Edition 38, Human Resources

Benefits of Normative Commitment for Organizations

By: Norma Betanzos (1), and Francisco Paz (2)

Organizational commitment is an issue that has become increasingly important for human resources experts, because it is crucial for a company’s employees to “wear the team colors,” meaning they love their company and do their jobs well (Arciniega, 2002). It is therefore important to understand the nature, development and implications of employee commitment.

We know that there are different types of commitment (affective, continuance and normative), and that each of these has a different effect on employee behavior and attitudes.

What happens when a company encounters hard times? When it has the wrong leaders? When the climate makes it difficult to work? When employee bonuses cannot be paid, or economic crisis makes wages less appealing to workers? The company needs committed employees to obtain competitive advantages, but it often introduces changes in the guise of efficiency (layoffs, restructuring, mergers, flex time, etc.).

All of this can often weaken the commitment of a company’s employees, diminishing or even destroying their affection for the company and lowering their productivity levels. They may find it more attractive to change jobs in search of better conditions, and the commitment ends. The employee is ready to leave the company; nothing is holding them back.

To prevent employees from abandoning their commitment to the company, it is important to build up their ties to the organization. One option is to establish a strong normative commitment (which has been little studied to date). This commitment strengthens employee retention even when the organization faces adverse circumstances. In extreme cases, for example, when the company is facing bankruptcy, employees may sacrifice their revenues and benefits and stay on to the bitter end because, as Wiener (1982) puts it, “they believe that it is the right and moral thing to do”. This creates a stabilizing force that can keep employee behavior on course when organizational conditions change.

This behavior is different from affective commitment (an emotional bond with the company) and continuity commitment (based on economic gains). Employees gain a sense of obligation through their experiences with the organization. In some cultures, intense feelings of normative commitments are encouraged. In Japan, for example, employees form a long-term commitment to their company and remain with it in good times and in bad, because their commitment does not depend on circumstances, but rather on a personal decision they have made.

Individuals in collectivist cultures (like Brazil) see their obligations as something they want to do, rather than an imposed duty, and they feel satisfied and successful in their jobs, while individualist cultures (like United States) inculcate the moral duty of doing one’s job. So obligations are experienced in different ways from country to country, and therefore, they have different implications for the worker’s job performance and yield.

In Mexico, we conducted qualitative research with focus groups made up of 25 workers from various companies, in order to describe ideas about what they think about normative commitment. We found two categories of this commitment: a) normative commitment and b) moral commitment (Rodriguez and Betanzos, 2011).

The normative component of commitment is experienced as the duty to obey organizational rules and policies regarding the job but employee must do. This commitment is assumed out of conviction and free will, not obligation. It is assumed as an important value and is the responsibility of each individual, independent of the organization, because it is a value acquired and nurtured in the family home and becomes part of the individual’s personality. Respecting this commitment is a personal need.

Workers that do not conform to established policies and duties may become subject to external sanctions against them. They may also face internal sanctions–like value judgments about their performance in the company–that make them feel badly.

“There is no harsher judge than the one we all have inside, meaning when you know you’re failing and you feel remorse […], because you are failing yourself…”

Unlike normative commitment, with moral commitment, workers understand that, besides the opportunity to work, they obtain benefits from their organization that binds them to it morally and that, as such, they must reciprocate and return these benefits. On the other hand, this reciprocity and retribution could be negative if workers feel they are not receiving a fair treatment or that the labor relationship is not an equitable one, which causes them to behave negatively toward their jobs or to be disloyal to the organization.

In addition, workers have certain expectations that the company will compensate them for their work and efforts. Trusting in this relationship, workers strive to repay the company for the benefits received, so that they do not feel indebted. Finally, this moral bond between the worker and the organization is expressed as loyalty and permanence, even if there are better opportunities elsewhere.

1 Dra. en Psicología. Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos. México.

2 Dr. en Psicología. Instituto Nacional de Neurología y Neurocirugía “Manuel Velasco Suárez”. México.

“This bond that, on a personal level, I formed with this institution […], this loyalty is […], in some way, a repayment for everything it has given me [and] other things that […] for me are even more valuable than money.”

Loyalty is also expressed as a concern for the company’s well-being and protection of its interests.

“They were people that put in for [worked] fifteen minutes and they were paid for half an hour. Fifteen minutes you’d lose in changing clothes, neatening up, going to the bathroom, and when you’re not generating, I mean, you’re jeopardizing all of this [the company].”

