Commitment is the action of committing oneself to a particular course of conduct. In management research the notion is widely used in the sense of organizational commitment, describing an individual’s psychological attachment to a group or an organization and desire to remain part of it. High organizational commitment is expected to raise productivity by raising individual and organizational performance.
A number of definitions of organizational commitment have been produced over time. In the historical development of the definition we find three main approaches. An early definition of commitment is based on Howard Becker’s notion of side-bet theory. According to this theory committed employees are committed because they have hidden investments, “side-bets,” they have made by remaining in an organization that would be lost by leaving the organization.
A second approach was advanced by Lyman W. Porter and his colleagues. Shifting the focus to the psychological attachment of the employee to the organization, commitment was defined as the relative strength of an individual’s identification with and involvement in a particular organization. Commitment is here characterized by three criteria: acceptance of organizational goals and values, a willingness to exert considerable effort on behalf of the organization, and a desire to maintain membership in the organization.
A third approach sees commitment as a multidimensional phenomenon, as suggested by John P. Meyer and Natalie J. Allan’s three-component model of commitment, distinguishing between affective, continuance, and normative commitment.
Affective commitment refers to the employee’s positive emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the organization. Affective commitment is based on affective or emotional attachment to the organization so that the individual identifies with and enjoys membership of the organization. According to this approach, the desire of the employee to remain part of the organization is based on a feeling that he or she “wants to.”
Continuance commitment refers to the employee’s decision to remain part of the organization because of the perceived costs associated with leaving the organization. The continuance dimension was proposed as a better representation of Becker’s side-bet theory. Continuance commitment is based upon an evaluation of the economic costs, as well as the social costs, compared to the economic and social benefits of staying as a member of the organization. The employee decides to remain part of the organization because he or she “has to.”
Normative commitment refers to the employee’s commitment to an organization because of feelings of loyalty and an obligation to continued employment. The employee has a feeling of moral obligation to stay a member of the organization. These feelings may reflect an internalized norm that one should be loyal to your organization. The employee stays with the organization because he or she “ought to.” These three forms of commitment are viewed as components of attitudinal commitment; that is, employees may simultaneously be committed in the affective, continuance, and normative sense in varying degrees. The many different aspects of organizational commitment have been an important topic of research as well as what determines the degree of commitment. Research has indicated that the degree of commitment may depend on personal characteristics, job characteristics, and work experience.
Five foci of commitment have been identified in research on commitment: to work regardless of organization or job; to a specific job; to a union; to a career or a profession; and to an employing organization. Recent research has inquired into the relationships between the foci of commitment and has found four patterns of commitment: to the supervisor or work group (the locally committed); to top management and the organization (the globally committed); to both local and global foci (the committed); and individuals committed to neither global nor local foci.
Commitment is normally measured by attitudinal dimensions, e.g., identification with the goals and values of the organization; desire to belong to the organization; and willingness to display effort on behalf of the organization. Several different scales have been developed to measure organizational commitment, such as the Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ) developed by Porter and his colleagues. Meyer and Allan developed three scales to measure the three components of commitment they have suggested: the Affective Commitment Scale (ACS), the Continuance Commitment Scale (CCS), and the Normative Commitment Scale (NCS).
High organizational commitment is expected to raise productivity as well as individual and organizational performance. However, the strong positive link between commitment and performance is difficult to demonstrate clearly in empirical studies, indicating that the relationship between individual commitment and organizational performance is rather complex. High organizational commitment may contribute more generally to achieving long-term organizational goals by maintaining the cohesiveness of organizational structures and to aid integration. One of the issues raised that may limit these effects is extent of the homogeneity of employees. A lack of homogeneity of the workforce may lead to competition, disputes, and lack of common values, while a homogeneous workforce may stifle creativity and innovation.
A number of studies have analyzed organizational commitment in a cross-cultural context. One of the results of this type of study is that organizational commitment for Japanese workers was found to be rather low compared to, for example, U.S. workers.
- S. Becker, “Notes on the Concept of Commitment,” American Journal of Sociology (1960);
- R. Lincoln and A. L. Kalleberg, Culture, Control, and Commitment: A Study of Work Organization and Work Attitudes in the United States and Japan (Cambridge University Press, 1990);
- P. Meyer and N. J. Allen, “A Three-Component Conceptualization of Organizational Commitment,” Human Resource Management Review (1991);
- T. Mowday, L. W. Porter, and R, M. Steers, Employee-Organization Linkages (Academic Press, 1982);
- T. Mowday, R. M. Steers, and L. W. Porter, “The Measurement of Organizational Commitment,” Journal of Vocational Behavior (1979);
- W. Porter, R. M. Steers, E. M. Mowday, and P. V. Boulian, “Organizational Commitment, Job Satisfaction and Turnover among Psychiatric Technicians,” Journal of Applied Psychology (1974);
- Swailes, “Organizational Commitment: A Critique of the Construct and Measures,” International Journal of Management Reviews (2002).
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