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Creating a psychologically healthy workplace: the importance of fit

(by Larissa K. Barber & Matthew J. Grawitch, PhD, Good Company)

When a healthy workplace practice fails to achieve the desired results or anticipated ROI, some organizations become disenchanted and all-too-quickly abandon their efforts. However, workplace practice ineffectiveness may primarily stem from practice design and implementation issues rather than the practices themselves.

Many organizations rush to implement the latest “wellness” or “work-life balance” programs featured in top business magazines or adopted by their competitors, which, in some cases, can trigger a string of bad experiences and waste financial resources. Achieving a healthy workplace is not necessarily expensive, but with a few major missteps it certainly can be a financial drain. Therefore, managers need to consider the interplay among the employee, the organization, and the practice itself when adopting healthy workplace practices.

This article outlines an approach to psychologically healthy workplace practices that focuses on fit, as well as managerial steps to maximize practice effectiveness.

An Employee-Organization-Practice Fit Approach

One approach to understanding the interplay between employees, the organization, and workplace practices is to consider the role of person-environment (P-E) fit. P-E fit takes an interactionist approach to predicting employee outcomes by focusing on the alignment between employee and organization (Edwards, 1996; Edwards & Cooper, 1990; French, Caplan, & Harrison, 1982; Lewin, 1951). That is, well-being and performance are not predicted by employee or by organizational characteristics (e.g., an employee that works well in teams, a job with high autonomy), but by the match between employee and organization. For example, extraverted individuals may thrive in positions emphasizing teamwork and face-to-face interactions, but may feel out of place and perform poorly in independent and socially-isolated positions.

P-E fit includes person-organization (P-O) fit, needs-supplies (N-S) fit, and demands-abilities (D-A) fit—all of which influence individual outcomes (Edwards, 1996). P-O fit occurs when employees and the organization possess congruent values, goals, or behavioral expectations (Kristof, 1996; Muchinksy & Monahan, 1987). Thus, with P-O fit, the goal is to maximize similarity between employee and organization.

On the other hand, N-S and D-A fit are considered complimentary in that the employee or the organization provides attributes that the other is lacking (Cable & DeRue, 2002). N-S fit considers how job rewards fulfill employee needs, and D-A fit considers employee perceptions that competencies and abilities are sufficient to perform a particular job.

The P-E fit perspective provides an excellent framework for linking workplace practices, organizational characteristics, and employee characteristics in a way that maximizes employee and organizational outcomes (i.e., employee-organization-practice fit). These three factors can overlap in four ways to produce employee-organization fit, employee-practice fit, organization-practice fit, and employee-organization-practice fit (Figure 1).

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