International Business Research

International Business Research
January, 2010
Person-Environment Fit Approach
to Intolerance of Inequity
and Free-Riders
Kamarul Zaman Ahmad
Faculty of Business & Accountancy, University of Malaya
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Website: http://w
This study uses the person-environment fit approach to asse
ss the dissatisfaction one has towards co-workers who fail to
carry their own weight, in groups of varying sizes. It is posite
d in these studies that in la
rge groups where
situations are
more likely to be inequitable, highly sensitive people are more intolerant of inequity and thus more dissatisfied with
their co-workers, compared with less sensitive ones. Sens
itivity was measured as a personality trait by the 16PF
(Cattell et al., 1987) and group size (obtained from comp
any records) was the objec
tive measure of the work
environment. On the basis of data from 257 factory worker
s in Wales, UK, results of hierarchical multiple regression
generally indicated that the relationship between sensitivity
and co-worker satisfaction are moderated by group size
such that the relationship is positive in small groups and negative in large groups.
P-E fit, Objective fit, Equity theory, Sensitivity, Gr
oup size, Co-worker satisfac
tion, Hierarchical multiple
1. Introduction
There is an abundance of research that
examined the degree of
fit between the person and the environment i.e.
person-environment fit or P-E fit and how that is associated with satisfaction (Kristof, 1996). However, no studies have
attempted to use P-E fit theory to explain why some people
are more dissatisfied than others even though they are all
placed in the same inequitable situation.
Equity theory as proposed by Adams, (
1963, 1965) also assumes that all people
are equally intolerant of inequity. This research examines th
e personality trait of sensitivity and aims to show how people
who are highly sensitive are more intolerant of inequitable s
ituations compared with less sensitive people. The objective
of this study is to examine the interaction between equity
sensitivity (person) and group size (work environment) and how
that is associated with co-worker satisf
action (dependent variable). For instance,
does the relationship between equity
and co-worker satisfaction vary with group sizes
? This is the main research question that this study aims to
2. Literature Review
2.1 Person–Environment fit or P-E fit and the argument for using objective measures of the work environment
P-E fit was summarized by Edwards (1996: 292) as follows:
“In essence, P-E fit embodies
the premise that attitudes,
behaviour and other individual level outcomes result not from th
e person or environment separately, but rather from the
relationship between the two (Lewin, 1951; Murray, 1938; Pervin, 1989).”
Kristof (2005, 1996), Piasentin and Chapman
(2006) and Verquer, Beehr and Wagner (2003) have done a thor
ough literature review and as such, the bulk of it will not
be reproduced here. Rather, what is discussed in this paper
are the two main ways of conc
eptualizing fit – direct and
indirect. This eventually leads to th
e researcher’s justification and recomme
ndation that the environment should be
measured objectively (in order to get a co
rrespondingly objective measure of fit).
Kristof, Zimmerman and Johnson (2005, 1996) indicated that some researchers have used
measures of fit i.e. by
asking people explicitly whether they believe a good fit exists. Posner, Kouzes and Schmidt (1985) used such a method. In
their study, managers directly rated how compatible their values were with those of their organizations and how often they
had to compromise personal principles to meet organizational expectations. This method is plagued by the consistency
bias (i.e., “I think that I fit well, so
I must be satisfied with my job”) and is
therefore not adopted in the current research
Due to this drawback, some researchers have relied on
measures to assess fit.
According to Kristof (1996),
measures are more reliable because the respondent is asked to rate the individual separately from the environment
without being asked to assess the degree of fit. This method (hereinafter called “the moderator approach”) does not insist
on commensurate measures. The person and the environment can be measured separately (as they should be), using
entirely different instruments. The nature and ranges of the two scales can be entirely different. This does not require the
respondent to assess fit either directly
or indirectly. In fact, it makes it virtually impossible for the respondent to even
attempt to assess fit. In this respect, the moderator approach is
superior in that the consistency bias inherent in the direct
Vol. 3, No. 1
International Business Research
measurement of fit approach can be tota
lly eliminated. However, it can be argued
that the biggest advantage with this
method is that objective measures of the environment can be used. Objective measures are measures that do not require
any conceptual transformation on the part of the respondent. Hence, it is entirely independent of the person (respondent).
