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Three Sides of the Coin

Arthur, Norman and Curtis have been working for the same company for more than a decade, but for different reasons. Arthur identifies with the organizational goals, sees himself fitting well in its culture and is very satisfied with his work. He sees no reason to leave the company. Norman, on the other hand, despite being unhappy, recognizes that the company has done so much for him that he feels guilty about resigning. Meanwhile, Curtis feels the need to stay because he fears losing his salary leverage if he transfers. As practicing managers, which among these employees would you rather flourish in your organization?   

Allen & Meyer (1990) identified three common types of organizational commitment. First is affective commitment, which refers to the employee’s positive emotional attachment to the organization. They identify with the organization’s goals and values, and genuinely want to stay there. Employees who have high affective commitment are willing to exert extra effort to achieve company goals and objectives. In the given situation above, Arthur represents the employee experiencing affective commitment.

The second type is normative commitment, which is strongly associated with one’s sense of obligation to give back to the organization and continue to work because the employee ought to do so. Thus, employees with high normative commitment stay in the organization because it’s the “right” or “moral” thing to do. Unlike Arthur, Norman solely feels that the organization has invested in him, so that in return, he has to be loyal.

Whereas, the third type is continuance commitment which rises out of scarcity of alternative jobs. It is a desire to remain a member of an organization because one is aware of the cost associated with leaving. For example, employees may enjoy high pay and other benefits to job seniority if they stay in their current organization, but such benefits may be lost once they decide to move—exactly Curtis’s reason for staying.

Obviously, some types of commitment can have a negative effect on the organization. Team members with only continuance and normative commitment may feel bored and unmotivated. We want our team members to feel positively committed to the organization. 

But the question is, how can we develop in them greater affective commitment? To encourage positive changes, managers need to link people’s goals with those of the team or the organization using strategic management models like management by objectives. By defining specific objectives within an organization and conveying the same to its members, we can help people find purpose in their work by magnifying their value in the greater scheme of things. Giving credits and building an encouraging working environment is a must. Employees who experience positive emotions at work are more likely to develop affective commitment. 

In addition to helping people experience greater affective commitment, we should also manage the amount of continuance and normative commitment that they may feel. Clearly, it doesn’t make sense to try to reduce both types of commitment because after all, the result is the same—employees stay longer in the company. However, we should limit reliance on purely continuance and normative commitment. The fact is, people will likely experience both types of commitment at some point in their careers.

One way to reduce the dependency on either commitment is through leading by example. Leading by example helps other people see what lies ahead and pushes them to act swiftly to counter any challenges along the way. By virtue of their visibility, a leader’s actions, behaviors and attitudes are constantly being observed and interpreted by employees. If a group is led by a person with poor leadership skills, the group’s trust, confidence, and loyalty will erode, and so people will start thinking about leaving the organization.

In conclusion, all three forms of commitment highly influence the length employees stay with their jobs. What is most important for organizations is to recognize each type of commitment in employees and to encourage affective commitment. The ability to understand contrasting points of view on the types of organizational commitment and to glean what information is valuable from the “three sides of the coin” is a crucial skill that every manager must learn.

To end, those who answered Arthur please say aye! 

Erwin R. Lapuz is a Doctor of Business Administration student at the De La Salle University (DLSU). He currently works as general manager for a diversified marketing and distribution company in the Philippines. His research interests are corporate governance and humanistic management. For comments and reactions, he can be reached at erwin_r_lapuz@dlsu.edu.ph.

The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

Topics: Green Light , Three Sides of the Coin , Allen & Meyer , organizational commitment , affective commitment , normative commitment , continuance commitment
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