Edition 53, Human Resources

The Connection Between Employee Commitment and Organizational Communication Management

By: Dra. Mariana Barresi,
Universidad Austral de Buenos Aires

How can you develop employee commitment to an organization? How do you get employees to go to bat for the organization, to feel a sense of oneness with the organizational goals or, what appears to be the aspiration of any business leader, to feel a moral obligation to go the extra mile on the job?

In reality, commitment and retention depend on many factors. Can effective communication management contribute to these goals?

Employee commitment not only increases the likelihood that employees will stay with the organization, but it also brings about a number of advantages for both the organization and the people who work in it. The benefits can be grouped into four categories: 1) increased retention and, at the same time, a negative relationship with employee turnover; 2) greater willingness to pursue the organization’s goals; 3) improved performance that, in turn, can result in greater presenteeism, in better execution of the assigned tasks and in extra effort exerted by employees beyond what is expected of them; and finally 4) some studies also revealed the link between commitment and employee well-being in terms of lower levels of stress and burnout at work.

Organizational commitment can be defined as the employee’s emotional attachment to the organization. According to Meyer & Allen, this bond experienced by employees during their work relationship has three distinctive components, which the authors identify as affective, continuance and normative commitments. Affective commitment refers to the employee’s feelings of identification and involvement with the organization, which is expressed in the desire to stay in it, and to work harder and more efficiently. Secondly, the continuance component focuses on a link of an instrumental nature based on the need to stay, taking into account the costs involved in leaving the organization (i.e. losing seniority, benefits, autonomy, among others) or the lack of job alternatives. Thirdly, normative commitment reflects the employee’s sense of obligation to stay, based on a moral debt that the employee feels toward the organization.

Organizational commitment as an indicator of life in the workplace is a matter of great interest to those who run businesses, particularly in times of economic recession and uncertainty. The strong interest in the topic is due mainly to the strategic and competitive importance of human resources, because, in order to prosper, organizations increasingly rely on motivated and efficient employees, who accompany them in both the good times and the bad, who go to work and devote all their energy, effort and time, who protect their assets and contribute to the attainment of organizational goals (Meyer & Allen, 1997).

At the same time, globalization and the increasing interconnectedness resulting from technological developments are transforming the work world. This compels us to consider more democratic and inclusive approaches to managing people that are based more on commitment than on “command and control.” Therefore, if organizational commitment is conceived as a psychological relationship between an individual and the organization for which he/she works, it can be expected that communication may be viewed as one of the mechanisms to strengthen this relationship and to integrate employees into the organization.

Various studies show that the value of communication can be found in its ability to unite and connect what otherwise would be separate. To illustrate, the classic 2004 Communication Return on Investment (ROI) study by the international consulting firm Watson Wyatt suggests that effective communication can help employees feel connected to the organization and, in turn, quickly connect employees to the ever-evolving challenges of the business. In addition, it can connect new employees to the organizational culture and to the managers and employees in times of change. In turn, they found a correlation between effective communication, employee turnover and financial performance. In particular, the 2005 edition of this study, as well as the subsequent reports, seem to confirm these results.

A study conducted in Argentina analyzes the relationship between communication satisfaction and organizational commitment of the employees of two large multinational organizations in that country: Carrefour and DIA. This study identifies what types or modes of communication can better explain or predict employee commitment in a sample of 372 cases, in the DIA Maxi and Carrefour Express stores located in the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires (AMBA).

One of the merits of the study is that it uses a research model that integrates an adapted and translated version of the Communication Satisfaction Questionnaire (CSQ), developed by Downs and Hazen, and the components of affective and continuance organizational commitment, according to Meyer & Allen’s Three-Component Model of Commitment.1

The CSQ has been used in a series of works that comprises more than 30 doctoral dissertations and Master’s theses as well as various specialized publications. It has also been translated into several languages —Chinese, Dutch, Thai, Finnish, Japanese, German, Pakistani, Spanish, etc.— and has been applied in different sectors and industries. The experience gained in the countries where the theme was analyzed indicates that there does not exist a series of principles or simple rules that can be applied universally to all situations. On the contrary, there can be variations in the level of employee satisfaction with communication depending on the conditions, such as the characteristics of the organization, its organizational culture, management style, sector or country.

