Don’t yawn.

I know that organisational commitment is often overlooked in the plethora of management-related themes because it is considered passé or simplistic. More ‘important’ themes such as employee engagement, organisational effectiveness, culture and leadership tend to dominate serious discussions.

In fact, I don’t think I  have  seen  any  articles recently, at least  in  the past couple of months, which have solely focussed on commitment. I do admit that I hadn’t given it much thought…until recently when it struck me that one of the most overlooked reasons people tended to stay in companies or exit was due to their commitment levels.

Now in this fast-paced era of globalisation, whereby the employment relationship continually evolves, making both the company and the employee self-seeking in terms of one party’s obligation to the other, employee retention and talent acquisition have become more important than ever.

This is because when seeking to retain the talented professions, there are no guarantees that they would stay for a reasonable period, no matter how well treated the companies believe them to be. Given that such uncertainty exists, companies would need to ascertain the factors that could influence employee retention.

And organisational commitment is one of those key factors.

It may  interest  you  to note  that  there is empirical evidence in organisational behavioural science, as shown by renowned researchers, Meyer & Allen (1997), that commitment is also associated with higher productivity, reduced absenteeism and reduced turnover.

Surprised? I kid you not.

The researchers defined commitment as the “psychological state that characterises the employee’s relationship with the organisation”. They were convinced that this state has implications for the decision to continue membership in the company.

I believe that these academic musings are evident to professionals in their careers.

A little more than a decade ago, as a post-graduate student at the London School of Economics & Political Science, I found this theme of commitment so interesting that I proceeded to do some commitment-related research* at an international oil giant in Lagos, Nigeria. The survey I undertook was based on a small sample. Still, I was excited to be able to draw a correlation between the fulfilment of the organisation’s obligations to the employees (implications of the “psychological contact”*) and levels of commitment. My ‘findings’ were not new, given that a large body of work had already been documented by seasoned professionals in the field. Nevertheless, it was interesting for me to move away from theoretical discussions to practical outcomes.

But I digress. Pardon my musings. I simply wanted to explain that not only was the theme of commitment relevant then, it is still vital to a productive work environment today. It is thus important to discuss it in detail.

The 3 Types of Commitment

Meyer & Allen (1997), drawing upon earlier works documented by other researchers, proceeded to simplify the construct and listed three types of organisational commitment:

1) Affective Commitment

According to the researchers, this refers to the emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the company. Here the employee feels ‘part of the family’; he revels in the company’s successes and is impacted by its failures.

I believe that this type of commitment could easily be visible in family-owned businesses, which are somewhat of a proud legacy to be passed on to future generations.

You may even notice it in large organisations whereby for certain reasons, ranging from a high degree of perceived organisational support to ownership of innovative processes which spearheaded the company to great heights – think of the late Steve Jobs and his influence on Apple’s success – the employee becomes ‘attached’ to the company.

Therefore, when you see a long-serving executive, who started his career as a young, enthusiastic adult, fighting back tears during an emotion-laden farewell speech, you can be assured that he displayed this type of commitment for a long time. 

According to research results, the strongest correlation with positive outcomes of organisational commitment (such as reduced turnover, improved job performance, etc.), was associated with affective commitment. Now critics might state that correlation does not explain causation, but they would miss the point. The link, at the very least, would provide insights useful in building a culture of transparency that would promote commitment.

Logic thus dictates that employees who display affective commitment are likely to stay and would go the ‘extra mile’ to make the company a success. Moreover, they become enthusiastic cheerleaders of the company, are passionate about its operations and proud of its accomplishments.

This is a no-brainer  — any company worth its salt should strive to retain such professionals.

2) Continuance Commitment

Here the employee is aware of the costs associated with leaving the organisation, thus he stays.

Now it is evident that the term ‘lifetime employment’ is rare these days. Few people stay in companies for longer than seven years, (not to talk about a decade or two), without moving on to bigger or better opportunities. Reasons for exiting are varied so this type of commitment is somewhat paradoxical. 

