Work and Organizational Commitment Theory focuses on how people are attached to their employer or organization. Some people work because the job is satisfying, while others may work due to internal feelings or outside pressures about their life. Being committed has different meanings to everyone and levels of commitment vary from person to person.
Our case study showcases how employees can move through the various stages of commitment and how these different types of commitment affect the employees. The study also explains how the employees experienced different feelings of commitment throughout the course of the organizations life. While the workplace atmosphere had deteriorated, levels of job satisfaction decreased and the organization struggled to retain valuable employees. This led to a plant closure that would eventually come back to life as previous employees reopened the vacant building in a private manner. By using certain strategies such as those listed below, the company was able to rebuild its foundation as well as its employees. Since the workers gained affective commitment after the makeover, they were willing to work hard and felt matched and aligned with the company. The new business ethics and strategies helped create strong leadership to propel the company to financial success. Due to the ownership dilemma that the company faced, leading to putting the plant up for sale, the previous owners purchased the company and began to implement their methods of operation. This situation caused uneasy feelings in the workforce and again organizational commitment values were strained.
Case Study – Work and Organizational Commitment
In the late 1970’s, a large manufacturing company with locations all over North America closed a location in Pennsylvania during a strike, something the company had threatened to do during a lengthy and contentious round of labor negotiations. The employees at this plant had very high levels of continuance commitment, since it was the county’s single largest employer and the wages and benefits were significantly higher than could be found at other employers in the area. The job involvement levels of the employee pool were not very high, as the production environment was physically stressful, and labor/management relationships were strained. As a result of unsuccessful negotiations with the labor union, the corporation made a decision to permanently close the facility 1977. This plant closure had a significant impact on the local economy, as more than 1,600 jobs were lost, along with health benefits for the workers and their families. The location remained idle for more than two years, during which time unemployment in the county remained very high.
In 1979, a group of three individuals secured private funding to reopen the manufacturing facility, which they intended to personally operate. All three owner/operators were former employees of the same company who had closed the plant during the labor strife in 1977. The re-start of the facility was heralded in the local communities. The new company employed stringent hiring practices, seeking employees who not only had experience in this type of manufacturing, but who were engaged in becoming part of a high-energy company focused on customer service and quality manufacturing. Job involvement levels were high, as individuals who were fortunate enough to be hired into the new company were very appreciative of the opportunity to have a well-paying job with long-term potential.
The company’s ability to attract and retain employees with incredibly high levels of affective commitment was fostered by the culture of the organization. This privately-held company placed a very high emphasis on rewarding the individual employees for the company’s success. The owners demonstrated this through a variety of profit-sharing programs and a family-oriented culture. Employees were very engaged in the success of the company, and took pride in the work they did every day in this organization. The company owners held company-wide meetings at least once each quarter, and spared no expense to provide employees with a safe and healthy workplace. As the company grew over its first decade, many employees were provided with attractive opportunities at new locations. The owners placed a strong emphasis on the practice of promoting from within the organization, and had implemented a strong employee education program early in the company’s history.
The new company was extremely successful, largely due to its single-minded pursuit of loyal customers who relied on the high quality product and reliability of this upstart company. Within ten years the company had positioned itself as one of the premier manufacturers in their market, and had acquired four additional manufacturing locations to produce quality items.
After nearly 20 years building the company together, the three owners made a decision to sell the company due to the failing health of the majority owner. Ironically, the company was sold back to the very same corporation who had closed the original plant in the late ‘70’s. Many of the current employees had strong negative feelings about the sale, as a direct result of who was purchasing this company. As individuals, they had a strong continuance commitment to the new employer, because other job options in the area were quite limited.
For several years after the acquisition, multiple valued employees left the company. They had acquired education and skills which allowed them to pursue opportunities with competitors and other local companies, and they had no affective commitment to the new corporation. Fortunately for most of the employees, the new owners had implemented many new HR programs in the past several decades, and those proved beneficial to the company workers. Although the level of affective commitment would probably never reach the same heights as with the previous owners, the ability for individuals to pursue their individual careers began to have a positive impact for many workers.
