Why do some people enjoy a job and stay with it for years, while others seem unhappy and eventually leave? Or they stay on but complain, come to work late and call in sick more than others? Even when the pay is good compared with other local opportunities and the benefits are excellent, even when the scheduling is flexible and the coworkers are congenial, some people just won't be happy in a certain job.
It's not because there is something wrong with the person—or the job. Social psychologists call this phenomenon "motivational fit" and define it as the degree of alignment between what a person expects or wants from a job and what the job can actually offer.
Consider that person you hired to fill a cashier position. She came with a good recommendation from her previous job as an office worker, where she was appreciated for her diligence. Her drawers always balance, and she memorized the PLU numbers in a flash. But she's shy. Talking with customers is a strain for her. She is polite enough, but can't get into easy banter with regular customers and has to be reminded to look up, make eye contact and smile.
Or how about that young man you hired as a grocery stocker? He's quick and efficient, but even before he gets through his trial period, he tells you he's leaving for another job. No, it doesn't pay more, but he gets frustrated with the lack of a sense of completion. He works all day long to stock the shelves, only to do it all over again the next day. He feels he's got nothing to show for his efforts.
Then there was that farmer's apprentice you hired for your produce department. He loves the vegetables, but not his teammates. After the solitude of working in the fields, he finds it taxing to adjust his work pace and his priorities to those around him. The other produce staff complain that he's not a team player.
Financially and emotionally, it's expensive to invest in hiring and training an employee only to lose him or her. It's equally frustrating to find yourself spending more time than you'd like coaching an employee who is in many ways a good worker but somehow just not right for the job.
If you establish motivational fit first, you're more likely to hire someone who will stay and flourish in the job. But how will you know if an applicant has motivational fit with the position? Previous work history might give you some clues. If an applicant has worked in other positions requiring intense customer contact or close cooperation with coworkers, then at least she knows what she's getting into. Still, this doesn't automatically mean that she's figured out for herself what she needs for motivational fit. That's where interview questions can help.
With 170 employees, The Good Food Store in Missoula, Mont., receives many applications due to its reputation as a great place to work. General Manager Cheryl Loberg says, "When you get the right people in the right job, it's satisfying for everyone." She stresses the value of asking in interviews what people liked and didn't like in their past jobs.
Some general questions that can help ascertain motivational fit:
What part of your work has given you the greatest feeling of achievement and satisfaction?
What part has been most frustrating and unsatisfying?
Have you ever worked as an [open position] before?
What did you like most about it?
What did you like least about it?
Why did you leave that job?
While answers to these questions will give you a sense of the kind of work the applicant seeks, you need to do some analysis of what your job has to offer.
Research on motivational fit has identified some key elements in determining alignment between the person and the job. Intrinsic factors are inherent to the work itself, such as the degree of autonomy, variety or interdependence involved. Extrinsic factors arise from the work environment and include compensation, schedule, working conditions and supervisor's style. While extrinsic factors do matter, they aren't as important as intrinsic factors when it comes to motivational fit.
Here are some "fit factors" to consider when you have a position to fill. Don't assume that any characteristics of a job are good or bad in themselves. What matters is whether the applicant will have motivational fit with the job you have to offer.
- Intensity of customer contact: Is there constant customer contact throughout a shift? Or is some time spent off the sales floor working in a back room?
- Variety of tasks: Is the work repetitive, involving the same tasks throughout every shift? Or is there constant variety, never knowing what will be needed from one day to the next?
- Degree of autonomy from supervision: Will there be a supervisor closely observing her work and available to answer questions and make decisions? Will she be expected and empowered to make judgment calls throughout the day?
- Pressure to meet deadlines: Are there production goals to be met, tasks to be accomplished by a deadline? Can he go home at the end of the work shift without feeling accountable for any specific results?
- Degree of interdependence with coworkers: Will she work independently with control over her own work product? Or will her work depend upon others doing their part?
- Part versus whole task: Will he only contribute to a greater whole, be part of a continuing process? Or will he create his own work products, e.g. deli dishes, end caps or signs?
Extrinsic fit factors tend to be more self-evident:
- Physical work environment: A quiet office, or a crowded, hectic retail sales floor?
- Schedule: Is this job good for a morning person, a nine-to-fiver or a night owl?
- Level of compensation: What does the job pay to start? What does it take to get a pay raise? How many hours will be available? What benefits do you offer, and how long must a person work to earn them?
- Promotion opportunities: What chance does an entry-level employee have for a higher-paying position down the road? Do you tend to hire your department heads from within?
- Supervisory style: You know your own style as a supervisor. Find out what the employee is looking for.
One of the challenges Loberg encounters at The Good Food Store is determining motivational fit for promotions. "You have to watch out for people who apply for a position just because it pays more, not because they want the job. Will they be comfortable evaluating or disciplining? Supervision takes more than being a 'people person' who enjoys serving customers," she says.
It takes a special person to have motivational fit with the manager-on-duty position at The Good Food Store. MODs are responsible for the efficient operation of the store during their shifts, ensuring cleanliness, security and customer service. The job offers a high degree of variety and autonomy. Yet at the same time, MODs must be "willing to intervene with employees they don't supervise when they see something going on that doesn't seem right," Loberg explains.
Most entry-level natural food store jobs involve frequent, if not constant, customer contact; interdependence on coworkers; repetitive tasks; relatively hands-off supervision; and contributing to an ongoing process rather than creating a whole. But there are people who really do want what those jobs have to offer, if you can determine who they are among your applicant pool.
Carolee Colter, principal of Community Consulting Group in Seattle, will present a seminar on "Hiring for Motivational Fit" at Natural Products Expo West. Join her in Room 204C from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, March 25, to explore how to recognize motivational fit between candidates and positions in your business.
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVII/number 3/p. 42-43