Recruiting and retaining people in stigmatized occupations can be difficult for many organizations. Stigmatized occupations are jobs that may be seen by society as being physically or socially tainted.1
For example, jobs relating to animal control, corrections, and addiction counseling could be perceived as either physically or socially tainted. These occupations are extremely important and valuable occupations for society, but since there can be stigmas attached to them, it can make it difficult to both retain current employees and recruit new ones. Managers are in a unique position to help reduce the stigmas surrounding these occupations by increasing the levels of person-environment fit employees feel, beginning at the recruitment stage and continuing throughout the life cycle of employees.
Person-environment fit is most commonly defined as “the compatibility that occurs when individual and work environment characters are well matched,”2 and for stigmatized occupations, person-environment fit is especially important.
In a recent research study, managers of stigmatized occupations were interviewed about their practices surrounding the recruitment and retainment of employees.1 When asked about recruitment, managers described multiple strategies to help with recruiting applicants, with the first being to look for people who have had meaningful prior experience related to the occupation. This experience could be personal or professional experience and provides a connection between the applicant and the occupation.
For example, someone who wants to become an addiction counselor might have had a family member who struggled with an addiction.
This previous experience with the occupation could be a driving force for why they desire to be an addiction counselor, and they might even describe it as their calling. These are valuable characteristics to look for when hiring people into a stigmatized occupation.
Furthermore, realistic job previews were described as particularly effective during the recruitment stage. These allow applicants to experience critical areas of the job they are pursuing. Realistic job previews help applicants to be better informed about the occupation they would be joining, thereby decreasing the likelihood of them quitting the job shortly after being hired.
After experiencing a realistic job preview, the candidates who were still enthusiastic to continue through the application process would most likely have higher person-environment fit to their chosen occupation compared to other candidates.
For the incumbents or employees that were recently hired, managers need to utilize tactics that make employees feel like they are fitting in with the job responsibilities over time. Socialization practices are key here, and managers from the study recommended to gradually desensitize employees to the more distasteful or unpleasant tasks associated with stigmatized occupations.1 Employees will be able to adjust to smaller amounts of these tasks more effectively, and it will help them develop a stronger sense of person-environment fit over time. However, this may not always be possible, as some occupations require rapid immersion in the work.
In these situations, managers recommended providing ample support and resources to employees to alleviate some of the negative effects of rapid immersion.
Another important aspect of developing higher levels of person-environment fit is for managers to be continuously fostering social validation in their employees. This can be accomplished by reminding employees of the importance of their work and providing regular affirmation, which will help with their self-efficacy and encourage them to believe they are compatible with their job responsibilities.
Stigmatized occupations are necessary and important occupations for society. It is imperative for organizations to find people who feel like they are compatible with their chosen occupation, as well as continuously support these employees in their jobs. Managers are in the best position to positively impact the levels of person-environment fit in their employees, which, consequentially, will positively impact the recruitment and retention of their employees.