Thought of the Week

Containing Commitment: A Troubling Trend?

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine pointed out to me that the younger generation, the generation that I count myself to, rarely works in their first job for more than two years. He assessed this trend reveals a lack of commitment, a pattern he also observes on a variety of other levels in young peoples’ lives. 

I value my friend’s opinion a lot and his words made me reflect more on my work-life and the decisions that I have taken so far in this regard. Just a couple of weeks later, we as the Quo Vadis Institute hosted a DACH Hub event with Dr. Eva und Dr. Manfred Wieser, covering the topic of “Coming Jointly to a Decision: Marriage, Family, Career & Faith”. The issue of decisions and commitment regarding the workplace kept coming back to me. 
But is it true that quick commitment to your place of work is desirable, and is commitment per se something we should strive for? 

While the first question is not that easy to answer (I will elaborate more on this in a minute), I strongly believe that the answer to the second question is a resounding “Yes”. 

In fact, the core of the Christian faith is built upon commitment. The American theologian, pastor, and author Timothy Keller, who very recently passed away, wrote in his book The Obedient Master that “God’s saving love in Christ is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent.” (p. 34) If commitment is what makes people realize the truth and what makes them repent, then it most certainly is very powerful. Surely, one cannot compare a commitment to a person with a commitment to a workplace or organization. However, is this powerful commitment to a person somehow applicable to organizational commitment? 

Erdheim et al. (2006) define organizational commitment as “a psychological state that characterizes an employee’s relationship with his or her organization and has implications for that employee continuing membership in the organization.” (p. 961) Meyer and Allen (1996), in turn, identified three forms of this psychological state: affective commitment, continuance commitment, and normative commitment. How an employee identifies with, how he or she is involved in, and emotionally attached to an organization is covered by the concept of affective commitment. Thus, if an employee stays in an organization because he or she wants to, the affective commitment will be very strongly pronounced. Continuance commitment, in turn, refers to the calculation of costs in the case of leaving the organization. Such costs can be the perception of wasted time, as well as a loss of network and relations. If employees’ continuance commitment is strongly pronounced, they will stay within the organization because they feel like they must. When feeling normative commitment, people stay in a workplace out of a sense of obligation towards the organization. 

While it is widely acknowledged that a high organizational commitment directly and positively influences the employee’s performance and, thus, the performance of the organization (e.g., Suharto and Hendri, 2019), the reality holds that especially first jobs are often taken as an entry-level career opportunity and tend not to last very long. However, staying in a job for longer than a few months is arguably required to learn new skills, gain experience, and will increase the loyalty and thus the professional endurance of an employee. Even though these are clear positives, I would argue that more attention should be given to the type of commitment one feels towards the workplace. 

What are your reasons to stay in or to leave your organization? Is one of the commitment forms more pronounced as the others in your working life? What type of commitment or organizational loyalty would you like your employees to feel towards your organisation? If normative forms of commitment start to be predominant, people might start to feel stuck and thus become less efficient. In a time when commitment to a vast variety of societal aspects is waning, a more nuanced form of discourse about commitment might be needed to encourage loyalty and thus improve the wellbeing of both our organizations, employees, and employers.  

31 MAY 2023 | by Lena McNally

  • Allen, N. J., & Meyer, J. P. (1996). Affective, continuance, and normative commitment to the organization: An examination of construct validity. Journal of vocational behavior, 49(3), 252-276. 
  • Erdheim, J., Wang, M., & Zickar, M. J. (2006). Linking the Big Five personality constructs to organizational commitment. Personality and individual differences, 41(5), 959-970. 
  • Suharto, S., & Hendri, N. (2019). The impact of organizational commitment on job performance. International Journal of Economics & Business Administration, 7(2), 189-206. 
  • Keller, T. (2013). The Obedient Master. Penguin. 
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