Commitment in the Workplace: Theory, Research, and Application


John P. Meyer & Natalie J. Allen

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  • Advanced Topics in Organizational Behavior

    The Advanced Topics in Organizational Behavior series examines current and emerging issues in the field of organizational behavior. Written by researchers who are widely acknowledged subject area experts, the books provide an authoritative, up-to-date review of the conceptual, research, and practical implications of the major issues in organizational behavior.

    Editors: Julian Barling, Queen's University

    Kevin Kelloway, University of Guelph

    Editorial Board: Victor M. Catano, Saint Mary's University

    Cary L. Cooper, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology

    Daniel G. Gallagher, James Madison University

    Jean Hartley, University of Warwick

    Denise Rousseau, Carnegie-Mellon University

    Paul Spector, University of South Florida

    Lois E. Tetrick, University of Houston


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    To our families


    We started to conduct research on commitment in the early 1980s. Our interest was stimulated initially by practical considerations: What made some volunteers in nonprofit organizations so highly committed to their work, and how might this sense of commitment be instilled in others? As we began to examine the literature for clues about how commitment develops and is maintained, we discovered little consensus on the meaning of commitment. We spent many hours discussing the various definitions and trying to determine who was “right.” Eventually, we came to the conclusion that commitment is a multifaceted construct and that our understanding of how people become committed to an organization, nonprofit or otherwise, is better served by acknowledging this complexity rather than by choosing one approach over another.

    Our main objective in writing this book was to summarize what we have learned over the last decade and a half about what commitment is, how it develops, and what its implications are both for employees and for their organizations. Our focus is largely on the results of quantitative empirical research undertaken to establish general principles that apply across organizations (at least in North America). We recognize, therefore, that our treatment of the topic might have most obvious relevance to an academic audience, whether they are actively involved in commitment research or have a general interest in organizational behavior research.

    It is our hope, however, that those with more practical interests will also benefit from reading this book. Indeed, we believe that the framework provided here will help provide a better understanding of the commitment process and allow practitioners to scrutinize carefully the reports of more in-depth qualitative analyses of what did or did not work in other organizations and to evaluate what programs are most likely to work for them. Our scientific approach, therefore, should complement the treatment provided in business and trade journals, as well as in the popular press.

    The title of this book, Commitment in the Workplace, was chosen to reflect the various entities within the world of work to which one might become committed, including the organization, job, profession/occupation, manager/supervisor, team, and union. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly apparent that to explain why people do what they do at work, we need to understand the potentially complex relations among their various work and nonwork commitments. Nevertheless, the reader will discover that much of the theory and research discussed in this book focuses on employees' commitment to the organization. This focus reflects the state of the field: Only recently have researchers begun to look systematically at other work-relevant commitments. We attempt, at various points throughout the book, to demonstrate how what we have learned about organizational commitment might be applied to understanding commitment to other entities.

    Some might question whether employee commitment is a relevant issue in this era of rapid change, including reengineering and downsizing. The comment made by one executive upon learning that we were involved in this project was, “I guess it will be a short book.” We acknowledge that relationships between organizations and their employees are indeed changing. This fact, however, does not undermine the value of understanding how commitments develop and influence the nature of employee-organization relationships. To the contrary, we believe that workers, as human beings, inevitably develop commitments of one form or another that have an influence on their behavior at work. By understanding when and how commitments develop and how they help shape attitudes and behaviors, organizations will be in a better position to anticipate the impact that change will have and to manage it more effectively.

    The contributions of many individuals and organizations over the years have helped shape our thinking, our research program, and ultimately, this book. These include the many theorists and investigators whose work we cite throughout this book, including those whose work we turned to when we first became interested in commitment, and the more recent contributors to the literature whose work has consistently helped renew our interest and clarify our understanding. Our own research was made possible by research grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Imperial Oil of Canada, Ltd. Several former graduate students—Ramona Bobocel, Ian Gellatly, Greg Irving, and Cathy Smith—were active contributors in our research program. We were also very fortunate to have a number of very capable research assistants—Denise McLean, Patricia Lee, Alanna Leffley, Linda Irving, Jeff Nolan, Meridith Black, and Julie McCarthy—who spent many hours in the library and at the computer. Meridith and Julie also assisted greatly in the preparation of the final manuscript (and its previous incarnations). To each of these individuals we owe a sincere debt of gratitude. We also thank Julian Barling and Kevin Kelloway, the series editors, for inviting us to write this book, the reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions, and Marquita Flemming and the editorial staff at Sage for their help in the production process. Finally, we thank our parents—Doug and Trudy Allen and Gerry and Toddy Meyer—for their early support and encouragement, and our families—Steve, Jeffrey, and Sarah Lupker, and Trudy, Matthew, and Samantha Meyer—for being there when we needed them the most. It is to you that we dedicate this book.

