The Basic Idea
A vibrant workplace culture and friendly environment are very important factors in a company’s success. Employees don’t want to feel like a cog in the system or a number in a spreadsheet – they want to be able to make meaningful contributions. Developing organizational commitment, the bond that employees feel towards their organization, can help employees feel important, connect with their colleagues, and improve productivity.1
A key component of organizational commitment is affective commitment. Affective commitment refers to an employee’s perceived emotional attachment to their organization. Affective commitment is found when an employee feels like their personal values and priorities are in line with the company’s mission and feel at home in the organization. Affective commitment can turn employees into great brand ambassadors who are motivated to do their best.1 When we feel a personal connection to our workplace and enjoy the culture, we usually want to be there.
Theory, meet practice
TDL is an applied research consultancy. In our work, we leverage the insights of diverse fields—from psychology and economics to machine learning and behavioral data science—to sculpt targeted solutions to nuanced problems.
Attitudinal Commitment: An emotional attachment that one feels mentally with their organization as a result of congruent goals and values.
Behavioral Commitment: Past behaviors that cause someone to feel attached to their organization.
Continuance Commitment: Commitment to an organization based on a feeling that one has to stay, often for financial reasons.
Normative Commitment: Commitment to an organization caused by feelings of guilt that leaving would hurt the organization or fellow coworkers.
In the 1970s and 1980s, an abundance of psychological research was being conducted investigating what factors cause people to feel connections towards their workplace. The results manifested in organizational commitment theory, which divided commitment into two categories: attitudinal commitment and behavioral commitment. Academics Lyman W. Porter and Richard M. Steers defined attitudinal commitment as a mindset where individuals consider whether their goals and values are congruent with their employing organizations. They defined behavioral commitment as the process through which an individual’s past behavior binds them to their organization. For example, behavioral commitment can be as simple as signing a job offer, as it can make someone feel committed to their work.3
In 1990, Canadian organizational psychologists Dr. John Meyer and Dr. Natalie J. Allen believed that the existing model of organizational behavior was lacking. They identified three distinct ways individuals could feel psychologically committed to their organization, with each one being the result of a different emotion.4
The pair suggested that individuals, as a result of need, feel a sense of continuance commitment. Continuance commitment refers to how much people feel as though they have to stay at their organization. It was first defined in 1970 by sociologist Robert Stebbins as “the awareness of the impossibility of choosing a different social identity […] because of the immense penalties involved in making the switch.”4 This need to stay may be caused by financial circumstances or a lack of other work prospects. Essentially, the perceived costs of leaving the company make employees stay. While continuance commitment does make employees stay at their job, they do so out of a sense of compulsion, which can cause them to feel dissatisfied with their work.1
Meyer and Allen also proposed that people become bonded to work as a result of obligation, which they called normative commitment. Normative commitment is similar to continuance commitment, as it depends on the degree to which employees feel as though they must stay at their company. However, the basic driving motivation behind the commitment differs. Normative commitment spawns from feelings of guilt, rather than someone wanting to continue fulfilling basic needs. Normative commitment occurs because employees feel that leaving their company would hinder its performance or put added pressure on colleagues. It stems from our sense of morality; we might feel that the right thing to do is stay at the company. While guilt can extend an employee’s longevity at a company, it can also cause stress and dissatisfaction at work.1
Finally, individuals can demonstrate commitment as a result of individual desire. Affective commitment describes how people can show affection and commit to their organization because they believe it upholds similar values to their own. This positive emotional commitment to one’s company can increase job satisfaction. People stay because they truly want to, not because of a sense of need or obligation.5
Meyer and Allen believed all three forms of commitment occur as the result of a psychological state, rather than any concrete or tangible attachment. Furthermore, whichever one is felt will characterize an employees’ relationship to their organization, and can have implications for their long-term commitment to the organization. The three are not mutually exclusive; employees likely feel a combination of these components of commitment. 4
Meyer and Allen stated that there were many different factors that act as antecedents to commitment, which impact what sense of commitment someone feels. These antecedents included personal characteristics, previous work experiences, workplace culture, and side investments.4 For example, someone who tends to feel threatened by authority might have a stronger sense of normative commitment. On the other hand, someone with strong financial investments might feel less continuance commitment, as their finances aren’t completely tied to their work. Someone who has numerous positive experiences with their boss might feel greater affective commitment. Further factors that can influence how likely an individual is to feel these different psychological commitments include differences in gender, age, and ethnicity.