Normative commitment, on the other hand, seems to be more a characteristic or value that employees acquire in the social group where they were formed (family, schools, friends) and which inspires them to keep their commitments. In Mexican culture, this is what comes closer to the concept of job responsibility. For a Mexican employee, responsibility and duty are an interest in and concern for others, a personal quality, like virtue and conscience. Mexicans consider it to be a basic dimension of social relations, and therefore, responsibility is considered a positive trait for the individual (Díaz-Guerrero and Szalay, 1993).

In their recent review of this variable, Meyer and Parfyonova (2010) find employees with a strong normative and affective commitment are more likely to express a desire to do the right thing according to their moral standards, which in the long run produces positive effects, both for the employee and for the organization (intention of staying with the company, support for change, and the well-being of workers). A solid normative and continuance commitment reveals how employees behave with regard to their obligation to repay a debt (to do something to avoid the social costs).

Personal values and principles are vitally important for normative commitment, because they guarantee that workers will do their job thoroughly, in keeping with the organizational standards and guidelines, without the need for constant supervision.

On the other hand, it seems that when workers receive benefits or facilities from their organizations that are not stipulated in the contract, they tend to correspond by changing their behavior on the job and making a greater effort to avoid betraying the trust the company has placed in them. This creates a virtually unbreakable bond with the organization and stronger even than the economic benefits or the affective bond. It goes back to the reciprocity that is latent in all spheres of social interaction and, as such, is universal. It is a standard that is not imposed, but which determines the actions that will be taken in recompense for certain benefits received. Trust also plays a crucial role, since without it, this relationship would not be possible (Rodriguez and Betanzos, 2001).

The company shows its trust in the worker by communicating material information that makes it vulnerable. Employees’ normative commitment is what makes then behave with loyalty, discretion and confidentiality, to avoid acting the detriment of their organization. This loyalty also facilitates relationships in work groups, since the employee will support decisions that benefit the company, but also the people that work there.

In this exercise of understanding, we believe there is enough evidence to sustain that the normative commitments can be interpreted as stemming from a mature acceptance of a practical daily belief, not intellectually elaborated, that we are what we do. We do things well, even better than what is required of us, not to be exemplary employees, but rather to feel good about the performance of the tasks entrusted to us and satisfied at having fulfilled our responsibilities and duties.

We know that commitment is multi-dimensional, as is the contractual relationship and daily interactions in the company. If we examined these dimensions from the perspective of normative commitment, they are intertwined in a single discourse.

León (2009) explains that experiencing one’s ties to the organization as a moral contract that binds the employee also creates the conditions for critical attitude toward the company when the employee does not feel it has kept up its end of the deal. Normative commitment also takes on the dimension of responsibility toward what we do, in other words, to do the job right, without defects. Therefore, normative commitment creates additional motivation for producing a quality product, and there is no more important goal for workers. If they fail, if the results do not come out as expected, they feel guilt and shame. In short, we find a commitment based on shared beliefs of what makes a “good worker,” a “responsible worker.” Thus, normative commitment brings significant benefits to an organization, but also implies that the relationship must be more balanced in order to maintain this reciprocity between the company and the workers, in which both have something to gain.

References

  • Arciniega, L.M. (2002). Compromiso Organizacional en México: ¿Cómo hacer que la gente se ponga la camiseta? Dirección Estratégica, 2, 21-23.
  • Díaz-Guerrero, R. and Szalay, L.B. (1993). El mundo subjetivo de mexicanos y norteamericanos. México: Trillas, pp. 151-163.
  • León, F. J. (2009). El compromiso limitado. Un estudio sobre las razones estratégicas e identitarias de las acciones de resistencia y compromiso en el trabajo. Cuadernos de Relaciones Laborales, 27; 2: 115-143.
  • Meyer, J. P. and Parfyonova, N. M. (2010). Normative commitment in the workplace: A theoretical analysis and re-conceptualization. Human Resource Management Review.
  • Rodríguez, L. C. S. and Betanzos D. N. (2011). Vinculación entre empleado y empresa: analizando el constructo compromiso organizacional normativo en el trabajo. XVI Congreso Internacional de Contaduría, Administración e Informática. UNAM. ISBN: 978-607-02-2548-2
  • Wiener, Y. (1982). Commitment in organizations: A normative view. Academy of Management Review, 7: 418−428.

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