Practical Activities Using Person-Environment Correspondence Theory in Career Counseling Courses

By Chaiqua A. Harris & Diana Charnley

According to the Pew Research Center, the United States is in the wake of the Great Resignation and quiet quitting as only about half of U.S. workers report being extremely or very satisfied with their overall employer (Horowitz & Parker, 2023). Job satisfaction is influential in workers daily lives. This importance was explored by Dawis and Lofquist in 1984 when they developed the Theory of Work Adjustment (TWA) which was renamed in 1991 to Person Environment Correspondence (PEC). PEC focuses on the impact a person has on an environment, the impact the environment has on the person, and how they meet each other’s needs (Eggerth, 2008). The goal of PEC is to reach achieved satisfaction, specifically, the person’s needs are met by the environment and the person meets the environment’s needs (Luke & Gibbons, 2023). If there is discorrespondence (the person and environment needs are not being met), the goal is then focused on the development of satisfaction or restoration of satisfaction. Adjustments are made to reach satisfaction and/or restoration, and once this occurs the concept of maintenance (e.g. factors to maintain satisfaction are explored) becomes the goal (Luke & Gibbons, 2023).

PEC provides a framework for working with clients experiencing career dissatisfaction and predicts important outcomes of career success such as tenure, salary, and advancement (Bretz & Judge., 1994). As counselor educators prepare students for clinical work, it is pivotal they explore PEC in creative, evaluative, analytical, and applicable activities so that the budding practitioners have skills to assist clients in their pursuit of satisfying jobs.  Students learning how to implement PEC in practice can provide clients with efficacious tools to utilize while guiding the increasingly dissatisfied population through their career trajectory.

Activity 1- Speed Dating 

Counselor educators can actively integrate PEC into classroom settings, whether face-to-face or virtual, by playing the PEC speed dating game. Before the game is played, the students should complete the Strong Interest Inventory (SII). The SII was developed by Holland to examine an individual’s personality and work environment (Luke & Gibbons, 2023). The students are to use their SII results to explore their top three jobs. When doing the PEC speed dating game virtually, the counselor educator will create six breakout rooms (the jobs are based on the student SII results: six top jobs of the class). Each breakout room is labeled as a specific job, and in each of these rooms the job's environment is described. While in the breakout rooms, the students are to explore their six key values (i.e., achievement, comfort, status, altruism, safety, and autonomy) while examining flexibility, activeness, reactiveness, and celerity for the promotion of maintenance between them and the environment. After investigating these areas, the students choose which job is the best fit for them and explore the possibilities of maintaining satisfaction and strategies to meet this goal.  If the PEC speed dating game is played in a face-to-face setting the counselor educator can divide the classroom into six stations that are each labeled as a specific job based on the students' top jobs from the SII results. The students can float around to their top three matched jobs and explore the same areas identified for the virtual game.  

Activity 2 – Active or Reactive Mode Case Vignettes 

Case vignettes are a classic, but important, activity in many counselor education courses across content areas. To better apply and contextualize PEC, instructors present students with case vignettes depicting clients in various situations of discorrespondence. Case vignettes might be sourced from textbooks or inspired by the instructor’s own career counseling experiences with clients in discorrespondence, but instructors might also consider pulling in recent popular culture examples as cases. For example, instructors may include a video interview of a celebrity discussing a major career change (i.e., Dr. Ken Jeong discussing his transition from working as a medical doctor to actor and comedian), or an article about a public figure experiencing criticism about recent activities relative to their career (i.e., Taylor Swift discussing politics on social media). Instructors should be intentional about creating diverse case vignettes by considering representation with respect to cultural identities, using Hays’ (2001) ADDRESSING model, and selecting a variety of career paths. 

Once students have familiarized themselves with the case vignette or example, they choose either a reactive or active mode approach to address the discorrespondence and discuss what that might look like for the case vignette. To promote comparison and contrast, instructors may also choose to divide groups evenly between reactive mode, in which the person works to adjust to discorrespondence by changing themselves, and active mode, in which the person works to adjust to discorrespondence by changing their environment (Luke & Gibbons, 2023). In person, this process might look like students getting up and moving to different sides of the room and then discussing in groups, whereas in virtual synchronous settings, students might vote for either one and then join breakout rooms to discuss. Virtual asynchronous activities might integrate discussion boards  where each group articulates the details of their approach. As students discuss their approach, they should include analysis of relevant values, rewards, abilities, and requirements and the client’s sociocultural contexts in their conceptualization. As closure, small group deliberations can then be discussed as a large group. 

