Assessing workplace fit

Often misunderstood, fit impacts everything from productivity to retention
By Rowan O’Grady
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/08/2017

Recently, while sitting in traffic, a sticker on the back-end of a minivan caught my eye: “A bad day of golf is better than a good day at work.” I count myself among those who love what they do but, like almost everyone, there are days when working is “work” and the idea of getting out to play a round of golf definitely has its appeal.

While previous generations may have been driven by financial compensation, many young professionals are willing to take a reduction in salary for better work-life balance and career growth opportunities.Over the past two decades, employers have changed their approach to hiring. And candidates have transformed their expectations.The fact is not everyone skips off happily to work every morning. What’s the solution? In most cases, it’s about fit — an often-misunderstood concept that impacts everything from personal stress, productivity and unhappiness to low workplace morale and poor retention.

With many Canadians admitting their decision to move jobs was based on factors other than salary, cash is no longer king of the employment market.

Fit is of fundamental importance. So what exactly is it, and why is it so elusive?

Fit is the match between people, workplace practices, and expected social behaviour. And there are four factors:

Work ethic: This is when an individual and organization match in terms of work ethic standards and style. So the levels of passion and ambition, and the standards of quality and expertise, are the same.  

Social behaviour: This has the styles of communication, interaction and approach between an employee and an organization aligned, so personal characteristics and nature between teammates match.

Conformity: This means an organization or manager allows employees to work with a preferred level of flexibility and conformity.

Team versus individual match:  This is when the working style between an employer and employee match. The worker has her desired independence and the right mix of team collaboration.

Employers frequently say fit is a critical factor when building high-performance teams. Despite this, it is often undervalued during the hiring process.

And there is often a major disconnect between what employers are saying and what they are doing, with few companies investing the time and energy to properly assess job applicants for fit at the forefront.

But this isn’t just an employer issue. While candidates say fit is essential to their career goals and overall happiness, many don’t know what their ideal fit actually is.

The result: An employee will take a new job, only to realize three months in that she hates the company, and so the culture — not the compensation — is the culprit. She loves the pay but can’t stand her manager’s working style.

Sound familiar? Too often, individuals struggle with assessing fit when making decisions about hiring new staff members or accepting a job offer, resulting in personal, professional and financial costs.

For employees, poor fit can mean hours spent being unhappy at work, and even more time dedicated to looking for something new. It can mean potential job loss.

For employers, hiring a candidate who doesn’t fit with the existing team and corporate culture can mean lost productivity, low morale and high turnover. 

Fit is often the number one reason employers say an employee doesn’t work out, ranking behind seemingly more important elements such as skills, career progression and salary.

While fun or social interaction are not always considered with a new opportunity or a potential hire, interaction and communication style — major components of fit — are often cited as the reason for a failed hire.

How to get fit

In many industries in Canada, there is a race to find and retain top talent, and this perceived skills shortage may be pushing employers into making poor hiring decisions.

Combine this with the lack of internal resources, and there is a recipe for disaster.

Understanding what employees are looking for in terms of workplace culture — and knowing how to effectively screen for fit and communicate an organization’s value proposition — means attracting and retaining skilled people who are a good match and in it for the long haul.  

So, how do employers find skilled workers who are also going to fit within the organization? 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Know your culture: Start by defining your working culture fit. Understand the key components that make a team successful from a work ethic, social interaction, and team reliance standpoint — and keep these in mind when assessing potential candidates. If the company culture is still developing or in need of change, don’t be afraid to hire someone who can act as a catalyst.

Kick up your criteria: Put less weight on technical requirements and include factors such as social behaviour to help find a better match. Rather than hire just on the basis of a job interview, consider bringing one or two of the final candidates into the office setting or a workplace event before presenting them with an offer. See how they interact with their prospective teammates.

Bring in the team: No hiring manager should be an island. Solicit feedback from other members of the team who will be working with the candidate if he’s hired. They might catch something that was missed during the interview and have a better sense of whether they could work with him or how that person will fit in from a day-to-day perspective. 

Be prepared: Prepare for the interview as if you are the candidate. While tools such as psychometric testing can be great aids to help screen a candidate, nothing compares to human interaction.

In the interview, use behaviour or situational questions to assess how a candidate approaches projects, challenges and other teammates. Try, as much as possible, to get real-life examples from the candidate’s previous work experience.

The right job can change a person’s life, and the right person can transform a business. Ensuring a candidate fits a company’s culture isn’t just something that benefits the employee and the team — it benefits the larger business.

Rowan O’Grady is the Toronto-based president of Hays Canada, a recruitment agency. For more information, visit

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