In the past decade, as HR practices have evolved, there has been a very strong emphasis on increasing employee engagement through individual development and improved job satisfaction for employees. This focus on career commitment has had a positive overall effect, as employees are invested in pursuing education and work experiences which will benefit them in the long run. This is also a winning proposition for the employer, since they reap the benefits of having employees who are engaged in advancing their skills and pursuing a career path within the company.
We hear this term thrown around a lot in the workplace. “Tim has a poor work ethic” for example. What exactly does this mean? Pinder (2008) defines worth ethic as the desire of an individual to want to work. This means it may ultimately come down to temperament and behavior, but also can be a set of behaviors that demonstrate the desire to have a positive input. For example; showing up to work on time, working diligently, not wasting company time, showing respect to the organization. However, if the individual is not motivated to work, they will find it difficult to maintain this behavior.
Our case study demonstrates that employers value work ethic. When the facility reopened under the ownership of the previous employees, they wanted to hire people who had a high level of care, enthusiasm, and take pride in their work. This reflects on what we mean by work ethic - it’s not what you do, but how motivated you are to do it. The employees showed a strong work ethic under the private ownership because they took advantage of their resources to progress their careers, education, and also an overall attitude of wanting to work hard to help the company succeed. It could be said that because of the new refreshing ownership, the employees wanted to work even harder because of their higher job satisfaction.
Work ethic also seems to be something that develops early on in someone's life. By doing well in school and getting good grades, the person has to work harder than someone else who is just coasting through it. Since they have worked harder all along, why wouldn't they continue that pattern? Although past experiences tell a lot about someone's work ethic, it can also vary from day to day. It can be a short term or long term problem or advantage.
This leads us to the aspect of individual involvement with work. Job Involvement is the idea that if you are behaviorally motivated to work and you find your work challenging, then you are said to be involved. This is typically a positive thing and correlates positively to job satisfaction.
Our case study demonstrates times when job involvement was low and also high. When employees took their job for granted they found it physically demanding and there was not a positive management environment. When the plant reopened after a period of tough economic times and with management who cared about the company and the people, job involvement ran high - people were happy to have jobs and they felt they were important to the organization. As a result of the new positive ownership, the employees felt committed to the work, the job, the organization, and gives a higher rate of retention for the employer; which is exactly what the new owners were trying to accomplish.
When the workforce enjoys their work and employees are positively influenced by management, it is probable that job involvement levels will be high. Employees also become more involved in their work when the organization provides the resources and support to help grow their team. When workers are involved in unhealthy levels, where work is all they worry about- that person might be a workaholic. A workaholic is usually seen as someone who is constantly involved with their work in excessive amounts. These people have a "poor work-life balance and low life satisfaction" (PSU 2012).
There are a few types that are studied and apparent.
This is where employees are committed more or less just to collect their paycheck. They are either substantially rewarded for their input or they have no other work options should they leave (PSU, 2012). Workers are tied to the company by golden handcuffs because of their inability to find work elsewhere that will offer the same pay and benefits (PSU, 2012). In this scenario, turnover may be low, but employees may not be particularly impassioned with their work so productivity may not be as high as it could be.
In our case study we see that the employees to the plant before closure were mostly motivated to work there because the pay and benefits were good and there were many opportunities there. Their job involvement levels, however were low, so although they demonstrated commitment to the organization, they were not excited about their work. This attitude resurfaced when the private buyers resold the company back to the original larger employer.
This is the scenario in which the employee feels aligned and attached to the organization. This builds genuine loyalty and commitment - the workers will want to expend effort in order to increase productivity (PSU, 2012). A major component of this is that they feel as though they are being treated fairly by the organization (Meyer & Allen, 1991).
Our case study demonstrates affective commitment coming into play with the staff the new owners employed; these candidates with high work ethic, which led to job involvement, and with the employer’s profit sharing and inclusive involvement of the employees, there was a high level of appreciation, trust, and loyalty in the working environment. These workers accepted the organization’s goals and values, and developed a desire to stay with the company because they appreciated the private owners dedication to the workplace and environment.
