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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Change in Person-Job Fit and Its Impact on Employee Work Attitudes over Time

By Tae-Yeol Kim, Sebastian C. Schuh and Yahua Cai

Organisational scholars have long recognised person–environment (PE) fit (i.e., the degree of compatibility between the characteristics of employees and those of the work environment) as a dynamic process of adjustment between employees and their work environment. Nevertheless, extant studies have largely treated PE fit as a ‘static’ phenomenon by assessing PE fit at only one point in time and linking it to employee outcomes.

The static approach to fit has several limitations. First, many elements within the job or the person change over time (e.g., job tasks and employee skills). Hence, a static approach is not only somewhat detached from organisational reality, it also cannot predict or examine how individuals or environments will react to these changes (e.g., whether and when changes in job demands will influence subsequent employee abilities). Second, a static approach contains people’s experiences of fit within a ‘temporal vacuum’ and ignores their previous experiences. This is problematic because it can result in inaccurate predictions of the fit phenomena.

In line with a temporal view of fit, several scholars have proposed and examined how PE fit changes over time and how these fit changes influence changes in employee outcomes. To extend this line of research, we theorised and tested how person-job (PJ) fit develops over time, and how these changes are related to employee work attitudes.

Demands-Abilities (DA) and Needs-Supply (NS) Fit

Fit scholars have previously identified two facets of PJ fit: demand-ability (DA) fit (i.e., the match between the capabilities of an employee and the requirements of a job) and need–supply (NS) fit (i.e., the match between the needs of an employee and the resources that are provided by a job).

Dimensions of DA fit tend to focus on progression (e.g., as employees receive tasks with more responsibilities or as they attend programmes that enhance their capabilities). In addition, over the past years, increases in job demands have become increasingly common for employees at all levels of the organisation – largely due to fast-paced technological changes. Consequently, employees are more and more likely to face new demands that subsequently require them to enhance their capabilities. We expect that such changes may, at least temporarily, unsettle the equilibrium between demands and abilities and hence reduce DA fit.

Besides job demands and employee abilities, employee needs and job supplies tend to change over time. For example, over the course of their career, employees expect higher pay and increasing autonomy. In line with this view, recent research points toward the possibility that excess in job supplies may in fact improve employee sentiments, even increase perceptions of NS fit. Building on this logic, we expect that an increase in job supplies can be associated with an increase in NS fit while an increase in employee needs should decrease NS fit until the needs are met.

A temporal perspective on PJ fit also helps address the questions of how job demands and employee abilities influence each other and whether there are links between employee needs and job supplies over time. According to job crafting theory and work adjustment theory, employees’ abilities and needs can shape subsequent levels of job demands and supplies. Indeed, for employees it is a central ambition to make best use of their possibilities and potential, and thus they tend to craft their jobs according to their abilities and needs. To maximise their outcomes, employees with higher abilities and higher needs should more likely try to change their environment than employees with lower abilities and needs.

Relatedly, organisations seek to achieve optimal performance from their employees. Hence, organisations should be inclined to give more challenging jobs to employees who show high capabilities, and thus have the potential to fulfil these new tasks and learn from them. At the same time, organisations seek to motivate and retain capable employees, but their resources are limited, and thus they tend to provide more supplies to employees who show high needs in the first place. Taken together, this reasoning suggests that employees’ abilities and needs should influence subsequent job demands and supplies.

Prior studies, albeit focusing on a static perception of fit, suggest that both DA and NS fit are important antecedents of PJ fit because they both relate to job satisfaction and organisational commitment. A temporal perspective on PJ fit suggests that employees engage in comparisons of current DA and NS fit to past levels of DA and NS fit, respectively. Thus, increases in DA and NS fit should represent desired changes in jobs, which should then relate to increases in PJ fit; and decreases in DA and NS fit should reflect less positive changes in their compatibility with their jobs, and thus decrease perceived overall PJ fit.

Findings and Implications

In testing these ideas, we used a sample of full-time employees from various organisational and occupational backgrounds. We designed an online survey and asked the participants to assess their job demands, employee abilities, employee needs, job supplies, DA fit, NS fit, PJ fit, job satisfaction, and affective organisational commitment. The process was then repeated two more times at roughly six-month intervals. In total, 168 participants completed all three waves of the survey.

Our findings showed that changes in perceived PJ fit do matter and significantly enhance or decrease desirable employee outcomes. Moreover, the present findings contribute to a developing research literature that reveals the important role of time for understanding the links among constructs in management research. Specifically, they showed that perceived PJ fit and its various elements including DA fit, NS fit, demands, abilities, needs, and supplies were not constant but did indeed vary as time went on. This challenges the common practice of cross-sectional studies on PJ fit that ignore these variations and may thus result in a somewhat incomplete understanding of fit. More importantly, our results showed that these changes significantly affected employees’ perceptions of fit over time.

We also found that changes in perceived job demands more strongly affected changes in perceived DA fit than changes in perceived employee abilities. Relatedly, changes in perceived job supplies more strongly affected changes in perceived NS fit than changes in perceived employee needs. However, contrary to our expectation, increase in employee abilities on communicating/interacting positively related to increase in DA fit over time. That said, it seems plausible that when employees have better skills in communicating and interacting with others, they may feel more competent to do their jobs, subsequently enhancing their perceived DA fit.

A further interesting aspect of our findings also relates to DA fit, particularly to potential (mis-) fit triggered by heightened demands. Static approaches to fit have frequently treated low DA fit as an antecedent for negative outcomes, such as low job satisfaction, reduced performance, or turnover. However, the present findings suggest that temporary mis-fit triggered by increased demands may also result in a spiral of growth and development, where employees seek to adjust by enhancing their abilities.

Finally, our study offers several practical implications for organisations and managers. First, organisations and supervisors who attempt to enhance employees’ job satisfaction and organisational commitment need to increase employees’ PJ fit. Specifically, they need to take actions to redesign, reassign, or rotate jobs or provide training and education to improve employee abilities to increase PJ fit.

Our findings additionally suggest that organisations and supervisors who wish to enhance DA fit need to be careful when increasing job demands that can negatively affect DA fit, especially regarding sudden and substantial increases. If they need to increase job demands, organisations and supervisors can provide more advice, training, and resources to enhance employee abilities to meet the increased job demands. Furthermore, organisations can enhance NS fit by increasing job supplies, starting with non-monetary supplies (which are somewhat more manageable) such as job autonomy and skill variety.

This paper originally appeared in full in the Journal of Management Studies here. Tae-Yeol Kim is a Professor of Management, Philips Chair in Management, and Department Chair (Organisational Behaviour and Human Resource Management) at CEIBS; Sebastian C. Schuh is an Associate Professor of Management at CEIBS; and Yahua Cai teaches Management Research Method and Strategic Human Resources Management at Shanghai University of Finance & Economics. For more CEIBS faculty research and papers, please visit our CEIBS Knowledge page here.

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