Istock 1511332387 Credit Jacob Wacherhausen

Retaining and Utilizing PEC Theory

Given the seemingly high levels of dissatisfaction of workers today, PEC is both an accessible and salient theory that career counselor educators should consider including in their course to stimulate engagement and learning on higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (i.e., knowledge, application, reflection), whether in person or remote learning modalities. Career course instructors might consider integrating such activities to better help students understand how to implement theory in practice. When students are engaged in applying theory to themselves and their world, they are more likely to retain the information and utilize it competently with their clients (Burch et al., 2019). Moreover, in an increasingly diverse and aging society, students need theories that help them work competently with their clients. Presenting PEC provides a tangible option to address these trends, including the impact of discrimination on work satisfaction (Foley & Lytle, 2015). The two activities presented provide opportunities for career counselor educators to engage students in the application of PEC to current trends and client needs. 



Bretz, Jr., R. D., & Judge, T. A. (1994). Person–organization fit and the theory of work adjustment: Implications for satisfaction, tenure, and career success. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 44(1), 32–54. https://doi.org/10.1006/jvbe.1994.1003  

Burch, G. F., Giambatista, R., Batchelor, J. H., Burch, J. J., Hoover, J. D., & Heller, N.A. (2019). A meta-analysis of the relationship between experiential learning and learning outcomes. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 17(3), 239-273. https://doi.org/10.1111/dsji.12188  

Eggerth, D. E. (2008). From theory of work adjustment to person-environment correspondence counseling: Vocational psychology as positive psychology. Journal of Career Assessment, 1(16), 60-74. https://doi.org/10.1177/1069072707305771

Foley, P. F., & Lytle, M. C. (2015). Social cognitive career theory, the theory of work adjustment, and work satisfaction of retirement-age adults. Journal of Career Development, 42(3), 199–214. https://doi.org/10.1177/0894845314553270  

Hays, P. A. (2001). Addressing cultural complexities in practice: A framework for clinicians and counselors. American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10411-000 

Horowitz, J. M., & Parker, K. (2023). How Americans view their jobs. Pew Research Center.

Luke, C., & Gibbons, M. M. (2023). Career-focused counseling: Integrating culture, development, and neuroscience (1st Ed.). Cognella. 


Chaiqua HarrisChaiqua Harris, PhD, NCC, is currently a Core Teaching Faculty member at Northwestern University and Course Lead for the Career Counseling course. Dr. Harris was selected to be a member of the National Career Development Association 2023 Counselor Educator Academy Cohort. She has 10 years of experience as a professor. Dr. Harris has worked as a middle school counselor, high school counselor, private behavior interventionist, and adolescent offender therapist. She obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education from Mississippi State University. Her research interests include academic self-efficacy, ethnic identity, African American women who hold the doctorate, African American hair, sexual orientations, gender differences, socioeconomic status, academic performance, children/adolescents, and the impact of nutrition on mental health, career issues and oppressed populations. She is an AAAA licensed professional school counselor for Mississippi and a National Certified Counselor. She has presented at several local, regional, and national counseling conferences as well as published multiple peer reviewed journal articles. She can be reached at charris@family-institute.org 


Diana CharnleyDiana Charnley, PhD, LMHC (WA), LPC (MI), ACS, BC-TMH, NCC, is a Core Faculty and CACREP Liaison at City University of Seattle, where she enjoys regularly teaching the career counseling course. She received her PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision from Western Michigan University. She is a LMHC in Washington state and an LPC in Michigan, as well as holding ACS, BC-TMH, and NCC credentials. Diana has a small telehealth private practice, including career counseling clients, and previous experience working as a career counselor and counselor in university, federal prison, in-patient, and agency settings with a variety of populations. Diana can be reached at charnleydiana@cityu.edu

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