Numerous research studies have been carried out in the past twenty years to examine the development of employees’ organizational commitment. However, the human resource management practices that influence organizational commitment have received little attention from scholars. The prior studies on organizational commitment nevertheless show that organizations can significantly influence their employees’ commitment to their organizations especially if employees perceive their organizations’ actions as either supportive or unsupportive. Human resource strategies such as employee empowerment, team empowerment, participative management and strategic planning and their impact on employee commitment, employee satisfaction and the overall performance of the organization have been studied and documented by numerous researchers (Meyer & Smith 2000). There is however a gap in the human resource literature concerning career development strategies adopted by organizations and their impact on their employees. This study aims to explore the effect of career development (in the form of training provided by the organization) on employees’ level of commitment. The study will be based on Meyer and Allen’s (1997) model of commitment. According to the model, commitment is of three types namely: affective, normative and continuance commitment.
The purpose of this research is to examine the effect of human resources management practices, in particular career training and development, on employees’ affective, normative and continuance commitment. The study will be based on employees from five different organizations, four of which are manufacturing organizations and one is a financial organization. It is hoped that the results from this study will enable human resources managers to implement effective strategies that would motivate their employees to be committed to their organizations.
Evidence for Relations between HRM Practices and Commitment
There exists some limited number of empirical evidence that links employee commitment to real and perceived human resources management practices. Ogilvie (1986), for instance, discovered that, even when personal and work attributes are controlled, the perceptions of employees concerning two features of HRM practices-accuracy of the merit rating system and fairness of promotions- lead to increased commitment of employees towards their organizations. These two HRM features include accurate merit rating system and a fair promotion. Gaertner and Nollen (1989) discovered that the commitment of employees to their organizations was also strongly associated with real and perceived HRM strategies such as promotion, training programs and secure employment tenure. Kinicki, Carson, and Bohlander (1992) found disparities in the level of organizational commitment between employees working in two different organizations with different HRM practices. In addition to these research studies, commitment has been found to be latent consequential element in studies that have focused on particular HRM practices. The findings of these studies have shown that organizational commitment is strongly related to HRM strategies including recruitment, induction and training.
Even though the results of these studies show that HRM practices are linked to organizational commitment of employees, other scholars have shown that the relationship between HRM practices and organizational commitment is not essentially direct or absolute. For instance, Kinicki et al. (1992) discovered that the associations between actual HRM strategies and work perceptions (such as pride in the organization) were interceded by discernment of the organization’s dedication to HRM practices that provide benefits to employees (such as training programs and promotion). Likewise, Koys (1991) discovered that organizational commitment of employees was correlated with their perception that the organization’s HRM practices were fair and in the best interests of the employees. On the contrary, commitment was not found be related to employees’ feelings that HRM policies were driven by a need to enhance a company’s productivity or to conform to labour laws. In accordance with these results, one cannot therefore assume that the execution of a certain HRM strategy (for instance, training) will automatically increase employees’ commitment. Instead, the execution of a training program could stir employees to take into consideration the organization’s incentive. Therefore, this analysis will determine whether or not the commitment level of the employees is enhanced. This implies that commitment may be manipulated more by the message that is conveyed to the employees by the HRM practices than by the HRM strategies themselves (Guzzo & Noonan 1994; Iles, Mabey, & Robertson 1990). It is however important to consider that commitment can take different forms and that the mechanisms through which FIRM practices influence the various forms of commitment might also be different.
The nature and measurement of commitment
Employees’ organizational commitment is of various types, and the circumstances and effects of each can differ from the others (Meyer & Allen 1997). Scholars such as Meyer, Allen, and Smith (1993) have developed instruments to measure commitment as a multi-dimensional measurement. These scholars agree that organizational commitment is mainly of three types: affective, continuance, and normative commitment. Affective commitment refers to the emotional attachment that employees have with their organizations which enables them to strongly identify with and be involved in it. Continuance commitment is derived from the supposed high costs of leaving an organization whereas normative commitment results when employees feel obligated and indebted to their organizations and employers (Meyer & Allen 1997).
Majority of the prior studies that have been carried out on organization commitment of employees have mainly focused on affective commitment. Meyer and Allen (1997) suggested, however, that HRM practices might also influence continuance and normative commitment. A good illustration is the administration of employment benefits to employees. Employees who receive lucrative benefits packages are more likely to: perceive the organization as caring and supportive, and hence they may become strongly committed to it (affective commitment); feel indebted to the organization (normative commitment); and feel that the loss of such a lucrative package is too costly and therefore they would continue working in that organization (continuance commitment). The benefits of having a committed workforce to organizations are greatest in situations where employees are affectively committed. On the other hand, the consequences of having a continuously committed workforce can be significantly negative (Meyer & Allen 1997). Affective commitment has been proven to be linked to the strongest positive outcomes of desirable work habits (for instance, improved performance, higher attendance level, and loyalty). The relationships between normative commitment and these work-related behaviours have also been proven to be positive, but relatively weaker.
