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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.


Commitment is a multiple-layered variable at work, February, 3, 2008, 6D.

As social beings, humans form bonds and relationships with many types of people and for many different reasons.  Some relationships are based on family bonds, some are based on love and emotions, and others form for mutual benefit and safety.  Interpersonal relationships can be long-term or short-term and can be deep or superficial.   At different times and stages in life, the strength, reasons behind, and nature of relationships between people can change.  The choice of whether to remain in an interpersonal relationship is determined in large part by the degree of commitment to the other person and the relationship.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines commitment as “the state or an instance of being obligated or emotionally impelled.”  In this definition, commitment is identified as a multi-dimensional concept.  Being “obligated” and being “emotionally impelled” are two different reasons for remaining in an interpersonal relationship.  However, most interpersonal relationships probably involve both of those dimensions.

Humans spend much of their lives working and living in groups.  And as with interpersonal relationships, there are many different reasons why people join and remain in groups (e.g., family, love and emotions, mutual benefit and safety, etc.) and the relationships that members have with their groups can be long- or short-term, can be deep or superficial, and can change over time.  The concepts of commitment to a group or organization are similar in many ways to commitment to an interpersonal relationship—including the multi-dimensional nature of the concept.

Researchers John Meyer and Natalie Allen defined organizational commitment as a psychological state characterizing an employee’s relationship with the organization and affecting his or her decision to remain with the organization.  They identified three types of organizational commitment: affective, continuance, and normative commitment. 

Affective commitment is rooted in a member’s emotional attachment to an organization.  It forms because the individual identifies with the goals of the organization and willingly assists the organization in achieving those goals.  Continuance commitment is based in the real and perceived costs and benefits of leaving or remaining with an organization.  “I am getting paid too much to leave” or “Where else will I be able to have the benefits that I have with this company?” are statements that demonstrate continuance commitment.   Lost friendships and social interaction are social costs of leaving an organization—and contribute to continuance commitment.   Normative commitment refers to a perceived sense of obligation or loyalty.  Feeling that you “owe” the company something in return for what it has done for you or sensing that you have moral obligation to remain with the organization characterize this form of commitment.  Affective, continuance, and normative commitments refer to “want to,” “have to,” and “ought to” orientations toward organizational membership.

Meyer and Allen suggested that all three types of commitment operate on organizational members simultaneously.  An employee can be committed to an organization in affective, continuance, and normative senses at the same time—and those levels can change over time.  Understanding these concepts is key to developing deep, long-term, and positive relationships with employees.


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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved