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Measurement issues in the Meyer & Allen model of organizational commitment

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Measurement issues in the Meyer & Allen model of organizational commitment

Steve Jaros

Southern University

Paper to be presented at the 2007 Academy of Management Meetings.

The Meyer/Allen three-component model of commitment arguably dominates organizational commitment research. Given its widespread use, the measures used to tap the affective, continuance, and normative commitment constructs merit close scrutiny. This paper will outline some of the key measurement problems and challenges associated with this model, and present recommendations for future research. First, I discuss the degree to which the three Meyer and Allen scales, the ACS, the CCS, and the NCS, tap their associated affective commitment, continuance commitment, and normative commitment constructs. Next, I discuss some measurement issues that pertain specifically to normative commitment. Third, I offer a discussion of measurement issues that pertain specifically to continuance commitment. I conclude with some comments about the model's generalizability and relationship with recently-developed work attitudes that may overlap its conceptual domain.
I. Degree of correspondence between the ACS, CCS, and NCS and Meyer & Herscovitch's (2001) conceptualizations of the underlying constructs

How well do the ACS, CCS, and NCS reflect the underlying affective, normative, and continuance commitment constructs? In this section, I argue that there are some discrepancies between these scales and the constructs, as defined by Meyer & Herscovitch (2001) and, with respect to normative commitment, Meyer, Becker, & Van Dick (2006), that they are designed to reflect.

Meyer & Herscovitch's definitions of commitment. Meyer & Herscovitch (2001) propose that commitment is “a force that binds an individual to a course of action of relevance to one or more targets.” Employees are theorized to experience this force in the form of three mindsets: affective, normative, and continuance, which reflect emotional ties, perceived obligation, and perceived sunk costs in relation to a target, respectively.

In addition to these mindsets, their concept of commitment also includes the notions of focal and discretionary behavior. A focal behavior is one believed to be integral to the concept of commitment to a particular target, such that all three mindsets should predict this behavior. In contrast, discretionary behaviors are 'optional', in the sense that some mindsets, but not others, may predict these behaviors. For organizational commitment, the focal behavior is theorized to be maintaining membership in the organization. One key measurement difference between the two kinds of behaviors is that Meyer and Herscovitch argue that a commitment’s focal behavior should be referenced in the scale items used to measure each commitment mindset, whereas discretionary behaviors should not be. Thus, the basic form of an organizational commitment item should be that it is worded to reflect (a) the mindset, (b) the target of commitment, in this case the organization, and (c) the focal behavior, in this case remaining a member of the organization.

Comparing the ACS, NCS, and CCS to the Meyer and Herscovitch conceptualization. Let's consider each scale in light of the above conceptualization: Looking at the eight items of the original NCS (see the Appendix for the original ACS, NCS, and CCS scales items, with my notes), it appears to me that all eight items reference the organization, and also seemingly tap the mindset of 'obligation'. Additionally, it appears that five of the eight items directly reference staying/leaving, while the remaining three items indirectly reference it (they mention remaining loyal, which many respondents might interpret to encompass remaining with the organization). Although this scale is not reproduced here, I also looked at the 1993 revised NCS, and in my opinion four of the six items directly reference staying/leaving, and the other two indirectly reference it.

Similarly, all items in the original CCS (and also the revised 1993 CCS, and the revised six-item Powell & Meyer (2004) CCS) directly reference the organization, seemingly tap perceived costs or barriers to exit, and staying/leaving intentions. In contrast, while all eight items of the ACS reference the organization, only one item, the first one listed, explicitly or implicitly mentions staying/leaving. All of the other items reference positive feelings about the organization only, such as experiencing a sense of belonging, embracing the organization's problems, and feeling emotionally attached to the organization. Thus, seven of the eight ACS items seemingly do not comport with Herscovitch & Meyer's (2001) concept of affective commitment, at least with respect to the focal behavior aspect of the construct.

