Employee Commitment: Does the evidence support this popular concept?

Anecdotes aside, is affective commitment as good as many think it is?

Key Points

  • Studies show that employees’ emotional attachment to an employer has a positive impact on their attitudes and actions.
  • Employees who view their organization’s culture highly are more likely to be committed to their employing organization.
  • Organizations should focus on providing defined roles and job clarity, social support and autonomy to employees to increase commitment to the organization.

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It seems intuitive. People probably work better when they like their work and they identify with their organization’s values and culture. How emotionally attached a person is to their work is called affective commitment . Employees feel affective commitment when their personal values and priorities are in line with the mission and operation of their workplace. It could be responsible for people staying with employers long term. It’s also the focus of many a study over the past 50 years.

But does affective commitment live up to all the hype behind it?

Iulia Cioca, Emilia Wietrak, Eric Barends, and Denise Rousseau authored an evidence review based on the results from 48 meta-analyses and 12 studies. The research applied to a range of organizations in many industries.

Affective commitment was defined as being strongly committed to an organization on an emotional or personal level.

What is Affective Commitment?

Organizational commitment research has existed for over three decades. Recently, researchers made a three-component model of organizational commitment. It includes affective commitment, normative commitment, and continuance commitment. Affective commitment describes an emotional or personal desire to remain with an organization. Normative commitment describes a sense of obligation to do the right thing and stay. Continuance commitment reflects a need to stay as leaving has costs associated with it. This is why people say that they stay because they want to, ought to, or have to.

What impacts does affective commitment have on employees and organizations?

Affective commitment can have many positive impacts:

  • Absenteeism – Staff with higher affective commitment are slightly less likely to be absent from work
  • Job Satisfaction –Job satisfaction and affective commitment may be closely related
  • Job Involvement – Affective commitment and job involvement are related to one another, but they are similar which makes it difficult to identify which one comes first
  • Task Performance – Task performance is an outcome that is routinely studied in relation to affective commitment; however, the actual relationship between the two is quite weak. It seems that people will still perform their jobs even though they may or may not like them
  • Going above and beyond – Many studies find employees who have higher levels of affective commitment are much more likely to go beyond the basic tasks of their roles
  • Turnover –Employees who have high affective commitment may be less likely to quit their jobs. Affective commitment has a stronger impact on employees’ intentions to quit rather than on them actually quitting. This means the relationship is weaker with actual quitting than with people considering their options and eyeing the door.
  • Wellbeing –Affective commitment can have a positive impact on wellbeing, stress, and burnout. Employees with higher affective commitment may be more resilient to stress, resulting in greater wellbeing.

What causes Affective Commitment?

There are a handful of factors that come before affective commitment:

  • Social Support – Employees are more committed to organizations that provide support, particular when the employee needs it the most.
  • Empowerment – Employees want to make decisions about how they do their work. Employees who get this opportunity can feel more empowered, driving their sense of commitment to the organization.
  • Job Characteristics – Employees want clarity in their roles. Organizations with clearly defined roles that use employee skills in a meaningful way can have higher affective commitment. This is one of the strongest drivers of affective commitment.
  • Organizational Justice – When employees feel that the process for making decisions is fair, they are more likely to feel committed to the organization. This is particularly important for internal disputes and how resources are distributed.
  • Recognition and Rewards – Employees like to be recognized for their contributions. Employees who feel that they are being recognized and rewarded for their contributions are more likely to have higher levels of affective commitment.

We have some excellent articles on how to motivate employees with both internal and external rewards and recognition.

  • Leadership –Leaders who are seen as being positive, trustworthy, inspiring, and able to develop true relationships typically have subordinates with higher levels of affective commitment.

Takeaways for your practice

Organizational commitment can lead to many positive outcomes. However, it’s only one factor so it has a modest impact. This means you shouldn’t ignore affective commitment. To increase it, organizations can take the following steps:

  • Clearly define roles in your organization. Make sure employees know what is expected of them. Allow them to use their skills in a meaningful way. This will create, maintain, and increase affective commitment.
  • Give employees autonomy to make decisions in their work. Empowering employees creates a sense of ownership, responsibility, and commitment.
  • Develop leaders who can drive affective commitment. Give leaders education and training to build the skills to positively impact affective commitment. Leaders who build positive relationships based on trust, support, empowerment, role clarity, and recognition may have the most committed employees.
  • Meet employees’ fairness expectations. Build fairness into decision-making, rewards, and recognition will benefit from higher affective commitment. Review policies and processes to make sure they are relevant and people follow them. Consistency is key. Ask employees for input to build trust and spark more ownership, accountability, and commitment.

Trustworthiness score:

We critically evaluated the trustworthiness of the rapid evidence assessment we used to inform this Evidence Summary. We found the result that affective commitment has a small to moderate effect on a range of work-related outcomes and the factors which lead to affective commitment to be consistent across multiple meta-analyses and primary studies. Therefore, we can conclude the rapid evidence assessment of what is known in the scientific literature about affective commitment is highly trustworthy. In the aggregate, we believe that the evidence from many meta-analytic studies offers a substantial level of trust in the body of evidence reviewed.

Learn how we critically appraise studies to assign them a Trustworthiness Score.

We aim to provide you only the best available scientific evidence to inform your decisions.

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Cioca, I., Wietrak, E., Barends, E. and Rousseau, D. (2021) Organisational commitment: an evidence review. Scientific summary. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

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1 comment

  1. Jenny

    Excellent review! Thanks