Toward a Multidimensional Theory of Person-Environment Fit

Article excerpt

Studies of person-environment (PE) fit have been prevalent in the management literature for almost 100 years (e.g., Parsons, 1909; Pervin, 1968; Schneider, 1987). With this interest in fit has come a deluge of experiments and field studies attempting to capture the "elusive criterion of fit" (Judge and Ferris, 1992). The dominant approach to these studies has been to examine the fit between an individual and a single aspect of the work environment. In reality, however, people do not interact with only one part of their environment. Rather, they are simultaneously nested in multiple dimensions of the environment (Granovetter, 1985; Mitchell et al., 2001).

This nested view suggests that many of the consequences attributed to fit are not simply the result of fit or misfit with a single aspect of the environment. Instead, broad consequences such as satisfaction, commitment, stress, adjustment and withdrawal are more realistically affected by the compilation and interaction of fit assessments across multiple aspects of the environment. The results of a recent empirical study by Kristof-Brown, Jansen and Colbert (2002) support this notion that various aspects of fit simultaneously influence work attitudes. The purpose of this article is to develop a theory that addresses how fit with single aspects of the work environment combine and interact to affect a variety of individual-level outcomes.

To develop this type of integrative theory, a clear understanding of the PE fit construct is necessary. Therefore, we begin with a review of the various types and dimensions of fit, and elaborate on the multidimensionality of PE fit. We then introduce a model that proposes how the various dimensions of fit combine to create PE fit, and explore factors that predict the relative influence each dimension is likely to have on the multidimensional construct. Following this, we consider the research implications of the proposed model, including operationalization issues and testing methodologies. We conclude with a discussion of the contributions and limitations of the proposed framework and suggest future research directions.


Stemming from roots in person-environment interaction theory (Lewin, 1935), the fundamental assumption of fit research is that outcomes are a function of the interaction between individuals and their environments, where good fit typically results in positive outcomes for the individual (Edwards, 1991; Kristof, 1996). Within organizations, fit can be assessed in a variety of ways with numerous aspects of the work environment. We briefly review fit dimensions to clarify the terminology that will be used in the remainder of this article.

Dimensions of PE Fit

A single-dimension fit perception is defined as the compatibility between an individual and a specific aspect of the work environment. Scholars have previously described four dimensions with which PE fit has been studied (Judge and Ferris, 1992; Kristof, 1996). The broadest of these is the vocation or profession. This research on person-vocation (PV) fit includes vocational choice theories that propose matching people with compatible career options (e.g., Holland, 1985; Super, 1953). Related to PV fit, but defined more narrowly as the relationship between a person's abilities and the demands of a specific job or the desires of a person and the attributes of a specific job, is the research on person-job (PJ) fit (e.g., Edwards, 1991; Kristof, 1996). Alternatively, research on person-organization (PO) fit emphasizes the compatibility between people and entire organizations. This research focuses on the extent to which organizations and applicants/incumbents share similar characteristics and/or meet each other's needs (Chatman, 1989; Kristof, 1996). The final category of research is that of person-group (PG) fit, which focuses on the skill and interpersonal compatibility between individuals and their work groups (Judge and Ferris, 1992; Kristof, 1996). …