All else being equal, we'd expect a commitment scale that explicitly mentions an outcome in item wording to correlate with and predict it more strongly then a commitment scale that does not explicitly tap that outcome in the wording of its items. We might even argue that such a scale invalidly overlaps with the outcome, thus overstating the relationship between the outcome and commitment (cf. Bozeman & Perrewe's 2001 analysis of intent-to-quit items in the OCQ). Yet somewhat paradoxically, in the case of the Meyer and Allen scales, the exact opposite is true: the ACS, which largely lacks the focal behavior (staying/leaving) wording, has been found to be a much stronger correlate of and predictor of turnover related variables than the NCS or the CCS, which are saturated with staying/leaving wording (Meyer et al., 2002).

There are seemingly two ways that the focal-behavior-in-scale-items discrepancy between the ACS and the NCS/CCS can be resolved. If one believes (like Meyer & Herscovitch, 2001) that it is appropriate, indeed necessary, to include focal behavioral terms in commitment scale items, then seven of the eight ACS items should be re-written to explicitly tap concepts such as staying and leaving. If one agrees with Bozeman & Perrewe (2001) that behavioral referents are invalid, contaminating the commitment measure with measures of other constructs, then the NCS and CCS should largely be re-written to purge them of the staying/leaving language in their items. But, doing either is likely to increase the already significantly large discrepancy in the turnover-related predictive power between the ACS and the NCS/CCS, perhaps to the point where only the ACS is a significant predictor. If so, the logic behind the three-component model, at least with respect to the notion of focal behavior and to commitment to the organization, might be undermined. Future research using a revised ACS that reflects the theorized construct (i.e., all items mention staying/leaving), or else revised versions of the NCS and CCS that omit reference to staying/leaving, should be conducted to assess this issue.

II. Issues unique to the NCS

Discriminant validity vs. the ACS. As noted by Bergman (2006), in US and Canadian studies, neither the 8-item or 6-item NCS has been shown to have a high degree of discriminant validity with the ACS. Both versions of the scale tend to be highly correlated with the ACS (.77 for the 6-item and .54 for the 8-item versions). While these correlations are not indicative of complete redundancy between affective and normative commitment, normative commitment often offers little additional explanatory power when modeled as a predictor of outcomes in conjunction with affective commitment.

In non-western cultures, the NCS and the ACS tend to be even more highly correlated, and yet the NCS arguably has shown greater discriminant validity in these settings, since it does tend to contribute significantly to outcome prediction. For example, in a Taiwanese sample, Chang et al. (2006) found a correlation between the ACS and NCS of .66, but nevertheless, SEM analysis showed that even when controlling for the ACS, the NCS was a strong predictor of turnover intentions. Likewise, in a Chinese sample, Chen & Francesco (2003) found a correlation between the ACS and NCS of .64, but also found that the NCS played a key role in moderating the relationship between the ACS and three dimensions of citizenship behaviors. Thus, despite high inter-correlations, there is evidence of construct distinctiveness, at least in Eastern cultures, perhaps reflecting the "collectivist" natures of those cultures, in which commitment based on obligation might have more resonance (Meyer & Allen, 1997). Moving forward on this issue, research is needed to conduct comprehensive item-level CFA or IRT analysis to determine redundancy between ACS and NCS at the item, not just scale, level, as a means of pin-pointing redundant items and thus clarifying the distinctiveness of the NC construct.

Conceptual changes in normative commitment. NC’s definition has changed since its inception (Allen, 2003). The original 1990 NCS was designed to capture NC as based on Weiner’s (1982) work on the internalization of social loyalty norms to organizations. In 1993, NC was reconceptualized as an obligation to stay with the organization, without specific reference to social pressures about loyalty (Meyer et al., 1993). This conceptual shift was built in to the revised 1993 NCS. However, recently, NC has been altered yet again, to reflect reciprocity for a benefit (Meyer et al., 2002). Still more recently, Meyer, Becker, & Van Dick (2006) refined this new reciprocity theme further, positing a two-dimensional concept of normative commitment: an "indebted obligation" aspect that reflects the perceived need to meet other's expectations, which is theorized to be correlated with continuance commitment; and a "moral imperative" aspect that reflects striving to meet valued outcomes, which is theorized to be correlated with affective commitment. Thus, the current NCS, which hasn't been revised since 1993, has not been modified to keep up with the recent conceptual revisions, and thus probably does not adequately reflect the theorized construct, which now bears a strong resemblance to social-exchange based constructs such as the psychological contract (Rousseau & Wade-Benzoni, 1995).