Although, by practical intuition, both researchers and communication professionals assume that a positive perception of communication can contribute to organizational effectiveness, this phenomenon has not yet been adequately explored in the context of Latin America.

The main results of this study show that to influence the affective commitment of the employees, one of the resources available to managers is to improve the practices of formal communication.

DIA and Carrefour Argentina are among the seven largest businesses in the supermarket sector of the country, a sector that is dynamic, highly globalized and concentrated. Given their size, these chains are major generators of employment. In addition, they are typically characterized by the co-existence of different formats and sizes of stores or geographically dispersed units, with varying work schedules and uneven contact with the media, which makes it an interesting case for analysis. The originality and importance of the findings of other studies are based on the comparison between these two multinational organizations. The regression models suggest that in DIA the management of formal communication —communication that comes from senior executives and the heads of each department —seems to be the variable that most influences affective commitment. Meanwhile, in Carrefour the management of formal communication is the only variable that has a significant impact on affective commitment.

Implications for business managers

One of the major challenges for managers today is to convince their employees to contribute to achieving the objectives of the organization and to integrate them into their project. The evidence provided by research in this field indicates that the lack of commitment may reduce the effectiveness of the organization. Committed individuals are less likely to resign and, therefore, the organization does not incur the costs from a high turnover of employees. Also, as we have seen, employees with a strong affective commitment with the organization tend to give more than is expected of them and exhibit a greater sense of wellbeing. (Meyer & Allen, 1997). In this sense, the study has identified specific ways to develop affective commitment. The results, in line with the existing literature, have shown that it is precisely formal communication that exerts greater impact on affective commitment.

Among the various aspects associated with formal communication, the communication of senior management plays a key role. This is because one of the main tasks is to define and publicize the business vision, which in turn influences how people view the organization and what it represents (Downs & Adrian, 2004). This would be tantamount to saying that the sense of belonging to the organization is strongly influenced by the assessment of the employees with regard to the communication of senior management.

Another aspect closely related to formal communication is communication managed by communication professionals. Thus, the quality of the media evaluated by the perception of employees on the following points have an impact on affective commitment: 1) the usefulness of the magazine Dialogando, by DIA, and the television newscast Todos & Cada Uno, by Carrefour; 2) the written guidelines; 3) the productivity of the meetings; 4) the amount of information circulating in the organization; 5) the extent to which attitudes within the company toward communication are healthy. This would mean that employees may experience greater affective commitment if they obtain adequate information to perform their work through the formal means of the organization.

Finally, the climate of communication emphasizes the need to conceive of communication as a management tool by means of which organizational goals are disclosed and attained. Moreover, providing such strategic information increases the line of sight, i.e., that employees understand how their actions are connected and contribute to achieving business results (Gibson, Benson, Porath and Lawler III, 2007). This probably has to do with the management of communication, which involves a continuous process to develop commitment toward business strategies and to ensure that employees clearly understand how they can help achieve these strategies from their own work./p>

From the foregoing, the evidence suggests that managers should pay more attention to factors relating to the management of formal communication. Based on the study that was conducted, the results suggest that, to influence the affective commitment of employees, one of the resources available to managers is to improve the practices of formal communication.

Time for reflection

Is communication seen as an expense or as an investment in the organization that you direct? Is it considered part of the functions assumed by the CEO and the leaders of the organization? It is noteworthy that despite the growing appreciation of the practice of communication in all types of organizations, at present, budgets assigned to internal communication are significantly lower than the rest of the areas. Now that you have all the information, are you interested in using it to be a leader from a communication perspective?.

References

Barresi, M. (2014). La percepción de la satisfacción con la comunicación y sus implicancias en el compromiso organizacional en la Argentina. Un estudio de impacto en dos grandes organizaciones multinacionales: Carrefour y DIA (tesis doctoral). Universidad Austral, Buenos Aires.

Downs, C. W. y Hazen, M. D. (1977). A factor analytic study of communication satisfaction. Journal of Business Communication, 14(3), 63-74.

Meyer J. P. y Allen N. J. (1997). Commitment in the workplace. Theory, research and applications. Thousand Oaks, C.A.: Sage.

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1 The translation of the test of the Three Components of Organizational Commitment of Arciniega & González (2006) was used in this study (work).

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