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Why fitting into an organisation’s culture matters

In-congruence between an individual’s personality and corporate culture has been linked to job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, and high staff turnover.

February 27, 2013 5:51 by

Corporate culture determines the way in which we make sense of our working environment and all that we experience within them.  It provides us with a set of values that helps employees to understand which actions are considered acceptable and which are considered unacceptable. This, however, does not necessarily equate to being provided with some form of employee handbook on behavioural rules. Cultural expectations and guides can also be made implicit, such that they are embedded into and governed by what is often referred to as a ‘psychological contract’ – “…unwritten understandings and informal obligations between and employees regarding moral expectations…” Some values are also communicated through stories and various other symbolic means.

When individuals are recruited into organisations, they are expected to do more than just their job; there is a further expectation that they will fit in with the culture of the organisation.  Congruence between an individual’s personality and the organisation’s culture has been reported to improve productivity; on the other hand, incongruence between such variables has been linked to job dissatisfaction, presenteeism, and high staff turnover.  So, getting the match right the first time saves time and money.  This serves to explain why there is a growing trend among organisational leaders to go as far as recruiting a Business/Occupational Psychologist to assess prospective job seekers against criterion that are robust enough to ascertain how aligned their personality and values are with that of the corporate culture. This form of matching is termed ‘person-organisation fit’.

It is important to remember corporate culture is the personality of an organisation. It is also described as “the way we do things round here…” It comprises shared, subconscious beliefs and assumptions.  However varied the term, one thing for certain is that corporate culture is powerful – even if employees are unaware of its existence, it will still shape their behaviours and actions at work.

There are many types of culture, each comprising a different set of characteristics. Some organisational cultures promote productivity; others do not.  Culture should not be confused with climate.  Climate is the temporary mood of the organisation. Therefore, unlike culture it is extremely fragile and subject to change.  Corporate culture takes time to develop and once formed it can be long-lasting.

There is no such thing as “instant culture” – it cannot be shaped overnight. While it is possible that a positive climate may eventually contribute toward building a strong and effective culture, there is no quick fix. An absolute cultural change would involve changing the mind-sets of the current management team or physically replacing them. Either way, the process of a cultural change would be time consuming, as it would involve organisational members having to ‘unlearn’ old ways of working and ‘relearn’ new ways.  Corporate culture is a method of behavioural management.



Michelle Hunter is a Business Psychologist and Lecturer at Heriot-Watt University. She co-ordinates and delivers on the MSc programme in Business Psychology. Contact her via [email protected] or follower her on Twitter @

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