NC as an antecedent of CC? Lastly, Powell & Meyer (2004) found that contrary to expectations, social-cost side bets predicted NC stronger than CC, and speculated that NC might be a "special form" of continuance commitment. This idea has face validity, since an "obligation to remain" with the organization, particularly one based on reciprocity, could very well be experienced by the employee as a psychic "cost", in the form of a guilty conscience, that would have to be incurred if the employee were to break the obligation and leave. Similarly, Wasti (2003), in noting that Becker's original continuance commitment theory contemplated "generalized cultural expectations" about remaining as an antecedent, says that "Becker has in effect proposed that continuance commitment does not develop from calculative costs only, but has normative bases as well" (p.529). This further confounds the issue of the discriminant validity of the NCS as measuring a distinct form of commitment. Clearly, additional empirical work, using a revised NCS that comports with the latest conceptualization, is needed to address whether NC really is a form of commitment, or an antecedent of commitment.

III. CCS issues

Specificity of CCS items. As Allen (2003) noted, CC is the degree to which the employee recognizes, or is aware, that she or he is staying because of the costs associated with leaving—not the existence of the costs themselves. Further, and critically, this awareness can stem from various events or perceptions, the nature or substance of which can be quite idiosyncratic to the individual. For this reason, Allen argues that "the best CC items are those that capture the recognition of perceived costs but do so without reference to their specific source." The emphasis on perceived costs is important; because of the accumulated evidence that the CCS is bi-dimensional (it includes "high sacrifices" and "low alternatives" items). Thus, the conclusion to be drawn is that only the three "high sacrifice" items from the original CCS reflect the construct of continuance commitment, and that only these items should used to measure it. Powell & Meyer (2004) have taken this advice developed a new CCS that includes the three HS items, plus three additional items also designed to tap sunk costs but not low perceived alternatives. This scale merits additional research to assess its validity.

However, Wasti (2003), while agreeing that continuance commitment should reflect high sacrifice side-bets and not low perceived alternatives, adopts a perspective on item specificity that parts company with Allen's notion that the best CC items capture perceived costs sans reference to their specific source. Wasti argues that the CCS should not consist of "vague items expressing awareness of unspecified costs (p.547)" because doing so means the CCS will be influenced by affective and normative factors, thus conflating continuance commitment with affective and normative commitment, and thus precluding the development of a pure three-component model, in which each form of commitment has unique antecedents and unique implications for outcomes. She concludes by claiming that the current "vague" CCS does not "reliably represent a calculative attachment to the organization" and recommends re-writing the CCS to consist entirely of items that narrowly reflect calculative, instrumental costs as opposed to broader normative/affective social and cultural costs.

In one sense, I am sympathetic to Wasti's position. There is a rich research tradition on "calculative" commitment, commitment based on economic exchange, which traces its theoretical lineage back to March and Simon (cf. Mayer & Schoorman, 1996) that has been shunted aside over the past 15 or so years as the Meyer/Allen model has gained ascendancy in the literature. Perhaps measures of calculative commitment of the kind Wasti has in mind could be pitted against Meyer & Allen's CCS to determine which kind of "cost-based commitment" has the most explanatory power. But within the context of the Meyer/Allen model, Allen's (2003) perspective makes more sense. Continuance commitment is based on Becker's theory, and as Wasti herself acknowledges, Becker contemplated commitment based on a broad array of costs, ranging from economic to cultural and social/psychological. Thus, the CCS should include items that tap this full range of possible costs.