  • Appendix: Measurement of Affective, Continuance, and Normative Commitment

    As we noted in Chapter 2, it is now generally recognized that commitment is a multidimensional construct. Our own research in the area of organizational commitment began with an attempt to illustrate how inconsistencies in the conceptualization and measurement of commitment might interfere with our understanding of the commitment process (Meyer & Allen, 1984). This early work led ultimately to the development of a three-component model of commitment and of measures of the three components: affective, continuance, and normative commitment (Allen & Meyer, 1990a; Meyer & Allen, 1991). This three-component framework served as the basis for our subsequent research and, in large measure, provides the structure for our discussion of commitment throughout this book.

    Although of seemingly less relevance than research conducted to examine the development and consequences of commitment, particularly to those with applied interests, research conducted for purposes of development and evaluation of commitment measures is nevertheless important. Indeed, the meaningfulness of substantive research depends on it. In this appendix, we present the Affective, Continuance, and Normative Commitment Scales referred to throughout this book, briefly describe how they were developed, and summarize the results of recent research as they pertain to the psychometric properties of these measures. A more complete review of this research is provided by Allen and Meyer (1996).

    Schwab (1980) outlined a set of recommendations for the psychometric evaluation of measures used in organizational behavior research. Included among the recommendations is an examination of the reliability (e.g., internal consistency, temporal stability) and factor structure of the measures. Items within a scale should measure the same construct, scale scores should be relatively stable across time (assuming no major changes in conditions that influence the construct), and items written to measure one construct should not correlate highly with items intended to measure unrelated constructs. Beyond this, Schwab noted that the construct validity of a measure can be assessed by examining its correlations with other constructs and comparing these correlations with what is expected theoretically. In the case of the Affective, Continuance, and Normative Commitment Scales being evaluated here, the three-component model described by Meyer and Allen (1991) provides such a theoretical framework, or “nomological net” (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955).

    Development of the Measures

    Development of the Affective, Continuance, and Normative Commitment Scales was based on the scale construction principles outlined by Jackson (1970) and described in detail elsewhere (Allen & Meyer, 1990a). Briefly, definitions of the three constructs were used to develop an initial pool of items that was then administered to a sample of men and women working in various occupations and organizations. Items were selected for inclusion in the scales on the basis of a series of decision rules that took into account the distribution of responses on the 7-point agree-disagree scale for each item, item-scale correlations, content redundancy, and the desire to include both positively and negatively keyed items. Each of the three scales resulting from this process comprised 8 items. These items are presented in Table A.1.

    TABLE A.1 Affective, Continuance, and Normative Commitment Scales
    Affective Commitment Scale Items
    • I would be very happy to spend the rest of my career in this organization.
    • I enjoy discussing my organization with people outside it.a
    • I really feel as if this organization's problems are my own.
    • I think I could easily become as attached to another organization as I am to this one. (R)a
    • I do not feel like “part of the family” at my organization. (R)
    • I do not feel “emotionally attached” to this organization. (R)
    • This organization has a great deal of personal meaning for me.
    • I do not feel a strong sense of belonging to my organization. (R)
    Continuance Commitment Scale Items
    • I am not afraid of what might happen if I quit my job without having another one lined up. (R)a
    • It would be very hard for me to leave my organization right now, even if I wanted to.
    • Too much of my life would be disrupted if I decided I wanted to leave my organization right now.
    • It wouldn't be too costly for me to leave my organization in the near future. (R)a
    • Right now, staying with my organization is a matter of necessity as much as desire.
    • I believe that I have too few options to consider leaving this organization.
    • One of the few negative consequences of leaving this organization would be the scarcity of available alternatives.
    • One of the major reasons I continue to work for this organization is that leaving would require considerable personal sacrifice; another organization may not match the overall benefits I have here.
    • If I had not already put so much of myself into this organization, I might consider working elsewhere.b
    Normative Commitment Scale Items (Original)
    • I think that people these days move from company to company too often.
    • I do not believe that a person must always be loyal to his or her organization. (R)
    • Jumping from organization to organization does not seem at all unethical to me. (R)
    • One of the major reasons I continue to work for this organization is that I believe loyalty is important and therefore feel a sense of moral obligation to remain.
    • If I got another offer for a better job elsewhere, I would not feel it was right to leave my organization.
    • I was taught to believe in the value of remaining loyal to one organization.
    • Things were better in the days when people stayed with one organization for most of their careers.
    • I do not think that wanting to be a “company man” or “company woman” is sensible anymore. (R)
    Normative Commitment Scale Items (Revised)
    • I do not feel any obligation to remain with my current employer. (R)
    • Even if it were to my advantage, I do not feel it would be right to leave my organization now.
    • I would feel guilty if I left my organization now.
    • This organization deserves my loyalty.
    • I would not leave my organization right now because I have a sense of obligation to the people in it.
    • I owe a great deal to my organization.
    NOTE: Responses to each item are made on a 7-point scale with anchors labeled (1) strongly disagree and (7) strongly agree. R indicates a reverse-keyed item (scoring is reversed). The original scales comprise 8 items each (Allen & Meyer, 1990a); the revised scales each comprise 6 items (Meyer et al., 1993). For administration, items from the three scales are mixed to form a 24- (original) or 18- (revised) item series.

