Work Adjustment Theory (TWA)

Dawis & Lofquist (1964) – 1984



Just like a fish may not realise it swims in water, it’s easy not to realise how much we live in a work-oriented society. If we look closely at the institutions that surround us, many of these revolve around ‘work’, including schools and a lot of social institutions. Of course, the deeper basis of this is the monetised society we live in and work as a means of acquiring the financial means to live. Work Adjustment Theory focuses on exploring the meaning(s) of work for people. We use a lot of definitions linked to work (job, occupation, vocation, etc…) and Dawis and Lofquist (1984, p.3) argue that these don not bring out the full meaning of work to the individual. They wonder whether this includes work being a focal point for the development for one’s way of life and argue for work to be understood in the social context of the work values held by the individual’s society. This contrasts with the way work is perceived in the context of leisure, possibly because someone has a lot of financial means and doesn’t need to work. What kind of meaning does a ‘life of leisure’ offer for the individual, if any meaning at all? In other words; what meaning would our life have if we didn’t work in any shape or form? This question in itself allows us to consider the meaning of work in a different way.

Work Adjustment Theory – underlying ideas

Dawis and Lofquist summarise the Theory of Work Adjustment with the following statements (1984, p.9 & p.10). These are key to understanding their thinking so I have added them verbatim from their work:
  • Work is conceptualised as an interaction between an individual and a work environment.
  • The work environment requires that certain tasks be performed, and the individual brings skills to perform the tasks.
  • In exchange, the individual requires compensation for work performance and certain preferred conditioins, such as a safe and comfortable place to work.
  • The environment and the individual must continue to meet each other’s requirements for the interaction to be maintained. The degree to which the requirements of both are met may be called correspondence.
  • Work adjustment is the process of achieving and maintaining correspondence. Work adjustmeht is indicated by the satisfaction of the individual with the work environment and by the satisfaction of the work environment with the individual, by the individual’s satisfactoriness.
  • Satisfaction and satisfactoriness result in tenure, the principal indicatyor of work adjustment. Tenure can be predicted from correspondence of the individual’s work personality with the work environment.
  • Work personalities and work environments can be described in terms of structure and style variables that are measured on the same dimentions.
I think that this is an excellent summary for understanding Work Adjustment Theory and the principles it’s based on. Dawis and Lofquist go on to argue that the language and terms to describe and assess both the structure of the work environment and the style of work personality should be the same. If so, that will offer a tool to use to determine or predict the degree of correspondence between the two accurately and for understanding the satisfactoriness of the individual in the workplace and vice versa. Let’s have a look at how this works… Work Asjustment Theory is a theory of satisfaction and needs, for instance between employers/worker environment (E) and employees/person (P). The theory posits that a person would act on environmental stimuli and the other way round. Work Adjustment Theory by Dawis & Lofquist; Balanced P-E correspondence. However, when the correspondence between P and E has reached a certain threshold of imbalance, a worker will act on their environment’s demands and the environment will react to a worker’s lack of action to its stimuli. For example:
  • when an employer expects too much from a worker or if work is boring and uninspiring, an employee will respond by looking for other work or taking other action if a threshold has been reached
  • an employer may expect an employee to do certain tasks to a set standard. When the employee is not fulfilling what an employer requires, they can be sacked. Or when an employee doesn’t have the skills to do a certain task, the employer may require the employee to engage in additional training.
  • an employee may have creative ideas to improve the employer’s output. The employer responds by implementing the ideas and the employee will have a more interesting job as a result.
Work Adjustment Theory by Dawis and Lofquist; dissatisfaction or imbalance. To enable us to measure the level of balance/imbalance and to understand better the relationship between P and E, additional analysis of both is required. Work Adjustment Theory by Dawis and Lofquist; Measurement of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. If you would like to find an excellent more in depth explanation of Work Adjustment Theory, have a look on this website.

Links with other theories

When reading Dawis and Lofquist’s work, it is clear that this theory belongs to the ‘Trait and Factor family’ of theories. I was also frequently reminded of a couple of other theories, especially the Career Engagement Model and 2 Factor Theory, when it comes to evaluating how we are in the workplace. On the other hand, when we try and apply this to planning, as opposed to describing our experience within the workplace, then it occurred to me that there are quite a few other theories that can help us with this (links open in new tabs):

Work Adjustment Theory in practice.

In the context above, Work Adjustment Theory offers us a different way of looking at work and especially when used in conjunction with other theories, this may offer us new ways of working with clients who present with dissatisfaction about their work and who are looking for a more fulfilling role. This will of course include those clients who want to change direction but also those who have been made redundant to help them reassess what happened, where they are and what their own relationship is to work, so they can make a well informed (information on who they are and what they need) decision on where to move to next. In a general practical sense, when used with clients, it prompts the client to bring out values which can then be matched to the work environment that connects with these values. Of course, this is how I see things and you may have a very different way of looking at Work Adjustment Theory and how it would work for you, which would be equally valid. This theory has, over time, offered me an additional way of looking at ‘work’ and ‘the individual’ and has been valuable in asking clients challenging questions and at the same time offer them a way of understanding themselves and their relationship to work.


I hope you agree that this theory ticks quite a few of the boxes in the Brown diagram. I find this really useful as a theory to challenge my insight into the world of work in general and add to what is on offer in other theories. The key statements Work Adjustment Theory have a solid logic to them which I appreciate. However, I’m not sure it’s a ‘catch all’ holistic theory in the sense that it concentrates completely on ‘work’, however important this is, and I’m not sure that it can be used in its entirity in career guidance. For some, this may sound counterintuitive because, we are career professionals after all. However, I very much subscribe to the notion that ‘career’ denotes ‘life career’. I would argue that we help clients make decisions about their lives, not just jobs, though work is such an important part of our wider context, our life. Therefore, for me at least, Work Adjustment Theory can only be part of any intervention, not the entirity or entire basis of it. Over to you… How do you feel about Dawis and Lofquist’s work? Of course, what is on this page is just a summary representation of their work and I very much encourage you to read their original work and create your own idea. Their original work does go into a lot of detail which may or may not be relevant for the work we do, however. If interested, you can find a .pdf copy on the web. I don’t want to repeat what is out there already when it comes to using the theory. You can find excellent suggestions, to which I have very little to add, on


  • Dawis, R.V. and Lofquist, L.H. (1984) A psychological theory of work adjustment: An individual-differences model and its applications. Minnesota, MI: University of Minnesota Press.

Useful links: