Why do some people enjoy a job and stay with it for years while others seem unhappy and leave—or stay on but complain, come to work late, and call in sick more than others?

Why do some people enjoy a job and stay with it for years while others seem unhappy and leave—or stay on but complain, come to work late, and call in sick more than others?

Even when the pay and benefits are good for the area, even when the scheduling is flexible and the coworkers congenial, some people just won’t be happy in a certain job. It’s not because there’s something wrong with the person or the job. Sometimes the fit just isn’t right.

Social psychologists call this phenomenon “motivational fit.” They say it is a primary component in determining whether a person will remain on the job. Motivational fit is defined as the degree of alignment between what a person expects or wants from a job and what the job can actually offer.

Lack of motivational fit may not necessarily result in poor performance but is likely to result in “withdrawal behaviours,” such as tardiness, absenteeism, excessive use of sick days, and short tenure in the job.

When you’ve got an opening to fill at your store, look for someone with motivational fit with that particular job.

How can you tell? Research has identified key factors that help determine alignment between the person and the job. (see charts below)

Key Factors that help determine Motivational Fit

Intensity of Customer Contact: Almost everyone working in retail has to be comfortable with frequent customer interaction.

Variety of Tasks: Some people have higher tolerance for repetitive tasks than others. Most retail work involves considerable repetition, although dealing with individual customers injects some variety into a cashier-stocker’s day.

Degree of Autonomy from Supervision: Even if your cashiers have the discretion to handle all refunds, and cooks get to choose what to make each day, they all still need to accept the authority of a supervisor who is empowered to intervene when she deems it necessary.

Pressure to Meet Deadlines: People who get easily flustered under pressure might not thrive on the retail floor. Morning grocery stockers and produce workers have to get their departments ready for store opening. Cooks must produce enough food for the lunch rush. Buyers have to call in orders by deadlines. Cashiers have the pressure of customers waiting in register lines.

Degree of Interdependence with Co-workers: All retail work is interdependent, though the degree of teamwork demanded varies from job to job.

Feedback: People with a high need for personal feedback, whether from supervisors, co-workers or customers, will probably flourish in retail.

Part versus Whole Task: A lot of front-end and deli counter work involves doing parts of tasks, not whole ones. Since these two departments tend to have high turnover, look for motivational fit in this factor when hiring.

Perhaps contrary to conventional wisdom, intrinsic factors, inherent to the work itself like those listed above, have a significantly greater impact on motivational fit than extrinsic factors—physical work environment, schedule, compensation, promotion opportunities, supervisor’s style and commuting distance. For enjoyable and stimulating work, an employee might put up with low pay, a long commute, a hard schedule, or even a negative relationship with a boss.

Questions to ask

• Focus on the intrinsic factors when interviewing applicants. Here are some interview questions to help determine motivational fit:

• What parts of your work has given you the greatest feeling of achievement and satisfaction?

• What parts have been most frustrating and unsatisfying?

• Have you ever worked as a (open position) before?

• What did you like most about it? What did you like least about it?

• Why did you leave that job?

• What would interest you in a similar position?

• Which supervisors have you found easiest to work with? Which were most difficult? Why? •

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