Original Research

Exploring the consequences of person–environment misfit in the workplace: A qualitative study

Mervywn K. Williamson, Kressantha Perumal
SA Journal of Industrial Psychology | Vol 47 | a1798 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajip.v47i0.1798 | © 2021 Mervywn K. Williamson, Kressantha Perumal | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 16 March 2020 | Published: 21 January 2021

About the author(s)

Mervywn K. Williamson, School of Management, Information Technology and Governance, College of Law and Management Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
Kressantha Perumal, School of Management, Information Technology and Governance, College of Law and Management Studies, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


Orientation: Although the literature on person–environment fit has burgeoned, misfit has been relatively overlooked. The 21st-century business environment has seen an increase in the number of employee misfits in the workplace, and this has proved a challenge to many organisations. It is uncertain how misfit impacts on employees and organisations experiencing this phenomenon.

Research purpose: The purpose of this study was to broaden the current misfit research boundaries by exploring the consequences of misfit as experienced by individuals at work.

Motivation for the study: There exist several under-researched areas in the misfit terrain. One such is the effect of misfit in the workplace. This study aimed to fill this void.

Research approach, design and method: A qualitative constructivist grounded theory approach was adopted. Using purposive and snowball sampling, 40 employee misfits participated in face-to-face, semi-structured, in-depth interviews. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and data analysed by using four steps prescribed by grounded theory researchers.

Main findings: Results highlight two themes that epitomise the consequences of misfit: (1) causing negative reactions in individual employees and (2) producing organisationally directed detrimental outcomes.

Practical/managerial implications: The study provides managers with a more profound understanding of the adverse consequences of misfit in the workplace and this will assist them in dealing more effectively with misfits.

Contributions/value added: This research contributes to the literature in two ways: (1) it contributes to the theory of misfit by adding to the conception that misfit is a qualitatively different construct to that of low fit or the absence of fit, and (2) our approach sheds light on the multifaceted and intricate construct of misfit and its consequences.


misfit; person-environment misfit; person-environment fit; constructivist grounded theory; qualitative research.


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Crossref Citations

1. How people higher on social dominance orientation deal with hierarchy-attenuating institutions: the person-environment (mis)fit perspective in the grammar of hierarchies
Alessio Tesi, Antonio Aiello, Felicia Pratto
Current Psychology  vol: 42  issue: 30  first page: 26721  year: 2023  
doi: 10.1007/s12144-022-03627-5