Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"A Person-Environment Fit Approach to Cultivating Meaning"

This is Part 2 of a series of entries previewing the excellent contributions from scholars across coaching, management, leadership, I/O psychology, vocational psychology, and career counseling to our new book Purpose and Meaning in the Workplace. Follow this link to read Part 1 "Career Construction"

In chapter 2 of our new book, legendary vocational psychologist Jo-Ida Hansen reviews the Person-Environment Fit approach to work adjustment and draws connections with meaningful work. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit that Jo-Ida is the training director for the U of Minnesota Counseling Psychology program, where I got my PhD. She also directs the Vocational Assessment Clinic, where I got my first, eye-opening insight into the enormous liberation people can experience when they find a career path that fits them like a glove. So, you can probably anticipate that I am mighty impressed with this chapter!

In a nutshell, the Person-Environment Fit (P-E Fit)approach to finding a great career observes that people have a variety of abilities, skills, talents, interests, values, etc., and work environments have a variety of tasks needing to be accomplished, social and cultural styles, and operating procedures. When the individual characteristics of a person match what the work environment provides and requires, then both employee and employer are satisfied, with a happier, more productive workforce overall.

This chapter is such a great contribution to the field of purpose and meaning in the workplace because, despite hundreds of studies on P-E Fit, there aren't any studies specifically testing meaningful work as an outcome. But this chapter shows that better P-E Fit yields similar, positive outcomes, and that many of the foundations of meaning and purpose (e.g., autonomy, intrinsic motivation, finding and using your strengths) are outcomes that have been explored in P-E Fit research. This chapter makes a huge and venerable literature newly available for coaches, career counselors, HR professionals, and others. Exciting new synergy should emerge as these disparate traditions fuse in an exploration of purpose and meaning in the workplace.

Here is one of the strategies Jo-Ida Hansen shares that is ripe for the picking by those interested in new ways of fostering meaningful work:

>Use job analysis and employee assessment to determine how closely someone's interests, values, abilities, knowledge, skill, and attitudes correspond with promotion opportunities or potential lateral moves within an organization.

This strategy is Tested in practice, Derived from theory, and Supported by research. It resonates with the importance positive psychology places on using one's strengths and is just waiting for someone to assess whether it leads to more purpose and meaning in the workplace.

For more information on the P-E Fit tradition of vocational psychology and how it might be used to foster meaningful work, check out our book.