Other possible CCS models. Finally, concerning the earlier argument against inclusion of "low alternatives" items in favor of "high sacrifice" items in the CCS: one other possibility that has not been tested is that both the HS and LA subscales are first-order factors that reflect a higher, 2nd order, continuance commitment construct. It might be the case that an employee experiences continuance commitment (perhaps as a result of a felt need to maintain consistency in behavior, to avoid losing face, etc.), and as a result, this causes them to believe that they lack alternatives and that leaving the organization would be difficult/disruptive. This possibility could be modeled using 2nd-order CFA, with CC modeled as a 2nd order factor that underlies the HS and LA sub- dimensions.

Conversely, it's possible that the HS and LA subscales are formative dimensions of CC, i.e., they 'cause' the formation of a continuance commitment construct. It might be the case that an employee perceives that he/she lack alternatives and have incurred sunk costs that would be difficult to sacrifice, and as a result, they experience continuance commitment to the organization. This possibility would be assessed by modeling CC as a latent construct that is formed by the combined influence of latent LA and HS constructs. Note that this is not the same as simply adding the scores on all of the LA and HS items to create a single CC scale (as has been the usual practice in the literature). The CC construct would include a construct-level error term, which implies that the CC construct has "surplus meaning" (cf. Mackenzie et al., 2005), including the possibility that perhaps some third factor, in addition to HS and LA, contributes to the formation of CC as well. Thus, the aggregate CC construct cannot be reduced to a simple mathematical sum of its indicators, in this case the HS and LA constructs.

Thus, tests of these models may reveal that the LA items may yet be found to play a role in the formation or reflection of continuance commitment.

Conclusion: Fitting the Meyer and Allen model in a nomological net

Two remaining issues that are important to the further refinement of the Meyer/Allen measures are (1) the generalizability of the model in a 'micro' sense, and (2) the relationship between the commitment constructs and recently developed work attitudes that appear to tap at least part of the same conceptual space.

Micro generalizability. To clarify: I use the term "macro generalizability" to refer to the generalizability of the Meyer/Allen commitment measures to populations beyond that, or broader in scope, than the Western population in which it was originally developed - namely to non-Western social cultures. While investigating the validity of the measures across cultures is of obvious import, a robust program is currently being carried out by researchers studying the validity of the model in East Asian cultures (cf. Cheng & Stockdale, 2003; Chang, 2006), Mid-Eastern cultures (Wasti 2003, Cetin 2006), and Eastern Europe (Vandenburghe et al., 2001). No doubt, the model will soon be tested on South American and African populations as well.

In contrast, by "micro generalizability" I mean the validity of the model within smaller sub-populations within the broader Western culture in which the model was first developed. Here, research is lacking, though some initial steps have been taken. For example, Dawley et al, (2005) extended the analysis of the Meyer/Allen constructs to one such sub-population, volunteers, specifically chamber of commerce board members, and found that the 'high sacrifice" CC subscale did not measure a meaningful construct. Dawley et al. explained this by noting that volunteer chamber board members often have paid employment with other organizations, and would not suffer monetary losses to the same degree as regular paid employees. They argue that their findings should not be interpreted as meaning that "perceived sacrifices" is not an important basis of commitment for volunteer chamber of commerce board members, but instead that the CCS contains items that are too narrowly focused on economic sacrifices, to the exclusion of the kinds of social and psychological sacrifices (e.g., the prestige and public visibility of being a board member) that quitting a chamber board would entail. Thus, they argue for a refined measure of continuance commitment that would tap these non-economic costs (recall that this view of the nature of the current CCS is the opposite of Wasti (2003), who argues that the CCS is characterized by vague, catch-all items and isn't focused enough on economic costs).

