Cultural Fit in the Workplace: How Personality Affects Hiring and Teamwork

introvert vs extrovertPeople differ in their personalities, attitudes, and values, and an understanding of our individual personality is profoundly important in maximizing our happiness and productivity at work.

We spend a third of our lives at work, and people are moving around from job to job more frequently, seeking a company that allows them to maximize their potential, earn more money, or achieve a better work-life balance. For some, all of these factors will be equally important, while others will prioritize them differently.

Whatever our priorities, work feeds into many different aspects of our lives — it influences our self-identity, self-esteem, and opportunities for personal growth. If work was just about making money, it wouldn’t matter so much where we worked. But for most of us, it’s about far more than that. This is where cultural fit comes into play. But what exactly is cultural fit? Organizational psychology guru Adrian Furnham offers this definition in his seminal academic textbook, “The Psychology of Behaviour at Work

“A fit is where there is congruence between the norms and values of the organization and those of the person.” (page 116)

Although, as Furnham goes on to discuss, fit is not only about the person and the organization — fit to coworkers and supervisor is also of importance (that’s what we’re working on). A simple example of how an individual’s personality might determine their preferences at work is shown in the diagram above (adapted from Furnham’s 2012 work).

The scale on the vertical axis shows the preference of each of the two personality types — introvert and extravert — for open plan versus separate cubicle offices. The introvert, who likes peace and quiet to get on with his or her work, strongly prefers the comforting seclusion of separate cubicles, and dislikes the noise and activity of the open-plan office. The higher the person’s introversion score (imagine it on a continuous line), the stronger their preference for the separate cubicles.

On the other hand, the extravert, who works best around other people, shows the opposite pattern — the more extraverted a person is, the more strongly they prefer the open-plan office. So what does this mean?

If the introvert ends up in an organization which only uses open-plan offices — or, even worse, expects all employees to attend riotous parties every weekend — this would be an example of poor fit, or strain. An extravert in the same environment would have a much higher level of positive cultural fit.

Of course, it isn’t nearly that simple. Nobody is just an introvert or just an extravert — every human being is a complex mix of interacting personality traits, all influencing each other. Measuring cultural fit is a complicated business – and there’s a large and mounting body of scientific evidence that cultural fit really is important.

Why Is Culture Fit Important?

Back in 1975, an organizational psychologist named John Morse conducted a study of the effect of congruence — fit between personality and organization — and employees’ self-ratings of competence. He split employees into two groups: one group was placed in a job using the usual procedure of the time, which did not involve any kind of psychometric testing. The second, experimental group was placed in a job which suited their particular personality were placed in more routine, stable positions.

The result? Those in “congruent” jobs which matched their personality reported feeling more competent. In other words, positive cultural fit can improve our self-esteem and make us feel more capable of carrying out our work to the best of our ability.

Good cultural fit is associated with many positive outcomes. A recent meta-analysis (a type of statistical procedure which achieves considerable power by combining the findings of a large number of studies on the same topic) by Kristof-Brown (from 2005) reported that employees who fit well with their organization, coworkers, and supervisor:

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  • had greater job satisfaction;
  • identified more with their company;
  • were more likely to remain with their organization;
  • were more committed;
  • showed superior job performance.

Studies of cultural fit across many countries have also found a relationship between cultural fit and mental and physical health — so if your job fits your personality, you’re less likely to exhibit signs of depression, anxiety, and the like, and you might live longer.

The average correlation between good cultural fit and these positives outcomes is about 0.43, which means that cultural fit accounts for nearly half the variance between employees in job satisfaction. Employees are not the only ones who benefit from good cultural fit. Organizations get a happier, more productive person who is more likely to stay with the company for longer and work hard to help achieve its goals. They also potentially save a huge amount of money — hiring new employees to replace those who leave in despair as a result of poor fit is an expensive business.

It’s not just the company that benefits. Friends and family of someone who has a good fit to their workplace get a happier, more fulfilled person who doesn’t annoy them by constantly whining about how much they hate their job. The really big beneficiary, however, is society itself. The more happy, fulfilled people there are in a society, the stronger that society becomes. If organizations take an individual differences approach, assessing, and taking into account the specific personalities and values of their employees, everyone benefits. Those benefits are more than worth the extra effort and initial outlay. Giving people more control over their lives, more personal freedom to be the best they can be, is crucial in building a happier, freer, more fulfilled, and more productive environment for everyone.

Kerry Schofield
Dr. Kerry Schofield is a chartered psychologist, statistician and researcher with more than a decade of experience in experimental and organizational psychology. She graduated from Oxford in 2003, holds a MSc in research and statistics, a Ph.D. in experimental psychology, and is the co-founder and chief psychometrics officer for good.co.