Person-Environment Fit and Self-Employment: Opportunities and Needs for Achievement, Affiliation, Autonomy, and Dominance

By Prottas, David | North American Journal of Psychology, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Person-Environment Fit and Self-Employment: Opportunities and Needs for Achievement, Affiliation, Autonomy, and Dominance


Prottas, David, North American Journal of Psychology


Theories of person-environment fit have long been prevalent in management literature (Kristof, 1996; Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, & Johnson, 2005; Schneider, 2001) and are used to explain how individuals' personalities and traits influence them to join and remain in organizations (Bernard, 1938; Schneider, 1987) and vocations (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984; Holland, 1985; Schein, 1978, 1994) and engage in entrepreneurial activities (McClelland, 1961; Schumpeter, 1934). Entrepreneurial trait researchers commonly use a design that compares a subgroup of study participants labeled as entrepreneurs to a subgroup of participants labeled as non-entrepreneurs with respect to specified personality characteristics. However, Gartner (1988) criticized prior trait research for using definitions of entrepreneurs that were vague or nonexistent and which varied across studies. This lack of definitional precision often led, in his view, to samples of entrepreneurs that were heterogeneous (for example, combining small business owners with people who serially created new organizations with high growth aspirations. Finally, he argued that researchers studied an excessive number of different traits and characteristics. Researchers have more recently adopted meta-analytical techniques and the Five Factor personality model as an organizing framework to quantitatively review multiple studies (Collins, Hanges, & Locke, 2004; Rauch & Frese; 2007; Stewart & Roth, 2001, 2007, Zhao & Seibert, 2006).

Subsequently, primary researchers, while accepting that there is no universally accepted narrow definition of an entrepreneur and have developed alternative typologies to distinguish among types of entrepreneurs based on their characteristics and objectives (Hisrich, Langan-Fox, & Grant, 2007). Researchers have also provided more detailed information on the criteria for classifying individuals into different subgroups and recognized that entrepreneurs are not a homogeneous. Researchers have adopted meta-analytical techniques and the Five Factor personality model as an organizing framework to quantitatively review primary research studies that employed different definitions of participants and assessed different traits (Collins et al, 2004; Rauch & Frese; 2007; Stewart & Roth, 2001, 2007, Zhao & Seibert, 2006)

Person-environment theories have provided a framework to study the interactions between individuals and foci of fit such as vocation, organization, group, and supervisor, and job (see Kristof, 1996; Kristof-Brown et al. 2005 for review of the conceptualizations and the results of prior empirical research). The different conceptualizations of person-environment fit share core assumptions: (i) work environments differ, (ii) individuals differ, and (iii) individuals tend to move toward environments which are congruent with the individual's needs, values, or capabilities. Person-environment fit theories focus on the individual as an active agent who enters and leaves work environments to achieve personal objectives.

Henry Murray (1938) was one of the early pioneers of person-environment, proposing that individuals had distinct psychological traits ("needs") that they would attempt to satisfy by finding opportunities ("supplies"), at work and elsewhere, to engage in certain behaviors. The needs-supply conceptualization of person-environment fit undergirds much of the trait oriented entrepreneurial research. Under that conceptualization, fit is achieved when there is congruence between what the person needs, desires, or prefers (material or psychological) and what is provided by the work environment. For example, an individual with a high need for dominance would likely enter an organization or a profession where he or she would be able to direct and manage other people and act as a leader and avoid those environments where positions of power and authority were less available. Trait oriented entrepreneurial research is based on the assumption that entrepreneurship, however defined, provides opportunities for behaviors ("supplies") that are different from the behaviors in non-entrepreneurial work setting. …

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