Correlations with continuance commitment are weaker still and have been found to be negative in some cases (Shore & Wayne 1993). As a result, organizations that need to increase their employees’ organizational commitment through their human resources strategies are more likely to increase affective and normative commitment, than continuance commitment. As noted earlier, previous research has provided evidence to suggest that HRM practices might have their greatest impact on affective commitment when it is believed that the organization is motivated by the desire to create a climate of concern and caring (Kinicki et al. 1992) and to be fair in its dealings with employees (Koys 1991). Organizational support and procedural justice therefore act as strong mediators in employees’ organizational commitment.
Eisenberger, Fasolo, & Davis-LaMastro (1990) asserted that employees are more likely to be committed to their companies if they perceive that their companies are dedicated to their welfare. The dedication of organizations to their employees can be illustrated through the type and degree of support they provide to them. Eisenberger et al. (1990) created a means through which perceived organizational support can be measured. The analysis has consequently shown that organizational support is positively correlated with employees’ affective commitment. On a similar note, normative commitment has been shown to be positively related with similar variables for instance organizational reliability and management approachability (Allen & Meyer 1997). Therefore, it is highly likely that employees will develop normative commitment to their organizations if they perceive their organizations to be supportive of them. Certainly, normative commitment could be one proof of employees’ reaction to organizations that are seen as supportive (Rousseau 1995). On the other hand, the relationship between organizational support and continuance commitment has been shown to be negative but weak (Allen & Meyer 1990; Shore & Wayne 1993). The decision to leave an organization based on perceived costs is therefore not affected by organizational support.
The affective commitment of employees to their organizations has also been shown to be related to employees’ discernment of organizational fairness (Folger & Konovsky 1989; Sweeney & McFarlin 1993). Similar to commitment, organizational fairness is of different types which include “distributive justice (the fairness of outcomes received) and procedural justice (the fairness of the procedures used in determining these outcomes)” (Folger & Cropanzano 1998, p. 37). Even though both distributive and procedural justice are important and have been shown to be related to work behaviours and attitudes, latest research evidence propose that procedural justice has a greater influence on employees’ organizational commitment than distributive justice (Folger & Konovsky 1989; Sweeney & McFarlin 1993). This may be a strong indicator of organizations’ greater control over the decision-making processes than over the actual results. On the other hand, it may indicate that fair decision-making processes are a proof of organizational support and care to their employees (Lind & Tyler 1988). Majority of the research studies on organizational justice have focused mainly on its effect on affective commitment. Nevertheless, a few studies propose that procedural justice also has a positive effect on normative commitment (Lynn 1992). Results dealing with the association between procedural justice and continuance commitment are unclear and ambiguous. On the one hand, some studies show that such an association is positive and significant (Moorman, Niehoff & Organ 1993). On the other hand, some studies show the reverse: that the relationship between procedural justice and continuance commitment is negative and significant (Lynn 1992) as well as negative but insignificant (Cropanzano 1991). In cases where the association between procedural justice and continuance commitment was found to be significant such a correlation was however weak. It is therefore appropriate to conclude that employees’ perceptions of justice in their organization do not have significant impact on their continuance commitment.
The Present Study
The present study is based on the research that was carried out by Meyer and Smith (2000). In their study, the researchers examined the relations between commitment and employees’ perceptions of HRM practices within four functional areas: performance appraisal, benefits, training, and career development. Although HRM practices within these areas have been linked to commitment in some previous research, Meyer and Smith’s study extends the literature by: examining relations with three distinguishable forms of commitment (affective, continuance, and normative); testing for the potential mediating effects of procedural justice and organizational support; and considering the impact of all four HRM functions simultaneously. The benefit of examining the impact of the HRM functions together, rather than individually as has been the case in most previous research is that HRM practices in organizations tend to be related, particularly when they are part of coordinated systems (Huselid 1995; Snell & Youndt 1995). Consequently, when looked at individually, the relations between particular HRM practices and commitment are difficult to interpret (Meyer & Allen 1997). These relations could reflect a causal connection between a particular practice and commitment or, alternatively, they could be spurious and merely reflect mutual relations with other HRM practices or business strategies.