Dawley et al.'s findings have to be viewed with some caution, because (a) Dawley et al. altered the wording of the three high-sacrifice items in a way that might have caused respondents to disregard non-economic sacrifices. For example, CC-HS item 3 was altered to remove wording that refers to "considerable personal sacrifices" that would have to be made, and CC-HS item 2 was altered to remove wording that refers to "life disruptions"; and (b) chamber of commerce volunteers may not be representative of volunteers generally, since most members are businessmen who join and serve at least in part for instrumental reasons (to make business contacts, network with customers, etc.), as opposed to purely altruistic reasons. Perhaps a sample of Red Cross or battered women's shelter volunteers would have yielded different results.

But beyond these specifics, this study is exemplary in that it highlights the need to conduct research that tests the validity of the model, amongst non-traditional organization members, such as volunteers, contract workers, and temporary workers (cf. Coyle-Shapiro & Morrow, 2006). Ultimately, formal tests of measurement invariance should be conducted to determine the relative fit of the ACS, CCS, and NCS across these sub-populations.

Relationships with other recently-developed work attitude constructs.

Recently, several new work-related attitudes have been introduced in the literature that seemingly tap similar conceptual space of or otherwise challenge the validity of the Meyer and Allen model. For example, Harrison et al. (2006) note that the meta-analytic correlations between the ACS and measures of Job Satisfaction are greater than the correlations between the ACS and the CCS and between the ACS and NCS, implying that the construct tapped by the ACS, affective commitment, is more closely related to JS than to the other Meyer/Allen commitment constructs. Thus, they propose that the ACS should be broken off from the three-component model and coupled with JS as sub-dimensions of a broader job attitude construct reflecting a "fundamental evaluation of one's job experiences" (p.306), and which should predict behaviors such as turnover and job performance better than the three-component model.

Harrison et al. (2006) did find some support for their contention: A meta-analytic SEM model that posited JS and AC as first-order latent indicators of a 2nd-order job attitude construct fit the data well, and the job attitude construct predicted behaviors such as job performance and absenteeism. However, they did not test the comparative utility of their formulation versus alternatives, such as modeling JS and AC as having direct effects on behavior, or including normative and continuance commitment in their analyses. Still, Harrison et al.'s findings challenge the basic structure of the Meyer/Allen model: is affective commitment one of three commitment mindsets, or is it its affective component so strong that it actually is distinct from normative and continuance commitment, and subsumed in a general orientation towards one's job?

Similarly, Lee and Mitchell and colleagues (cf. Mitchell et al., 2001; Lee et al., 2004) have recently developed a job embeddedness construct, which they propose as reflecting the idea of the employee being situated "within a social web" that encompasses the extent to which one has links to other people, the extent to which one's job/community fit with their life-spaces, and the sacrifices incurred if one wanted to break these links and leave the organization. In developing this construct, Mitchell et al. (2001) compared it to the Meyer and Allen commitment model. They noted that (a) whereas job embeddedness captures both organizational and non-work linkages, organizational commitment is focused on organizational linkages only, (b) that normative and affective commitment are "conceptually quite different" from job embeddedness because NC and AC reflect emotional ties whereas JE is a largely cognitive construct, but (c) job embeddedness does share considerable conceptual space with continuance commitment, as both try to capture sunk costs and ties that bind one to the organization. But, they also noted some differences, such as the CCS's inclusion of "perceived alternatives" items, and the CCS's use of "general items", whereas their JE scale was designed to tap specific side-bets. They conclude by saying their JE measure is "more specific and includes elements not typically included within the side bet idea" (p.1106).

Since JE was designed to reflect an employee's level of enmeshment in the organization and community, Mitchell et al. argued that their JE construct should be a powerful predictor of voluntary turnover, above and beyond the predictive power of job satisfaction and Meyer and Allen's three components of organizational commitment. Results from the 2001 study were partially supportive: Controlling for the three forms of commitment and job satisfaction, JE significantly predicted turnover amongst a sample of hospital workers, but not for a sample of grocery workers. Also, contrary to their conceptual argument, job embeddedness was strongly correlated with AC (.65) and NC (.39) but not significantly correlated with CC (.12), indicating that JE is saturated with affective/evaluative content.

