Theory of Work Adjustment

The theory of work adjustment (TWA) describes how and explains why workers adjust to their work environments. It depicts adjustment as the interaction of person (P) with environment (E). Interaction refers to P and E acting on as well as reacting to each other. P and E interact because, to begin with, each has requirements that the other can fill, and each has capabilities to fill the other’s requirements. So long as each is satisfied with the outcomes, the interaction will be maintained. But when one or both are dissatisfied with the outcomes, adjustment will be attempted. The theory of work adjustment asserts that satisfaction and work adjustment depend not so much on P variables or E variables, but on the particular combination of P and E variables (TWA calls the combination P-E correspondence). Thus, in TWA, work adjustment is described and explained by two psychological propositions: (a) Satisfaction drives behavior, and (b) satisfaction is a function of P-E correspondence. (Here, satisfaction extends to dissatisfaction and correspondence to discorrespondence.)

In TWA, P and E are described in parallel and complementary terms. P requirements are called needs, and E requirements are called tasks. Needs are requirements for specific reinforcers, such as compensation and opportunity to achieve. Tasks are response requirements to produce a product or perform an action. Needs differ in degree of importance, whereas tasks differ in degree of difficulty. P has response capabilities, called skills, to meet E tasks, and E has reinforcement capabilities, reinforcers, to meet P needs. Furthermore, TWA posits latent dimensions as underlying needs, called values, and latent dimensions as underlying skills, called abilities. To summarize, in TWA, P is described as having needs and skills, or values and abilities, whereas E is described as having reinforcers and tasks (but see the next paragraph).

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To measure P-E correspondence requires that both P and E be described in the same terms. P needs are defined as reinforcer requirements, which allows them to be compared with E reinforcers. E tasks can be redefined in terms of their skill requirements, which can then be compared with P skills. Thus, two P-E correspondences can be calculated: E reinforcer to P need (reinforcer requirement) correspondence, and P skill to E skill requirement correspondence. Two other P-E correspondence measures can be calculated by using P values and P abilities. This would require that latent dimensions be determined for E reinforcers and E skill requirements, which dimensions can be called reinforcer factors and ability requirements, respectively. These two P-E correspondences will therefore be E reinforcer factor to P value correspondence and P ability to E ability requirement correspondence.

Satisfaction is the affective evaluation of a situation. In TWA, P is satisfied when P needs are reinforced by E, and E is satisfied when E tasks are accomplished by P. To avoid confusion and to keep the focus on P, TWA calls E satisfaction P satisfactoriness. (P satisfaction extends to P dissatisfaction, and P satisfactoriness extends to P unsatisfactoriness.) P satisfaction and P satisfactoriness lead to tenure (length of stay on the job). For TWA, satisfaction, satisfactoriness, and tenure are the indicators of work adjustment in P.

In TWA, P satisfaction is predicted from P(need)-E(reinforcer) correspondence, or also from P(value)-E(reinforcer factor) correspondence. P satisfactoriness is predicted from P(skill)-E(skill requirement) correspondence, or from P(ability)-E(ability requirement) correspondence. Tenure is predicted from the P satisfaction-P satisfactoriness combination. Satisfaction in P and E results in maintenance behavior, whereas dissatisfaction in P and/or E leads to adjustment behavior P dissatisfaction may eventually lead to P quitting the job, whereas P unsatisfactoriness may lead to P getting demoted or fired by E.

To improve prediction, TWA has recourse to moderator variables, in the use of which the prediction correlation increases with higher values in the moderator variable. Three moderator variables are used by TWA: P satisfactoriness, P satisfaction, and P-E style correspondence. P satisfactoriness moderates the prediction of P satisfaction from P(need)-E(reinforcer) correspondence or from P(value)-E(reinforcer factor) correspondence—prediction is better for more satisfactory than for less satisfactory Ps. P satisfaction moderates the prediction of P satisfactoriness from P(skill)-E(skill requirement) correspondence or from

P(ability)-E(ability requirement) correspondence— prediction is better for more satisfied Ps. P-E style correspondence moderates the prediction of both P satisfaction and P satisfactoriness from their respective P-E correspondence predictors—prediction is better when P-E style correspondence is higher. P style refers to distinctive characteristics of P’s manner of responding and is described by four variables: celerity(response latency), pace (response intensity), rhythm (response pattern), and endurance (response duration). E style can be described by four parallel variables, which would then allow P-E style correspondence to be assessed.

The theory of work adjustment describes the work adjustment process further by introducing the concept of adjustment style, the distinctive characteristics of adjustment behavior. P’s adjustment style can be described by four variables: flexibility, which refers to the amount of P-E discorrespondence P is typically willing to tolerate before initiating adjustment behavior; activeness, or P’s tendency to act on E to change E to reduce P-E discorrespondence; reactiveness, or P’s tendency to react to E by changing self to reduce P-E discorrespondence; and perseverance, or how long P typically continues adjustment behavior before either giving up or leaving E. To change E means changing E reinforcers and/or E skill requirements, whereas to change P (self) means changing P needs and/or P skills. The purpose, then, of adjustment behavior is to change P-E discorrespondence to P-E correspondence or, at the cognitive level, to change dissatisfaction to satisfaction. When P-E correspondence or satisfaction is attained, P and E return to maintenance behavior.

Whereas the above explication of TWA is written with the focus on P, it is also possible to view work adjustment with the focus on E—that is, TWA can view P and E as symmetrical. In this symmetrical view, E would have the kind of requirements and capabilities that P has, and vice versa. That is, E would have reinforcer requirements (E needs and E values) and response capabilities (E skills and E abilities) in addition to response requirements and reinforcement capabilities, whereas P would additionally have reinforcement capabilities (P reinforcers and P reinforcer factors) and response requirements (P skill requirements and P ability requirements). There would also be E satisfaction, E satisfactoriness, and E adjustment style (E flexibility, E activeness, E reactiveness, and E perseverance). The possibility of E style (E celerity, E pace, E rhythm, and E endurance) has already been noted in the discussion of P-E style correspondence. And finally, for E, just as for P, (a) satisfaction drives behavior, and (b) satisfaction is a function of P-E correspondence.


  1. Dawis, R. V. (1996). The theory of work adjustment and person-environment-correspondence counseling. In D. Brown & L. Brooks (Eds.), Career choice and development (3rd ed., pp. 75-120). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Dawis, R. V. (2002). Person-environment correspondence theory. In D. Brown (Ed.), Career choice and development (4th ed., pp. 427-464). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  3. Dawis, R. V. (2005). The Minnesota theory of work adjustment. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling (pp. 3-23). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
  4. Dawis, R. V., & Lofquist, L. H. (1984). A psychological theory of work adjustment. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  5. Lofquist, L. H., & Dawis, R. V. (1969). Adjustment to work. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

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