    a Item included in the original but not in the revised scales.

    b Item included in the revised Continuance Commitment Scale only.

    A revision of the three scales was undertaken recently in response to some of the findings reported below. The revision was most extensive in the case of normative commitment (see Meyer et al., 1993). The revised scales are also reported in Table A.1. In the review that follows, no distinction is made between the original and revised scales except where analyses addressed the revision specifically.

    Reliability Estimates
    Internal Consistency

    Internal consistency of the three scales has typically been estimated by using coefficient alpha. The number of estimates obtained for the three scales range from a low of 20 for the Normative Commitment Scale to a high of more than 40 for the Affective Commitment Scale. Median reliabilities for the Affective, Continuance, and Normative Commitment Scales, respectively, are .85, .79, and .73 (for actual estimates across studies, see Allen & Meyer, 1996, Table 1). With few exceptions, reliability estimates exceed .70.

    Temporal Stability

    Temporal stability is evaluated by correlating measures of commitment obtained at different times (test-retest reliability). Relatively few published studies have reported test-retest reliability estimates, and those that have, have typically collected data from newcomers at various points during their first year of employment. Temporal stability tends to be lower when commitment is measured very early in employees' careers. Vandenberg and Self (1993), for example, found test-retest reliabilities as low as .38 for affective commitment and .44 for continuance commitment when commitment measured on the first day of work was correlated with commitment 6 months later. Meyer et al. (1991) and Meyer et al. (1993) found reliability estimates above .60 when the measures of affective, continuance, and normative commitment included in the correlation were obtained after at least 1 month on the job. Blau, Paul, and St. John (1993) found a test-retest reliability coefficient of .94 for the Affective Commitment Scale when administered 7 weeks apart to a sample of employees with an average tenure of more than 5 years. Together, these findings suggest that, as might be expected, commitment is in a state of flux in the early period of employment but quickly begins to stabilize.

    Factor Structure

    The factor structure of the commitment measures has been examined in several studies using both exploratory and confirmatory analyses. Some analyses include items from all three measures; others included only Affective Commitment Scale and/or Continuance Commitment Scale items. For the most part, the results of both the exploratory (Allen & Meyer, 1990a; McGee & Ford, 1987; Reilly & Orsak, 1991) and confirmatory (Dunham et al., 1994; Hackett et al., 1994; Meyer, Allen, & Gellatly, 1990; Moorman et al., 1993; Shore & Tetrick, 1991; Somers, 1993; Vandenberghe, 1996) studies provide evidence to suggest that affective, continuance, and normative commitment are indeed distinguishable constructs. (For a more detailed summary of results, see Allen & Meyer, 1996.)

    Factor analyses have also been conducted to determine whether the commitment measures are distinguishable from related constructs. These studies have provided evidence that the three commitment constructs are indeed distinguishable from measures of job satisfaction (Shore & Tetrick, 1991), career, job, and work values (Blau et al., 1993), career commitment (Reilly & Orsak, 1991), occupational commitment (Meyer et al., 1993), and perceived organizational support (Shore & Tetrick). This evidence helps in addressing concerns raised by Morrow (1983) about the contribution made by organizational commitment research (see Chapter 2 and Morrow, 1993, for a more detailed discussion of this issue).

    Tests of the Nomological Net

    As noted above, the three-component model of commitment developed by Allen and Meyer (1990a; Meyer & Allen, 1991) outlines a set of hypothesized relations between the three commitment variables and other variables presumed to be antecedents and consequences of commitment. By demonstrating that the pattern of empirical findings matches the hypothesized pattern, further evidence is provided for the construct validity of the measures. We discuss the results of relevant studies (e.g., Allen & Meyer, 1990a; Bycio et al., 1995; Dunham et al., 1994; Hackett et al., 1994; Konovsky & Cropanzano, 1991; Meyer et al., 1990; Shore & Wayne, 1993; Whitener & Walz, 1993) in considerable detail in Chapters 3 and 4 and, therefore, do not do so again here. These findings are also discussed by Allen and Meyer (1996) specifically as they pertain to the construct validity of the measures. In general, the findings tend to be consistent with the prediction and add to our confidence in the construct validity of the measures.

