Cultural fit in the workplace: is it discrimination?

April 19, 2018
by Melissa Porter
An increasing amount of employers are focusing on cultural fit during the recruitment process. But what is it, why is it important, and is it discrimination?

As the candidate and skills shortage continues throughout most of the UK, many hiring managers are looking beyond candidate’s hard skills, and focusing on a new trait: cultural fit.

These employers are now realising that the skills needed for a role can be learnt either on the job, or through training provided, however factors such as individual values, work ethic, and performance are qualities that cannot be taught.

An increasing number of candidates are regularly being rejected from roles on the basis of “cultural fit”, but what does this mean? We take a look at what cultural fit is, the dangers of recruiting based on cultural fit, and why cultural fit is important during the recruitment process.

What is cultural fit?

Cultural fit refers to how well employees or candidates can resonate and adapt to a company’s core values, mission statements, and ethics.

When a potential employer turns a candidate down for cultural fit, this means that during the interview, the interviewers were unable to see how the applicant reflected the values or beliefs of the business.

However, reasons for being turned down due to cultural fit should not include: when a worker is deemed “too old to fit in” with younger team members, if a female is rejected because it’s an all-male team, or if they practice a religion that may be different to others.

These reasons do not reflect on an individual’s level of performance nor their work ethic, and as such is discrimination.

Cultural fit vs. Diversity

Anyone who shares the same ideals, values, and aim towards the shared goal of the business, regardless of ethnicity, gender, age, etc… can fit into the culture of an office.

The culture of an office makes a huge impact in someone’s decision to stay with the business, and it’s because their staff not only love what they do, but love where they work and how the business operates.

Using cultural fit during the hiring process is not being discriminatory, nor does it affect diversity in the workplace. However, it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to cover up discrimination. Rejecting an older worker for not being able to fit in to an office with younger staff is not cultural fit – it’s ageism.

A double-edged sword

During the hiring process, companies are looking to see who is able to adapt to the company’s core values, beliefs, and mission statements. They want to gauge attitude to work, level of job performance, and personal motivations.

Ultimately, a team all on the same page, believing in the company’s values, and all working towards a shared team goal will lead to the workforce feeling happier, higher retention rates, and better productivity all round.

But there is a risk to using the term “cultural fit” when rejecting a candidate, as it is often used as a blanket term to disguise unconscious bias. When this happens, the candidate is not turned down because they didn’t demonstrate a certain work ethic or share the same ideals, but in fact because they’re not young enough, they don’t like football, or because they didn’t conform to the norm within the team.

Why cultural fit is important

It is equally as important for both candidates and clients to discuss cultural fit during the recruitment process.

Employers should attempt to get to know the candidate more as a person as well as previous experience and skills. Main motivators and ambitions are all indicators of how an interviewee enjoys working, will give a better insight into their own values and beliefs.

Candidates should also research the company prior to attending an interview to learn more about the cultural fit and aim to demonstrate how they can adapt and share the values of the company.

Cultural fit has become such an important factor in today’s recruitment, and when the right person is hired, they are more likely to stay within the organisation for a long period of time, meaning less cost to the business for turnover, improved productivity rates, and heightened job satisfaction all round.




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