Working closely with Porter and Steers, Mowday was a psychologist who studied management and organizational commitment. Together, they came up with the Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ), which was designed to define and measure commitment, which was a prominent issue with organizational commitment theory at the time:6 The OCQ is a 15-item scale that uses a 5-point system that quizzes individuals on their willingness to put in the effort, their desire to maintain membership in their organization, and their acceptance of organizational values.7
Lyman W. Porter
Porter was an academic administrator who co-authored several papers with Mowday and Steers. While he often amalgamated literature on organizational commitment to streamline concepts, an important individual contribution was his development of a comprehensive theory of motivation that would influence organizational commitment studies. His model assumed that individuals are rational beings who make intentional decisions about their work behavior. These individuals have unique needs, desires, expectations, and goals, which they will use to decide how to behave. In this model, individual needs and desires can influence which component of commitment an individual is most psychologically affected by.8
Richard M. Steers
Another academic administrator with expertise in management, Steers collaborated with Mowday and Porter in publishing a vast number of papers regarding organizational commitment. His major personal contributions included a ‘goal optimization’ approach to measuring commitment and success, where, instead of evaluating success in terms of which goals have been maximized, constraints like money, time, and contrasting goals restrict employee’s ability to reach their desired goals. He suggested that studies should instead measure how successful employees were at achieving goals within the constraints imposed by available resources.9
John Meyer & Natalie J. Allen
Canadian psychologists who first broke down psychological organizational commitment into three separate components: continuance commitment, normative commitment, and affective commitment.
Stebbins is a sociologist who has spent decades researching organizational commitment. He is most well-known for his serious-leisure perspective, which broke down leisure into three different categories: serious, casual, and project-based. He suggested that the kind of leisure someone was engaging in would influence their organizational commitment.10
Organizational commitment theory research has found that there is a negative relationship between commitment and turnover. The less committed someone feels, the less likely they are to stay at their place of employment. However, prior to Meyer and Allen’s contributions, any kind of commitment was seen as equally beneficial. As long as an employee was committed, then they would stay. Meyer and Allen recognized that there are kinds of commitment, with some being more beneficial than others. From this new viewpoint, individuals began to regard organizational effectiveness as dependent on more than just a stable workforce.4
Affective commitment, unlike continuance and normative commitment, comes from a desire to stay. Employees don’t feel like their hands are tied, and they actively want to continue working at their organization. Retention can be achieved using any form of psychological commitment, but affective commitment can improve member well-being and employee performance as well. Research has shown that affective commitment results in employees taking fewer sick days, performing better, feeling more engaged with their organization, and being more willing to help their colleagues.11
If someone feels like their organization reflects their personal values, they might decide to wear company merchandise even when they aren’t at work. They feel proud about their work, and in return, their company gets free advertising. Their personal identity becomes tied to their workplace identity, which leads them to internalize the company’s mission. Affective commitment also leads to improved job satisfaction, which improves willingness to volunteer when extra responsibilities are offered or when long hours need to be put into a project. Even when an attractive work opportunity comes their way, an employee with a strong emotional connection to their work is not likely to jump ship due to their sense of loyalty to the company.11
Since affective commitment results in so many positive outcomes, companies should focus on cultivating this bond. The similar-to-me effect suggests that people tend to like those that are similar to them, so managers should form personal connections with their employees by finding common ground. Managers should also encourage team bonding so that employees feel connected to their organization through more than their role. It is also important to have a clear company mission that outlines the company’s values so that employees can ensure it matches their own values.
Just a couple of years after Meyer and Allen’s three-component model, another competing multi-dimensional approach emerged. Charles O’Reilly and Jennifer Chatman, academic experts in management, were wary about the predictive validity of Meyer and Allen’s model. They believed their definition of continuance commitment was too vague and saw some overlap between the concepts of normative and affective commitment. They also believed there needed to be a clearer distinction between commitments made before and after gaining membership into an organization.12
While O’Reilly and Chatman saw a lot of value in Meyer and Allen’s model, they suggested that psychological attachment should be divided into identification and internalization. These two processes had been heavily researched as the root cause of what causes one to form a bond, which could be applied to continuance, normative, or affective attachment. O’Reilly and Chatman also incorporated another dimension to commitment: instrumental exchange. Instrumental exchange refers to one’s perception of the quality of the exchange between their contributions and what they get out of their contributions.12
Other criticism points to the fact that the model does not focus enough on how personality impacts commitment, despite it acknowledging that personal characteristics do influence the three forms of commitment.12 Moreover, Meyer and Allen suggest that affective commitment is the ‘best’ bond regardless of personality; however, there may be people who do not need to form an emotional attachment to their job, as it is simply a means to an end. It could also be argued that their model focuses too heavily on personal commitment, rather than exploring the impacts of managerial style and treatment on one’s commitment.
Reward Power and Affective Commitment
Organizational commitment is often tied to perceived attachments and perceptions of the company, regardless of whether the perceptions are accurate. Therefore, organizational commitment can be influenced by the type of power employees perceive their manager to have.