This is an area that’s only just coming to light. Gone are the days where you could chose one profession and potentially hold one job for your whole working life. Now we know we will likely hold multiple jobs over our lives, and we also have the ability to change career paths. Instead of commitment to a single employer, many workers in the 21st century are focusing their efforts on building their own career. We can hone our skills in particular areas to get the jobs that we want. This is Career or Professional Commitment (PSU, 2012)
Our case study shows that when little other options were presented to the staff at the company after the resale back to the larger company, they focused their efforts on their personal career tracks. This benefited not only the employees but also the employer as they get improved skill sets from their existing staff and potentially a higher level of motivation from them also. The workers in this case study realized it was best for their career growth to grow themselves, take advantage of the resources given to them, and be able to go to another company to continue their careers if need be. Ultimately, as a result of the sale of the company back to the original owners, these employees that focused on career commitment were able to take their skill sets elsewhere for a better opportunity.
This type can be achieved through different measures that provide moral reasoning to stay with an organization. Such as an employer that invests money, time, or other inputs to increase the knowledge or output of the staff. If an employee feels committed to an organization because of internal reasons and not for reasons that relate to continuance or affective commitment, this normative commitment "involves staying with the organization because you ought to" (PSU, 2012).
Work and organizational commitment theory should have been investigated and applied when the initial company ran the business. If they had understood these characteristics and theories, the company could have tried to change its culture and atmosphere. By addressing the issues that plagued the company for years, the redesign could have built a better company with enthusiastic employees and strong leaders in management. It is clear that the original owners did not take notice of the low job involvement of the employees, which was evident because of the broken relationship between management and labor which affects the employee's work environment. Job satisfaction was clearly low, which is directly related to job involvement. The original company could have facilitated a job satisfaction survey which would have helped them determine where they needed to improve in order to have a better relationship between labor and management. If there is no trust between labor and management, then organizational commitment will suffer along with all of the other categories that go along with it. Affective commitment also suffered because the employees did not affect the company's goals and values. Clearly there was a disconnect in communication between labor and management, and perhaps management could have communicated better and the employee's would have shown greater organizational commitment as well as affective commitment. Our group suggests the original company could have prevented negative factors by focusing on these issues;
-Increasing the effectiveness of group relationships
-Improving job involvement for the employees
-Building affective commitment to the organization
Walton (1985) suggested that two approaches exist in workforce management. The first, or the control approach, is typical in today's workplace and usually supports high tension and low involvement characteristics. The second, commitment strategy, is an approach that is more accommodating to the workforce and caters to building an employees commitment to the organization.
- Control Strategy or Control-Oriented Approach- This strategy is commonly used for meeting production and financial goals within the company and ensuring that employees follow detailed rules. It also lists that employees are lined up against company output goals to receive benefits.
- Commitment Strategy- This strategy is less commonly used and requires the company to focus on developing committed employees that are compatible with the values and culture the organization desires.
To address this issue it is important to note that job satisfaction and involvement are related. By improving one, the other should improve as well. One way the company could have tried to get the employees more involved would be to let them participate more in the organization. If the employees are given options to give feedback and interact with management and customers more often, they will likely gain a stronger sense of task identity and negative job factors such as lateness, absenteeism, turnover, and burnout, would decrease.
By implementing these strategies to improve involvement and build organizational commitment, the original company could have avoided serious employee issues that led to suffering morale and the business failure.
Meyer, J.P., & Allen, N.J. (1991). A three-component conceptualization of organizational commitment. Human Resource Management Review, 1, 61-89
Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2012). PSYCH 484 Lesson 12: Work and Organizational Commitment: Am I attached to the organization? Retrieved from https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/su12/psych484/002/content/lesson12/printlesson.html
Pinder, C.C. (2008) Work motivation in organizational behavior. Psychology Press.
Walton, R. E. 1985. From control to commitment in the workplace. Harvard Business Review, 63(2): 77-84 Retrieved from http://www.uri.edu/research/lrc/scholl/webnotes/Commitment.htm