Perceptions and experiences of organisational misfit : a grounded theory study of South African employees.
Williamson, Mervywn Kenneth.
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Research into person-environment fit has focused on fit and the many positive benefits that have been associated with achieving high fit. Misfit on the other hand, has been given scant attention. To date, not much is known about what exactly misfit is and how individuals experience this phenomenon at work. Moreover, there has been a paucity of studies that have explored misfit in countries outside of North America, the United Kingdom and Western Europe. This study aimed to address this gap in the literature by exploring how South African employees perceive and experience misfit at work. A further objective was to develop a theoretical model that explains the processes of becoming a misfit, its antecedents, coping behaviours and consequences. The study embraced a qualitative research design using a constructivist grounded theory approach. Following a theoretical sampling process, a sample of 40 employees was selected and subjected to in-depth, face-to-face interviews in which they were asked to relate their experiences of misfitting in the South African organisational context. The findings were reported in relation to five guiding research questions. South African employees displayed a unique understanding of what misfit is when compared with certain Western Countries, thus lending support to the notion of a context-specific or cultural element in perceptions and experiences of the phenomenon. Misfit was perceived as both an internal psychological experience and an outward assessment of an individual based on external characteristics such as demographics. Participants emphasised race and gender as the major causal factors of misfit in the South African workplace. An unexpected finding emanating from this research was that a person’s HIV/Aids status was not considered a significant factor in influencing their sense of misfit. Generally, misfit was perceived to have a deleterious effect on both the individual employee and the organisation. On discovering that they did not fit in, South African employees do not immediately leave the organisation for fear of being permanently without a job as a result of the high unemployment rate in the country. Instead, they remained and engaged in a variety of coping behaviours to deal with the condition. It was strongly emphasised that exiting the organisation was deemed to be the last resort. This study further unearthed a wide range of strategies and interventions that South African managers could use to effectively manage their misfitting employees in order to creatively harness their potential. The emergent theoretical framework, entitled “a model of employee misfit” describes the processes of becoming a misfit, its causes, coping behaviour and consequences. The findings of this study make a significant contribution to misfit research, theory and practice.
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