When employees are given the opportunity to “do good” through their work, they are more likely to feel that their well being is valued by their company, and will reciprocate by developing affective commitment. You’ve never heard of affective commitment? Not only is it the key to effective management strategy, but it’s the secret to understanding what’s going on with your employees, your families, and the world around you.

It’s really nothing to be afraid of.


By Angela Parker

In this context, commitment refers to the degree of attachment an individual feels toward the organization he or she works for. If you’re a manager or the leader of a company, this is something you obsess about. Do my employees want to stay? Will they stick it out through tough times? Do they believe in this organization as much as I do?

While nothing is going to stop us from obsessing about those questions (not necessarily a bad thing), let’s at least organize the conversation into three types of commitment and then – perhaps – make our way to better questions.

1. Normative Commitment

“Son, we don’t quit.”

Did your dad ever say that to you? If so, you understand normative commitment, which builds upon a sense of duty, obligation, and/or loyalty. This type of commitment is common in the older generation that remembers when it was very difficult to get a job. They fundamentally believe that once you have it, you keep it. And you thank the Lord the whole way. You may find normative commitment less – ahem – normative in the millennial generation who have the opportunity to experience many lines of work throughout their lives.

Here’s the key: you can only depend on normative commitment if the intrinsic sense of loyalty in your employee is unbreakable, and that’s a difficult metric to gauge.

2. Continuance Commitment

From a cynical perspective, continuance commitment can sometimes be seen in marriages where it would be more of a pain to break up than to stay together. Things aren’t that great, but leaving would be just so terribly inconvenient. Essentially, continuance commitment boils down to a cost analysis. Would leaving cost more time, energy, money, and resources than staying?

The key here is that if your employees are only staying because it’s too much work to bother to leave, then you may have a problem.

3. Affective Commitment

To continue the analogy, affective commitment is the marital ideal. It’s when it becomes delightful to serve what you love, as stated in a recent, highly recommended article by David Brooks. In business speak, this is when in exchange for receiving support from organizations, employees reciprocate with emotional dedication. Adam Grant suggests in his study, Giving Commitment: Employee Support Programs And The Prosocial Sensemaking Process, that employees who are enabled to act pro-socially (give, volunteer, and otherwise “do good” for their colleagues or communities) are likely to respond with increased affective commitment to their organization.

This is huge. Affective commitment produces the results companies need in order to profit and to thrive. From a 2010 article in the International Journal of Management:

Affective commitment, or how much an employee actually likes or feels part of an organization has a tremendous effect on employee and organizational performance. High levels of affective commitment in employees will not only affect continuance commitment, but also encourages the employee to try to bring others into the talent pool of the organization. An employee with high levels of affective commitment acts as a brand ambassador of the organization. On the other hand, an employee with high continuance commitment (due to lack of alternatives), but poor affective commitment may harm the organization by criticizing it in his/her social circles.

Are your employee volunteering and giving programs producing affective commitment? How are you measuring the results? Adam Grant’s research is heavy, but it’s worth digging into. We also recommend his book Give and Take, for a high level look at the success of people who behave pro-socially.

Realized Worth works with companies to design and implement employee volunteer programs. We want to see your employees develop affective commitment to your organization! Give us a call, email us via contact@realizedworth.com, or reach out to us on Twitter and Facebook to talk about the programs that work best for you.

Angela Parker
Co-founder/Partner, Realized Worth
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