to compare and compartmentalize these different fit conceptualizations. The potential for conceptual confusion has been noted by P-O fit researchers (e.g. Cable and Edwards, 2004) and it has been suggested that the overlap within the various fit traditions has stemmed from the fact that the different approaches to P-O fit have evolved separately and independently from one another. The potential use of the fit construct within vocational counseling, industrial-organizational and management psychology may be quite valuable in that it can enhance the ability to match people with organizations for mutually beneficial organizational and individual outcomes. Organizational researchers are quickly realizing that an accurate yet integrated understanding of the construct is essential in order to apply it in a meaningful way (e.g. Cable and Edwards, 2004; Edwards, 1996; Hesketh and Myors, 1997; Kristof, 1996).

Kristof (1996) compiled much of the pre-1996 P-O fit literature in an attempt to make sense of this elusive construct. Based on the literature review, Kristof (1996) proposed an integrated definition of fit that encompasses both complementary/supplementary and demands-abilities/need-supplies fit theories to create a more comprehensive conceptualization of P-O fit. According to Kristof (1996: 4-5), "P-O fit is defined as the compatibility between people and organizations that occurs when (a) at least one entity provides what the other needs, or (b) they share similar fundamental characteristics, or (c) both."

Kristofs definition is unquestionably a necessary first step to fully understanding the relation, or fit, between the organization and its employees. This comprehensive conceptualization is important because P-O fit is used extensively to explain a variety of workplace attitudes and behaviors including organizational commitment, satisfaction, workplace stress and turnover intentions. However, while P-O fit has become a popular avenue for explaining workplace attitudes and behavior, it is often criticized for failing to acknowledge the direct impact of the individual and or the environment. For example, Hesketh and Myers (1997) assert that fit theories fail to acknowledge that individuals who have specific dispositions or who endorse certain values may experience positive work-related outcomes regardless of which organization for which they work. Similarly, certain environments can be fundamentally stressful regardless of whom an organization might employ. This viewpoint does not reject the notion that the interaction between the individual and the environment could influence work-related attitudes and behaviors, however it does question the predictive ability of the P-O fit construct over and above its main effects. Therefore, in order to gain a better understanding of unique influence of P-O fit on job satisfaction, intention to stay and stress, it is of value to examine its impact after controlling for the direct main effect of the organization's culture.


Organizational culture has been defined in a number of different ways, but they all fundamentally refer to a shared understanding of "the way things work" in an organization. Williams, Dobson, and Walters (1993), for example, define organizational culture as reflecting relatively stable beliefs, attitudes, and values that organizational members hold in common. Similarly, Cooke and Szumal (1993; 2000) characterize organizational culture as shared normative beliefs and...

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