A note to Management however – don’t go rejoicing that you’ve  ‘boxed’ in your employees who cannot leave  just yet.  True, they may stay because of a bad economy, fear of loss of entitlements/benefits, financial pressures or other reasons. But don’t expect them to go ‘over and beyond’ in their roles. In fact, they become disengaged or ‘tuned off’ in their duties. And as Forbes contributor and consummate professional,  Victor Lipman has explained in an eye-opening article, actively disengaged employees are likely to incur significant losses unless you address the sources of their dissatisfaction, disillusionment or malaiseAnd only your most trusted, perceptive managers and supervisors would be able to get to the root of the latent discontent.

So in essence, Mr CEO, you would  need  to ensure that the employees who  display  this type of commitment are more fulfilled in their roles; otherwise it really is counter-productive to retain them.

3) Normative Commitment

This refers to the feeling of obligation to continue employment in an organisation, so once again, the employee stays.

Obligations could mean contractual, moral or legal requirements. As stated earlier, for a family-owned business, it could mean sustaining a legacy. The employee could also stay because a guaranteed income is essential to providing for a family.

In this case, I believe that the employee does what is required of him. Unless there are elements of an emotional attachment to the company, duties could be carried out in an almost ‘mechanical’ manner. He is unlikely to do any ‘favours’ and may simply go through the motions for a salary each month.

Interestingly, the personality traits of the employees could also influence the quality of work produced. Some, even though obliged to stay, might cherish the job because it’s their guaranteed ‘meal ticket’. As has been explained in this Wikipedia article, highlighting the commitment “model” of Meyer & Allen (1997), such employees may also stay because they are morally obliged to do so, perhaps to repay the ‘debt’ of being trained by the company. So I believe that they actually go the extra mile. Then there are those who resent the fact that they cannot leave and may simply do the minimum effort to get the job done.

This type of commitment is tricky to manage, as one cannot readily discern the motivations of certain employees.

Don’t try to ‘control’ commitment levels

It is one thing to ascertain the type of commitment employees display, (which is no easy feat), and quite another to influence it.

Because commitment is above all, a psychological state and thus ‘personal’ or subjective, simply asking employees about their commitment levels is not likely to be effective. In fact, unless there is a sustained culture of empathy, effective communication and transparency, vis-à-vis managing the concerns of employees (which is linked to trust in the organisation), they are unlikely to confide in the company’s executives. Some may view attempts by Management to engage in dialogue with deep suspicion.

Therefore, rather than obsess about how to get workers to display affective commitment (the most desirable of the three types), I recommend that Management should work on issues which favourably impact their employees’ perceptions. These include fulfilling perceived obligations (e.g. providing opportunities for growth via training and development and ensuring a stimulating work environment), as well as promoting fair outcomes and quickly addressing concerns. Such perceptions, over time, would naturally lead to higher commitment levels, as well as favourable attitudes and proactive behaviours.

What should be noted is that affective commitment cannot be bought, manipulated or mandated. However, just like trust, it can be cultivated.


So this year and beyond, here is one New Year’s resolution worth keeping – incorporating the important theme of commitment in your business strategy.

It still matters a great deal in the organisation. Not only does it influence the decision to stay or exit a company, but as mentioned earlier, it also drives productivity and performance at the workplace.

And Management – this should be one of your priorities this year for greater organisational effectiveness. 

Do you think that commitment is still relevant at the workplace? Kindly tell us your opinions by posting your comments below.

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*My postgraduate research, which covered the themes of “psychological contract” and “organisational justice“, examined their impacts on employees’ attitudes (of which affective commitment was the marker) and employees’ behaviours (of which organisation-directed “citizenship behaviour” was the marker).

These themes were mentioned in my blog’s first article on communications strategy and corporate image. View it  here.


First image courtesy of Thewet via Animation courtesy of Second image courtesy of Sattva, via Third, fifth and sixth images courtesy of Renjith Krishnan, via Fourth image courtesy of Sheelamohan, via

11 Replies to “Why Commitment Would ALWAYS Matter”

  1. Hello Abraham,

    Thanks for joining in.

    You raised an interesting point : commitment being applicable to all stakeholders – Management, employees, consumers etc. Your idea that it should be an inter-connected system whereby each stakeholder should commit to each other for favourable outcomes is actually bordering on the theme of organisational effectiveness.