In 1959, social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven identified that there were five different kinds of power that employees perceived managers to have:
- legitimate power (manager has formal rights to make demands)
- reward power (manager can give compensation for effort)
- expert power (manager has expert knowledge on the subject)
- referent power (manager seen as worthy of respect)
- coercive power (manager able to give punishments)
The type of power an employee perceives their manager to hold is likely to affect which commitment component is most prominent in their psyche. For example, coercive power is likely to be linked to continuance commitment, as people feel like they must stay at their job to avoid punishment. 13
Dr. Haidi Teimouri, a professor of management at the University of Isfahan in Iran hypothesized that reward power could be linked to the development of affective commitment.14 In her 2015 study, which examines how different types of perceived power influenced organizational commitment, Teimouri found that all forms of power led to greater affective commitment. However, she found that reward power led to the greatest affective commitment, whereas coercive power had the smallest influence on affective commitment.14
Sometimes, when rewards are given to employees for completing their work, they come to form positive associations with working hard and are more likely to continue their efforts in the future. However, the crowding out effect actually suggests otherwise, as it describes the tendency for people to lose intrinsic motivation to complete a task when an external reward is offered.
These findings provide businesses with practical tools through which they can ensure that employees develop an affective commitment to their workplace and stay a part of the organization.
Related TDL Content
Affective commitment can influence someone’s behavior both inside and outside of work. It impacts not only the bond we have to our own workplaces, but to any company that we might be consumers of. If we believe in the mission of a company, we are willing to spend money on their goods and services. In recent years, as consumers have become more concerned with climate change, companies have committed to sustainable practices and match their values to the public. In this article, TDL contributor Maria Gheorghe examines how affective commitment can impact sustainable public procurement.
Here at The Decision Lab, we understand how far a simple thank-you can go. Expressing gratitude, especially in these unprecedented times, can help employees feel recognized and feel like their work is meaningful. In this article, our writer Kaylee Somerville outlines the vast history of gratitude research which demonstrates that superiors that express thanks lead to more committed and satisfied subordinates.
- Van der Werf, R. (2020, January 3). 3 Key Types of Organisational Commitment. Effectory. https://www.effectory.com/knowledge/3-key-types-of-organisational-committment/
- Heathfield, S. M. (2019, November 21). Inspirational Quotations About Commitment for the Workplace. The Balance Careers. https://www.thebalancecareers.com/inspirational-quotations-about-business-1918439
- Prabhakar, G. V., & Ram, P. (2011). Antecedent HRM Practices for Organizational Commitment. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 2(2), 55-62. http://www.ijbssnet.com/journals/Vol._2_No._2%3B_February_2011/6.pdf
- Allen, N. J., & Meyer, J. P. (1990). The measurement and antecedents of affective, continuance and normative commitment to the organization. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 63(1), 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2044-8325.1990.tb00506.x
- Grimsley, S., & Allison, J. (2015, October 21). Organizational Commitment: Definition, Theory & Types. Study.com. https://study.com/academy/lesson/organizational-commitment-definition-theory-types.html
- Mowday, R. T., Steers, R. M., & Porter, L. W. (1979). Organizational commitment questionnaire. PsycTESTS Dataset. https://doi.org/10.1037/t08840-000
- Jameel, M. (2020, July 26). The Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ). Psychological Scales. https://scales.arabpsychology.com/s/the-organizational-commitment-questionnaire-ocq/
- Venkatesh. (2015, May 15). Porter and Lawler Model of Motivation (With Diagram). Word Press. https://www.yourarticlelibrary.com/entrepreneurship/motivation-entrepreneurship/porter-and-lawler-model-of-motivation-with-diagram/53299
- Steers, R. M. (1976). When is an organization effective? A process approacht to understanding effectiveness. Organizational Dynamics, 5(2), 50-63. https://doi.org/10.1016/0090-2616(76)90054-1
- Basic Concepts. (n.d.). The Serious Leisure Perspective (SLP). Retrieved June 29, 2021, from https://www.seriousleisure.net/concepts.html
- What is Affective Commitment? (2019, July 1). Organizational Psychology Degree s. https://www.organizationalpsychologydegrees.com/faq/what-is-affective-commitment/
- Cohen, A. (2007). Commitment before and after: An evaluation and reconceptualization of organizational commitment. Human Resource Management Review, 17(3), 336-354. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.hrmr.2007.05.001
- Reward Power. (2021, June 17). The Decision Lab. https://thedecisionlab.com/reference-guide/psychology/reward-power/
- Teimouri, H., Izadpanah, N., Akbariani, S., Jenab, K., Khoury, S., & Moslehpour, S. (2015). The effect of managerial power on employees’ affective commitment: Case study. Journal of Management Policies and Practices, 3(2). https://doi.org/10.15640/jmpp.v3n2a3