In their 2004 study, Lee et al. conducted an exploratory factor analysis of their job embeddedness items, a measure of job satisfaction, and Meyer/Allen's ACS. Results showed a three-factor solution in which items for JS, AC, and the "fit" and "sacrifice" dimensions of on-the-job embeddedness loaded on one factor, the "fit" and "sacrifice" dimensions of off-the-job embeddedness on a second factor, and the "links" items for both on and off the job embeddedness loaded on a third factor. These findings muddle the waters as to what "job embeddedness" is and how it relates to Meyer and Allen's model. Future research is needed (cf. Ng & Feldman, 2007), using CFA to sort out factor structure, and SEM to evaluate their comparative ability to predict outcomes, such as turnover, that will provide firmer answers to these questions.

Finally, Jackson et al. (2006) have introduced an individual-difference concept they call psychological collectivism (PC), a personality trait that reflects a preference for and reliance on group membership, a tendency to adhere to group norms, and prioritization of in-group goals over individual goals. Jackson et al. succeeded in developing scales for 5 facets of PC, and found that overall PC positively predicted citizenship behavior and task performance, and negatively predicted withdrawal behavior, although they did not control for other causes such as organizational commitment. The key issues here is whether PC is a factor that might "compete" with Meyer and Allen's constructs in the prediction of these outcomes, or is PC an antecedent of commitment? Usually, the search for antecedents to AC, NC, and CC has focused on extra-individual factors such as side bets (CC), work experiences (AC), and social-cultural normative pressures (NC). But, perhaps PC represents a dispositional tendency to commit to collectives, including the organization, the team, etc. and therefore might predict all three forms of commitment. Future research should assess this notion and the other nomological-net issues discussed in this section, as a means of further refining the meaning and measures of the Meyer/Allen commitment constructs.

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Appendix: Commitment Scale Items (from Allen & Meyer, 1990):
Affective Commitment Scale items
1. I would be very happy to spend the rest of my career

with this organization *

2. I enjoy discussing my organization with people outside it
3. I really feel as if this organization's problems are my own
4. I think that I could easily become as attached to another

organization as I am to this one (R)

5. I do not feel like 'part of the family' at my organization (R)
6. I do not feel 'emotionally attached' to this organization (R)
7. This organization has a great deal of

personal meaning for me

8. I do not feel a strong sense of belonging to my

organization (R)

Continuance Commitment Scale items
1. I am not afraid of what might happen if I quit my job without

having another one lined up (R)

2. It would be very hard for me to leave my organization right

now, even if I wanted to

3. Too much in my life would be disrupted if I decided I

wanted to leave my organization now

4. It wouldn't be too costly for me to leave my

organization now (R)

5. Right now, staying with my organization is a matter of

necessity as much as desire

6. I feel that I have too few options to consider

leaving this organization

7. One of the few serious consequences of leaving this

organization would be the scarcity of available alternatives

8. One of the major reasons I continue to work for this

organization is that leaving would require considerable

personal sacrifice — another organization may not match the

overall benefits I have here

Normative Commitment Scale items
1. I think that people these days move from company to

company too often. *

2. I do not believe that a person must always be loyal to his or

her organization (R)

3. Jumping from organization to organization does not seem at

all unethical to me (R) *

4. One of the major reasons I continue to work for this

organization is that I believe that loyalty is important and

therefore feel a sense of moral obligation to remain *
5. If i got another offer for a better job elsewhere I would not

feel it was right to leave my organization *

6. I was taught to believe in the value of remaining loyal to

one organization

7. Things were better in the days when people stayed with

one organization for most of their careers *

8. I do not think that wanting to be a 'company man' or

'company woman' is sensible anymore (R)

* directly reflect the focal behavior for organizational commitment, staying/leaving (omitted for the CCS, since in my opinion all items reflect staying/leaving)

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