    And I tend to agree. However, as unfair as it might seem, it should start with the Management creating a culture whereby the employees, (their greatest assets), should be favourably treated. Happy, committed and engaged employees drive all the other favourable indices the company desires — efficiency in the processes, high productivity, good corporate reputation etc), which, after all, would be beneficial to both internal and external stakeholders.

    But in my opinion, it must start with concrete actions undertaken by the Management.

    For more on the theme of organisational effectiveness, you could read the article which also sparked a robust discussion in the LinkedIn Harvard Business Review Group:


  2. Lucille, this is nice piece. However, in a simple organisational point of view what is commitment? where, how and when does commitment occur in an organisation? Who should exhibit such commitment, employers, employees, consumers, public? Can we ask that, persons inability to secure their career preference or roles can lead to lack of commitment within the organisation? And can we ask that, such persons can be changed, and become more committed towards the organisation due to organisational culture and systems in place? Also, can ask that, commitment is a process approach, i.e., it develops? On the whole, I see commitment as interconnected system within organisation or any entity, i.e., hand-go-hand come.

  3. Hello Dr. Francis,

    Thanks for joining in the discussion.

    You made a good point – commitment to anything these days is difficult, especially in the employment relationship which is at the mercy of the economy, the operating environment and inter-personal relationships.

    "Affective commitment" as Meyer & Allen (1997) found, had the strongest correlations with favourable outcomes and it all makes sense. If you just love the company you work for, it is bound to reflect in your speech, in the way you present the company to outsiders and in the quality of work you do.

    It still baffles me though, that Management in certain companies don't take the time to really care about their employees and address their concerns. This is where clear and consistent communications come to the fore. Good communications beget trust; trust increases perceived organisational support; and improved organisational support leads to commitment over time.

    I may not be a researcher but as Krystal had indicated earlier, it's all about being valued in business relationships.

    Do share this article and encourage others to join in the discussion.


  4. Hello Lucille, I love your piece as commitment is now very rare, even among partners or lovers. However, without commitment nothing works. I am interested in the 'Affective', which is so vital for success of businesses. It may not only be for a family or a relation to possess this commitment for a business, but everybody engaged in the business. As you wrote, this refers to the emotional attachment to, identification with, and involvement in the company. Here the employee feels 'part of the family'; he revels in the company's successes and is impacted by its failures. The life of any business would not always be succulent/juicy, however, it may also be bones, especially when the going gets tough. Times are hard these days, and if workers could cultivate this type of commitment, 'Affective', I think the future will be good and bright for businesses.

  5. Thanks for your comment Krystal.

    It's true that sometimes the lines of the different types are blurred. But it's food for thought isn't it?

    Your stint in corporate branding definitely sounded interesting and you're right – everyone wants to be valued. I reckon clear communications facilitated the feelings of worth for both the internal and external stakeholders.


  6. For many, it can be a combination of the different level of commitment. But good article! Working in Corporate Branding was a great experience as it allowed me to get an idea of the internal (employees) and external (suppliers, clients and general public) relationships with the business. The key to internal and external public committing to a company is through reinforcing how the business values you.

  7. Thanks Angela for your comment and for regularly commenting on my articles.

    I hope that those in Management realise that "affective commitment" is really essential to job satisfaction and happiness at the workplace. Like you mentioned, it would motivate employees, especially when there's a definite path for career progression.


  8. Great article. Of all the types of models 'Affective Commitment' stands out for me. Individuals as well as the employers have a role in promoting commitment to a job and career progression. Career progression would help motivate employers too. A. E.

  9. Thanks Gerald for reading the post.

    You'd be surprised at just how many 'good' people remain in organisations because of some sort of moral obligation, ("normative commitment").

    However, it's really important for CEOs and business owners to be aware of the importance of "affective commitment" as that type directly impacts productivity. Knowledge is power.

    You're right of course – many more people stay because of "continuance commitment" – the cost of leaving being just too high to simply quit without a contigent plan :-).

    Do share this article among your contacts. Dare to email it to your bosses 🙂


  10. Another fantastic article Lucille. I'd say most of us that work here in the diaspora have Continuance Commitment. Just here and working because we're aware of the costs associated with leaving. Lol.

  11. Another fantastic article Lucille. I'd say most of us that work here in the diaspora have Continuance Commitment. Just here and working because we're aware of the costs associated with leaving. Lol.

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