Employees are cultural fits when their individual values, behaviours and work style are in aligment with their company’s or team’s. It would, therefore, be apt to describe ‘culture fit’ as encompassing shared values, beliefs and attitudes, which can affect how well someone fits into an organisation’s culture. A strong cultural fit can lead to enhanced teamwork, employee engagement and overall organisational cohesion.
However, the question of whether it is ethical and legal to terminate an employee for being a cultural misfit remains a complex issue.
Praveer Priyadarshi, senior HR leader, says that cultural fit should be approached as part of a broader commitment to diversity and inclusion, with a focus on maintaining a positive workplace culture that values the unique contributions of all its members.
“When an employee’s actions involve misalignment with the organisation’s values and culture, it can lead to disruptive behaviours that affect productivity and create internal conflicts within the team. This kind of behaviour can indeed pose considerable concerns, influencing the overall work environment and organisational culture”
Praveer Priyadarshi, senior HR leader
The critical distinction when addressing the issue of cultural misfit in the workplace lies in determining whether it directly impacts the individual’s job performance or creates a hostile work environment through problematic behaviour. If being a cultural misfit significantly affects an employee’s ability to perform their job effectively or disrupts the productivity and morale of the team, it becomes an issue that warrants careful consideration.
Priyadarshi shares, “When an employee’s actions involve misalignment with the organisation’s values and culture, it can lead to disruptive behaviours that affect productivity and create internal conflicts within the team. This kind of behaviour can indeed pose considerable concerns, influencing the overall work environment and organisational culture.”
He further explains how the employer-employee relationship is all about a shared mission where the employee’s responsibility is to contribute to the betterment of the organisation. “This partnership is typically formalised through an employment contract, which outlines the rights, responsibilities and expectations of both parties. These contracts often contain clauses requiring employees to adhere to company policies, processes and legal requirements. If there is a perceived violation of these terms, the organisation may have the right to take action, such as addressing issues related to misconduct, indiscipline, inefficiency and productivity concerns, as these factors can disrupt the work environment and overall company performance,” explains Priyadarshi.
On the other hand, if the cultural misfit does not manifest in a way that hinders job performance or creates a hostile work environment, alternative solutions, such as cultural sensitivity training or constructive feedback, may be more appropriate than immediate termination. Striking the right balance between nurturing a diverse and inclusive work environment and ensuring operational efficiency is the key to managing the complexities of cultural fit in the workplace.
Vivek Tripathi, VP-HR, Newgen Technologies, points out, “The termination may not be explicitly due to being a cultural misfit but rather because their actions are directly opposed to the company’s values.”
According to Tripathi, “Any organisation’s core values, especially those related to integrity and respect for all employees, are fundamental components of its culture. Violation of these core values, particularly by leaders, is taken very seriously. Complaints regarding partiality or harassment, especially involving senior leaders, are addressed with utmost gravity.”
“Any organisation’s core values, especially those related to integrity and respect for all employees, are fundamental components of its culture. Violation of these core values, particularly by leaders, is taken very seriously”
Vivek Tripathi, VP-HR, Newgen Technologies
It’s crucial for employers to be aware of their legal obligations and the potential for discrimination claims. In many jurisdictions, it is illegal to terminate an employee based on protected characteristics such as race, religion, or national origin. Decisions to terminate should be based on job-related factors and behaviours rather than cultural background.
Employers should establish clear expectations regarding cultural fit. This includes communicating company values and behavioural standards to all employees. Offering feedback and support to individuals who may not initially align with these expectations can be more constructive than immediate termination.
Performance vs cultural fit
It is important to differentiate between issues related to performance and cultural fit. If the employee’s misalignment is solely cultural but does not affect job performance, there may be alternative solutions that can be explored to address the issue without termination.
Fairness and consistency
Companies should apply cultural fit standards consistently to all employees and be mindful of potential bias. When considering termination, it’s essential to demonstrate that the decision is based on fair and objective criteria.
Before taking the extreme step of termination, it is advisable to consider alternative solutions such as cultural sensitivity training, conflict resolution, or coaching. These methods can help employees adapt to and better integrate into the workplace.
Vinod Parur, CHRO, RR Kabel, emphasises, “It’s crucial to recognise that the hiring decision is typically a mutual agreement between the employer and the employee, with shared expectations. From this standpoint, there may not be a compelling reason to terminate someone solely for being a cultural misfit.”
“It’s crucial to recognise that the hiring decision is typically a mutual agreement between the employer and the employee, with shared expectations. From this standpoint, there may not be a compelling reason to terminate someone solely for being a cultural misfit”
Vinod Parur, CHRO, RR Kabel
Instead, Parur suggests that the focus should be on maintaining integrity, compliance and a strong code of conduct within the organisation, ensuring that any behaviour that jeopardises sensitive information is not tolerated. Alternative approaches, such as orientation, training and surveys, can be explored to understand and address any cultural misalignment, fostering inclusivity.
While addressing cultural misfits is important, it should be done in a manner that respects the law, treats employees fairly and promotes inclusion. Employers should be aware of the legal landscape and make informed, ethical decisions while striving to provide opportunities for growth, understanding and cultural adaptation.