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Organizational Commitment

management, business, commitment, organizational commitment, corporate culture

What constitutes commitment in organizations? In one view, commitment is the total capacity to act in ways that meet the organization's goals and interests. Although a simple enough definition, it is inadequate. The problem is that commitment has now been defined in a number of widely varying ways. The sociologist Etzioni argues that commitment—and the authority that organizations have over members—is rooted in the nature of employee involvement in the organization.

Involvement takes one of three forms, ranging from total commitment to no commitment at all. Moral involvement, based on positive and intense orientation to the organization, results from internalization of the organization's values, goals, and norms. Calculative involvement is less intense and rests on an exchange relationship between the individual and the organization. People become committed to an organization to the extent that they perceive some beneficial or equitable exchange relationship. Alienative involvement is a lack of commitment, occurring when members feel constrained by circumstances to belong to the organization but do not identify with it.

The management guru Kanter takes a different view of commitment, arguing that different types of commitment result from different behavioral requirements placed on members by the organization. Again, involvement takes three forms, but here the forms may be interrelated. Continuance commitment has to do with a member's dedication to the survival of the organization and results from having people make sacrifices for and investments in the organization. Cohesion commitment is attachment to social relations in an organization; it can be enhanced by having employees publicly renounce previous social ties or engage in ceremonies that enhance group cohesion. Control commitment is a member's attachment to the norms of an organization that shape behavior in desired ways. It exists when employees believe that the organization's norms and values are important guides to their behavior.

Organizational researchers and social psychologists view commitment quite differently. Organizational researchers study attitudinal commitment, focusing on how employees identify with the goals and values of the organization. This is commitment viewed primarily from the standpoint of the organization. Social psychologists study behavioral commitment, focusing on how a person's behavior serves to bind him to the organization. Once behavior shows commitment, people must adjust their attitudes accordingly, which then influence their subsequent behavior. Thus a cycle begins: behavior shapes attitudes and the shaped attitudes in turn shape behavior.

Thus we have at least three different ways to view organizational commitment. If we accept all three notions, we will look in different places for evidence of commitment. We will look at exchange relationships as behaviors evidencing commitment, and acceptance of organizational norms and values as attitudes showing commitment. A broad view of commitment should lead managers to many different sources and manifestations of it. Most views of commitment treat it as a global concept: one is or is not committed to the organization as an entity. A more differentiated view, in which employees are thought to be more or less committed to various facets of the workplace, might be more helpful.

The earlier discussion of occupational communities suggests that managers must consider employees' other commitments as well. Employees are not only committed to the organization to a greater or lesser degree, but as individuals with multiple roles also have other commitments. These include such obvious connections as those of family or community, but they also embrace membership in occupational communities or in other associations. Managers need to be sensitive to these other motivations that may influence an employee's behavior or attitudes.

Another interesting manifestation of commitment is the phenomenon known as whistle-blowing, or publicizing unethical, illegal, or immoral behavior.For the individual, whistle-blowing may be the last resort, the only step left open; for the organization it is extremely threatening when negative information reaches the press. Whistle-blowing may occur because the whistle-blower feels tremendously committed to the organization; it is, after all, borne of an impulse to reform an evil, and few people are willing to risk punishment to reform what they do not value. In this view the whistle blower is the defender of the organization's true values and the management that punishes the behavior is the deviant. Whistle-blowing may have the beneficial effect for the organization, then, of spawning change, especially when it can be made to overseeing bodies, as with all the government examples of whistle-blowing.

Most of the work on whistle-blowing is descriptive and philosophical. Organizations are probably more apt to retaliate against whistle-blowers they value, perhaps because of their potential threat. They may also retaliate against those who are vulnerable because they lack public support. People often fail to blow the whistle when organizational conditions suggest they should. This hesitance undoubtedly results from fear of reprisal and skepticism that their organizations will take ameliorative steps.

Published: 2007-04-23
Author: Martin Hahn

About the author or the publisher
Martin Hahn PhD has received his education and degrees in Europe in organizational/industrial sociology. He grew up in South-East Asia and moved to Europe to get his tertiary education and gain experience in the fields of scientific research, radio journalism, and management consulting.

After living in Europe for 12 years, he moved to South-East again and has worked for the last 12 years as a management consultant, university lecturer, corporate trainer, and international school administrator

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