Unfortunately, many studies that have used the moderator approach have failed to capitalize on this advantage. For
example, in Lee, Ashford and Bobko (1990), control was measured perceptually by the respondent. In Barrick and Mount
(1993), autonomy was measured perceptually. Edwards (199
1) criticized direct measures primarily because they
confound the constructs of the person and environment, th
ereby preventing the estimation of their independent effects.
Yet, amazingly, he did just that (in Edwards, 1996) – environmental supplies and personal values (S-V) fit were measured
by asking respondents how much of each task was involved in
their job and how much of each
task they preferred. This
procedure was also employed in another research by Livingstone, Nelson and Barr (1997) who also conducted a study that
employed a similar measure of
S-V fit in their research.
Although Edwards (1991) pointed out that th
ere is a real need for future research
to use objective measures (of either the
person or the environment), he has not done so himself and there appears to be none done by others reported even until
today. Thus, there is a pressing need for
a research to be conducted that uses a
truly objective measure i.e. one which is
obtained from a source other than the respondent.
2.2 Group Size
Group size, a measure that can be obtain
ed from company records, is one aspect
of the work environment that can be
measured objectively. Social interactio
ns in groups are frequently characterized by conflicts between personal and
collective interests (De Cremer and Leonardelli, 2003). Thus,
it is not surprising that research has shown that smaller
groups establish and maintain higher levels of communication (Lowry, Roberts, Romano, Cheney and Hightower, 2006)
whereas larger groups have reported lower satisfaction (Frank and Anderson, 1971; Shaw, 1981; Slater, 1958; Worthy,
1950). As group size increases, almost every group experiences some degradation in group communication process due
to social loafing (Chidambaram and Tung, 2005; Liden, Wayne, Jaworski, and Bennett, 2009). Dissatisfaction with
large groups is also reflected by greater absenteeism and personnel turnover (Shaw, 1981). However, small groups are
not always better than larger groups. Aiken and Wong (2003) discovered that for idea generation, groups may not be
effective until they reach a certain size. However, this appa
rent controversy over which size is better can be summed up
by Worthy (1950) who stated that mere size is unquestionably one of the most important factors in determining the
satisfaction of employees – and dissatisfaction can have serious consequences for the company.
2.3 Inequity and the personality trait of sensitivity
Equity theory (Adams, 1963, 1965) proposed that we are concerned with how much we get (outcomes) in proportion to
how much we contribute (inputs). According to equity theory, we then compare this ratio with that of another individual to
determine whether the situation is equitable. When things are
inequitable and the ratios are unequal, we are less satisfied.
Huseman, Hatfield and Miles (1987) posited that some indivi
duals are more sensitive to inequity than others. According
to Cattell, Eber and Tatsuoka (1992) people whose traits
are high on sensitivity crave affec
tion and attention, are also
fussy, insecure, anxious, theatrical, easily a
ffected and have been often associated
with mental breakdo
wn. Therefore, the
extremely sensitive person craves for equity, and it does not ma
tter whether the inputs are greater than the outputs or the
other way round – both are undesirable to them. For instance, Irving and Montes (2009) found that exceeded expectations
are not always associated with high levels
of satisfaction. Accordin
gly, people whose traits are very high on sensitivity
(Cattell et al., 1992) strongly favor equity and also cannot tole
rate inequity in either direct
ion, whereas people whose traits
are low on sensitivity are more tolerant of inequity. The satisf
action or dissatisfaction that people have concerning equity
or inequity can be directed towards their co-workers.
2.4 Development of Hypotheses
Thus, the main objective of this study is to determine whethe
r the relationship between the pe
rsonality trait of sensitivity
and satisfaction is moderated by group size. It has also been
explained in the literature review that, highly sensitive people
are more dissatisfied with inequity than less sensitive people. Si
nce social loafing is more likely to occur in larger groups,
it would be reasonable to propose that large groups tend to be inequitable, whereas small groups tend to be more equitable.
This is a proposition of course, which has to be tested. Ensuri
ng workload equity is certainly more difficult as the group
gets larger, simply because there are more people to consider
. Therefore, it would be reasonable to propose that in large
groups, highly sensitive people will be more dissatisfied with
their co-workers than less sensitive ones. In small groups
the relationship would be opposite because it would be easier that all the group members “carry their own weight” i.e.
more equitable. Accordingly, the hypotheses are:
Null Hypothesis HO: The association between sensitivity scor
es and co-worker satisfaction scores is not moderated
by group size.
Alternative Hypothesis H1: The association between sensitivity
scores and co-worker satisfaction scores is moderated
by group size.


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