Career Exploration

How the Person-Environment Fit Ties to Job Satisfaction and Retention

Before I ever went back to graduate school, I worked with a man who said he pulled over to the side of the road each morning on the way to work to throw-up. It didn’t take a Ph.D. in Industrial-Organizational Psychology to know that hating your work so much that it made you physically ill was not a good thing. Not surprisingly, the man ended up leaving his organization within a few months of working there. Knowing a job is a bad fit for you (or the flip side, an organization knowing that an employee’s job is not a good fit for that employee) is not always as apparent as it was in that case. More often, signs of a poor fit between a person and his/her job are subtle—may be a vague dissatisfaction with the job or a lessening in feelings of commitment to the organization.

Person-Job Fit and Person-Organization Fit

How do you know if a job is a good fit for you? Or, if you’re an employer, how can you ensure a person you’re hiring or promoting into a new position is a good fit for that job? Back in the 1960s, a Psychologist, Lawrence Pervin, started studying what he termed individual-environment fit. In his 1986 reflection on his seminal 1968 article, Dr. Pervin recounted a story a professor told in one of his graduate school classes about an undergraduate student. That student found academic courses to be psychologically stressful but life as a combat pilot was not.

That one story, Pervin said, guided his research and led to his conceptualizationSatisfied employees of the fit between an individual and their work environment. Today, we are more likely to use the terms person-environment fit, or when we are more specific, person-job fit or person-organization fit. The meanings of the terms are what you might expect. Person-job fit relates to how well a person fits into a job (or perhaps, but less likely, how well a job can be fitted to the person). While the person-job fit focuses on individual-level aspects such as skills, interests, and tasks, the person-organization fit is concerned with the fit between an individual and the organization’s culture.  

As an individual, it makes sense to look for a job (and an organization) that is a good fit for you. As an employer, it makes sense to look for congruence between prospective employees, the job, and the organization.

How to Maximize the Likelihood that Your Job is a Good Fit 

I’d suggest starting with examining individual interests. Birkman International, a motivational assessment used to empower people in their careers, provides information on ten interest areas and links those with jobs that people with similar personalities are successful in. The online version of your Birkman report even hyperlinks those identified jobs with O*NET—a primary source for occupational information. O*NET also provides access to an interest profiler that will allow you to link your results to jobs in O*NET’s online database.

From our perspective, we recommend that the higher your interest in an area, the more you need to incorporate that interest into your life, if not your job. For example, my top interests are Scientific and Numerical. I’m very fortunate that my job allows me to meet both of those interests every day. The most substantial portion of my job involves asking and researching scientific questions like, “if my job is aligned with my two strongest interest areas, am I more likely to be satisfied at my job and therefore, more likely to stay at my job?”

These kinds of questions are essential to employers as well as employees because workers who are satisfied with their jobs are more likely to stay with their organization. This information saves employers money and makes individuals happier, therefore, more productive. Correspondingly, if you have a low interest in something, a job that requires you to engage in activities associated with that interest probably isn’t a job that is a good fit for you. Not only will you be disengaged with that work, but these tasks will cause burnout for the employee and probably low quality of work. 

How to Maximize the Likelihood that Your Organization is a Good Fit

Look for alignment between your values and those of your organization. Again, interests might be of help here. My oldest friend has a passion for helping others, as is apparent by her high Social Service interest score on her Birkman report. She has been very successful in all her jobs, but she has been most engaged, most satisfied, and most happy when she worked for organizations aligned with her need to give back to the community.Corporate volunteer event

Another essential factor to consider for job-person fit is the environment you prefer to work in. For example, if you’re highly motivated by a competitive, fast-paced environment, you’ll want to make sure the industry and company you work for can provide that stimulation for you. On the other hand, if you prefer to work independently and enjoy routine, you’ll need an environment that provides those factors to operate at your best.

How Birkman Can Help with Person-Environment Fit

Whether you are an individual looking for a job or part of an organization looking for a new hire, keep person-environment fit in mind. As an individual, if your workplace's environmental characteristics match with your personality, you can expect to be more satisfied and more engaged. As an organization, you may see more employees satisfied, turnover decrease, and increased employee retention, all leading to a positive bottom-line impact. To help find that fit, The Birkman Method uses occupational profiling to match your personality with 22 job families and over 100 job titles. The job families include:

    1. Arts, Design, Sports, Media, & Entertainment
    2. Building/Grounds Cleaning & Maintenance
    3. Business & Finance
    4. Community & Social Services
    5. Computer & Mathematical Science
    6. Construction & Extraction
    7. Education, Training, & Library
    8. Engineering & Architecture
    9. Farming, Fishing, & Forestry
    10. Food Preparation & Serving-Related
    11. Healthcare Practitioner & Technician
    12. Healthcare Support
    13. Installation, Maintenance, & Repair
    14. Legal
    15. Life, Physical, & Social Science
    16. Management
    17. Office & Administrative Support
    18. Personal Care & Service
    19. Production
    20. Protective Service
    21. Sales & Related
    22. Transportation & Material Moving

Birkman can help you with person-environment fit to Person-environment fitmake sure you, or your employee, will be the most successful and satisfied. Cultivate long term success by pursuing work that resonates with who you are and what your unique interests are.

And, maybe if my nauseous coworker from years ago had taken The Birkman Method to uncover his occupational interests, he could have avoided being sick on the side of the road, derailed and stressed instead of progressing and committed.


About the Author | Kelley Slack

Kelley J. Slack, Ph.D., joined the Science and Research team at Birkman International after almost twenty years working as part of the Behavioral Health and Performance group at NASA—Johnson Space Center. There, her work centered on the psychological and psychiatric selection of astronauts. At Birkman, Kelley focuses on maintaining the scientific rigor of the assessment and leading research to understand the complex relationships between personality and work. Kelley studied behavioral sciences at the London School of Economics and graduated with honors from Rice University with double majors in Business and Behavioral Science. After gaining international and domestic business experience, Kelley returned to school and earned her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from the University of Houston with a minor in Statistics. She is a licensed psychologist in the State of Texas.