    Unresolved Issues

    Despite the generally supportive evidence described above, some findings suggest the need for further refinements in the conceptualization and measurement of commitment. Most notably, the Continuance Commitment Scale has been found in some studies to comprise two related dimensions—one reflecting lack of alternatives, and the other high personal sacrifice (Hackett et al., 1994; McGee & Ford, 1987; Meyer et al., 1990; Somers, 1993). The implications of this are unclear. McGee and Ford found that the two subscales correlated in opposite directions with affective commitment and concluded that these subscales measure somewhat different constructs. They advocated further development of the subscales. In contrast, others have found that the two dimensions/subscales are highly related and correlate similarly with other constructs (e.g., Hackett et al., 1994; Meyer et al., 1989). These findings, combined with evidence that the internal consistency of the full Continuance Commitment Scale is acceptable (Allen & Meyer, 1996), suggest that little may be gained by further development of the subscales. Nevertheless, users might be wise to evaluate the utility of using subscales on a case-by-case basis until this issue is resolved (Meyer et al., 1990).

    Studies have also revealed stronger than expected correlations between the Affective Commitment Scale and the Normative Commitment Scale, suggesting that feelings of affective attachment and sense of obligation to an organization are not independent of one another (e.g., Hackett et al., 1994). The two scales also tend to show similar patterns of correlations with antecedent (particularly work experience) and outcome measures; the correlations involving the Affective Commitment Scale, however, tend to be somewhat stronger than those involving the Normative Commitment Scale (see Allen & Meyer, 1996). A recent modification of the Normative Commitment Scale did not correct these problems (Meyer et al., 1993).

    Finally, Vandenberg and Self (1993) found that the factor structure of the Affective Commitment Scale and the Continuance Commitment Scale was somewhat unstable during the early months of employment, and the researchers cautioned that the scales might not be appropriate for use with new employees. Meyer and Gardner (1994) conducted similar analyses, however, and found little evidence of instability. The difference in findings might be because of differences in the timing of measurement in the two studies; Vandenberg and Self obtained their measures after 1 day, 1 month, and 3 months, whereas Meyer and Gardner administered their measures after 1, 6, and 12 months. In the light of these findings, researchers wanting to use these measures to examine changes in commitment and/or its correlations with other variables over time should determine that the factor structure is indeed stable over the time frame examined.

    Summary and Conclusions

    The findings reported here provide considerable support for the reliability and validity of the Affective, Continuance, and Normative Commitment Scales. Construct validation is, of course, an ongoing process. We identified a few areas where further investigation is required and acknowledge that others might arise as additional research is conducted.

    Space does not permit us to provide a detailed review of other measures of commitment used in the research described in this book. Of these measures, the Organizational Commitment Questionnaire has received the most thorough and generally positive evaluation (see Mowday et al., 1979, and Mowday et al., 1982, for details). The measures of identification, internalization, and compliance developed by O'Reilly and Chatman (1986) have received somewhat mixed reviews (e.g., Caldwell et al., 1990; Harris et al., 1993; O'Reilly et al., 1991; Vandenberg et al., 1994). Becker and his colleagues (Becker, 1992; Becker et al., 1996) have developed modified versions of the identification and internalization constructs that show some promise. Measures used in other studies (e.g., Jaros et al., 1993; Mayer & Schoorman, 1992; Penley & Gould, 1988) have not received enough attention to provide an adequate evaluation at this time. As we noted in Chapter 2, consumers of commitment research should be sensitive to the considerable variability in the nature and quality of measures used. Moreover, scale labels and construct definitions can sometimes be confusing.


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    Author Index

    About the Authors

    John P. Meyer received his Ph.D. in 1978 from the University of Western Ontario, where he is Professor and Director of the Industrial and Organizational Psychology program. In addition to his work on commitment, he has conducted research in the areas of work motivation, organizational justice, conflict management, personality and job performance, and performance appraisal. His research has been published in leading journals in the fields of I/O psychology (e.g., Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Occupational Psychology) and management (e.g., Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Management). He is currently involved in research to examine the cross-cultural generalizability of the commitment model he developed with Natalie Allen.

    Natalie J. Allen received her Ph.D. in 1985 from the University of Western Ontario, where she is Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology. Prior to joining the Psychology Department, she was Director of the Center for Administrative and Information Studies, a multidisciplinary research and teaching unit at Western. Although much of her research has focused on commitment in the workplace, other research interests include cross-cultural issues within organizational behavior and the psychology of work teams. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Evaluation and Program Planning, Journal of Vocational Behavior, and Academy of Management Journal.

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