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Concepts of Employee Work Commitment

Commitment is viewed as an attitude towards the organization that links the identity of the individual to the entity. According to Meyer and Allen (1991) commitment is a psychological state that characterizes the employee’s relationship with the organization and has implications for the decision to continue membership in the organization. Meyer and Allen (1997) extended the meaning of commitment as referring to the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization, and the employee’s feeling of obligation to remain with the organization taking into consideration the costs that the employee associates with leaving it.

Although there seems to be little consensus as to the precise meaning of commitment, Meyer and Allen (1997) contend that the various definitions reflect three broad propositions. These propositions indicate that commitment may be viewed as:

Reflecting an affective orientation toward the organization;Recognition of the costs associated with leaving the organization;Reflecting a moral obligation to remain with the organization.

The various definitions of commitment share a common proposition, in that commitment is considered to be a bond or linking of the individual to the organization. The definitions differ in terms of how this bond is considered to have developed. For example, some researchers refer to attitudinal commitment. This is defined as the relative strength of a person’s identification with and involvement in a particular organization. Conceptually, these researchers characterized commitment by at least three factors:

  • Strong belief in and acceptance of the organization’s goals and values;
  • Willingness to exert considerable effort on behalf of the organization;
  • Strong desire to maintain membership in the organization.

A second form of commitment is referred to as calculative commitment. Calculative commitment is defined as a structural event that occurs as a result of individual–organizational transactions and alternatives in side-bets over time. Through calculative commitment, individuals become bonded to an organization because they have invested in the organization (for example, a pension plan) and cannot afford to separate themselves from it. Other types of commitment have emerged, including normative commitment that describes a process whereby organizational actions, such as selection, socialization and procedures, as well as individual predispositions, such as loyalty attitudes, lead to the development of commitment.

According to O’Reilly and Chatman (1986) the psychological bond between an employee and an organization can take three distinct forms, termed as compliance, identification, and internalization. They contend that compliance occurs when attitudes and behaviours are adopted not because of shared beliefs but simply to gain specific rewards. Identification occurs when an individual accepts influence to establish or maintain a satisfying relationship. For instance, an individual may feel proud to be a part of a project team, respecting its values and accomplishments without adopting these values as his or her own. Internalization occurs when influence is accepted because the induced attitudes and behaviour are congruent with one’s own values, that is, the values of the individual, project team or organization are the same.

Meyer and Allen (1991) developed an integrated approach, utilizing the concepts put forward by various researchers and have defined commitment as consisting of three components:

  1. An affective component. This refers to the employee’s emotional attachment to, identification with and involvement in the organization. Those with strong affective commitment continue employment with the project team or the organization because they genuinely want to do so. They see the organization or project team as being part of themselves.
  2. A continuance component. This refers to commitment based on the costs that the employee associates with leaving the project team or organization. Employees whose primary link to the entity is based on continuance commitment remain with a project team or an organization because they need to do so and have no other viable alternative.
  3. A normative component. This refers to the employee’s feeling of obligation to remain with the organization. Employees with high level of normative commitment feel that they ought to remain with the project team or organization because they are grateful to it.

Research findings indicate that employee commitment is very fluid in the early period of employment but quickly begins to stabilize with the passage of time. Moreover, management behaviour can influence an employee’s commitment type, in terms of whether an employee is more affectively committed. Employee work commitment is an important issue for all types of organizations, particularly for organizations that undertake projects or are undergoing organizational change programmes. Some of the contributing factors that make employee work commitment imperative include:

  • The trend to organizational downsizing;
  • Employment mobility;
  • Job satisfaction;
  • The economic environment.

Trend to Organizational Downsizing

Even though organizations are becoming leaner, they must maintain a core of committed individuals who are the source of organizational activity. Those who remain, represent the “heart, brain, and muscle” of the organization (Meyer and Allen, 1997). It is therefore important to retain employees who will provide the greatest benefit to a specific project and the organization in general.

Employment Mobility

Workers who become less committed to an organization will route their commitment in other directions (Meyer and Allen, 1997). These employees may start to evaluate their skills and experience in terms of their marketability outside the organization, rather than by their implications for their current or future jobs in the organization. Management must invest in employees who want to remain members of the organization and participate in its projects. It should be noted that employee turnover rates in projects, particularly of specialist staff, affect the eventual success of the project in terms of delivering the defined scope on time, to cost and quality level.

Job Satisfaction

Research suggests that employees who develop a high level of work commitment are more inclined to be highly satisfied and fulfilled by their jobs. Therefore, employee work commitment is essential in the development of proactive and innovative project teams and organizations.

Economic Environment

In the current turbulent global economic scenario, organizational change is a continuous process that requires support of all employees in the hierarchical structure. Having employees with the appropriate levels of commitment facilitates the change management process and ensures its successful implementation.

Furthermore, human resources strategies related to employee recruitment, retention, reward and incentive policies need to be defined in a holistic manner having the primary aim of encouraging employees to posses the appropriate type and level of commitment. It is therefore essential for management to comprehend the dynamics that influence the development of commitment and take proactive initiatives to ensure that employees want to remain members of the project team or the organization, not because they have no other alternative but because they genuinely want to be part of the project team.

Consequences of Organizational Commitment

The development and consequence of employee work commitment within an organization, particularly a project team. Commitment depends on a number of factors, such as the employees’ personal characteristics, level of role conflict and ambiguity, job attributes, relationship between the employees and their supervisor, and the employees’ perception of how well an organization is being managed. Moreover, an outcome of commitment is work motivation. However, the level of work motivation will depend on the degree that individuals integrate with their organization and identify themselves with the organization’s objectives. Finally, the intensity of the employees’ integration with the organization and the magnitude of the work motivation will determine the level of the achieved performance gain.

Research suggests that affective, continuance and normative commitment are all related to employee retention, but in different ways. Given that an employee with strong affective and normative commitment feels an emotional attachment to, identification with and involvement in the organization, and has a feeling of obligation to remain with the organization, then this individual is likely to have a higher motivation level to contribute meaningfully to the project or organization than would an employee with weak affective and normative commitment.

Therefore, it is reasonable to suggest that those employees with strong affective and normative commitment are more likely to be absent less often and motivated to give a higher performance. This is in contrast to individuals who have strong continuance commitment. These individuals appear to become bound to an organization because they have invested in the organization and cannot afford to separate themselves from it. Thus, employees with strong continuance commitment are likely to make a decision to remain with the organization based on the costs that they associate with leaving the organization. Hence, these individuals are likely to abandon the project team or organization if they find an opportunity elsewhere that pays them more.

In practice, management wants more from committed employees than simply membership to the project team or the organization. Various research findings suggest that employees with strong affective and normative commitment are more valuable. When commitment reflects an emotional link to the project team, the project team may benefit through reduced turnover, increased productivity and higher job satisfaction among employees. However, when the commitment by the employee is based primarily upon financial aspects (costs associated with leaving) then the project team and organization may experience higher employee retention at the expense of reduced job satisfaction and self-esteem, and higher employee stress.

It is therefore suggested that organizations should implement Human Resource (HR) policies to develop the right type of commitment. For example, strategies such as rapid promotions and the development of departmental specific skills all tend to increase continuance commitment that may eventually work against the organization. Although continuance commitment measures may contribute to ensuring that an employee stays with the project team or organization, they may not encourage them to contribute to the project team’s or organization’s benefit. Instead, some employees may want to quit, but may not be able to afford to do so. Some employees may be motivated to do just enough to maintain their jobs.

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