Meyer and Smith (2000) examined the unique contribution of HRM practices, or, more accurately, employees’ evaluation of these practices, using structural equation modelling analyses. However, there exists the possibility that observed relations reflect the impact of other unmeasured variables (for instance, business strategies). Because associations with other HRM practices that are likely to be included in a comprehensive HRM system have been controlled, however, the researchers’ confidence that any significant relations observed reflect meaningful contributions of specific HRM practices to the prediction of employee commitment is increased.
For purposes of analyses reported in their study, Meyer and Smith (2000) assessed employees’ perceptions of HRM practices at an evaluative level. That is, they asked employees to rate the quality (for instance, fairness, competitiveness) of their organizations’ HRM practices within the four functional areas noted above. The questions were tailored to the specific HRM function being evaluated. For example, the researchers asked participants to evaluate the fairness of the performance appraisal system in their organizations because fairness has previously been found to have important implications for employees’ reactions to their appraisals. In conducting their study, Meyer and Smith (2000) tested two hypotheses. First, employees’ commitment to the organization, as well as their perceptions of procedural justice and organizational support within their organization, could be predicted from their evaluations of HRM practices. Second, the relations between employees’ evaluation of HRM practices and their affective and normative commitment to the organization would be mediated by their perceptions of procedural justice and organizational support.
Based on the Meyer and Smith’s (2000) study, the hypotheses to be tested in this study are: Career training and development programs increase employees’ affective commitment; career training and development programs increase employees’ normative commitment; and career training and development programs increase employees’ continuance commitment
Participants and Data Collection Procedures
Participants in the Meyer and Smith’s (2000) study were selected in two ways. The first group of participants (Sample 1) was selected through employee contacts from different organizations. In sum, 94 individuals (25 men and 69 women) agreed to take part in the study and returned completed surveys. These participants were employees in approximately 30 different organizations from 47 different occupations. The mean age of the participants was 38 years, the mean tenure was 9.2 years, and the mean work experience was 16 years. Majority of the participants (91%) were full time employees while the remaining employees were part-time employees but had some experience with the human resources management strategies evaluated in the study (that is, benefits, career training and development, performance appraisal). Data obtained from these participants were used in preliminary analyses to evaluate the measures. No major challenges were identified and, as a result, an identical survey was utilized in collecting data from a second group of employees (Sample 2) that was selected from five small organizations.
The organizations from which the researchers selected the second sample of participants ranged in size from 50 to 175 employees. Four of the five organizations were involved primarily in manufacturing and distribution, while the fifth organization offered financial services. The permission to study employees at each organization was received from the human resource manager. At four of the five organizations, surveys and explanatory cover letters were distributed to employees at work. At three of these companies, the completed surveys were returned in sealed envelopes through the company mail system to the human resource department and then forwarded to the investigators; at the fourth company, employees mailed the surveys directly to the investigators. At the fifth company, surveys were mailed to employees’ homes and were returned, by mail, directly to the investigators.
In the end, a total of 187 non-managerial employees (61 men and 118 women; 8 did not report sex) from the five organizations returned completed surveys. The overall response rate was approximately 40%. This response rate was based on the number of surveys delivered to the organizations for distribution. The mean age was 36.7 years, mean tenure was 8.4 years, and mean work experience was 16.8 years. Majority of the participants (96%) were full-time employees, one participant was a part time employee and 6 participants failed to indicate their employment status (Meyer and Smith 2000).
Perceptions of Human Resource Management Practices
Participants responded to a series of questions designed to assess evaluations of their organizations’ practices pertaining to performance appraisal, benefits, training, and career development.
Training – The training measures included items addressing satisfaction with training, comparison between the training provided by their organization with that provided by other organizations, and the sufficiency of the training provided. The coefficient alpha for the composite measure was 0.91.
Organizational Commitment – affective, continuance, and normative commitment were measured using the 6-item scales developed by Meyer et al. (1993). Responses were made on 7-point disagree/agree scales and ratings were averaged across items to yield scale scores. The coefficient alphas for affective, continuance and normative commitment were 0.81, 0.70, and 0.83, respectively.
The analysis of data from the two samples was initially done separately. However, the analysis was later combined fro the two samples because the pattern of results was similar. To test the mediation hypothesis, Meyer and Smith (2000) developed and tested the causal model. In addition to the primary variables of interest, tenure and sex were also included as control variables. Age was not included as a control variable because it was strongly correlated with tenure. Consistent with the hypotheses, the model includes paths from the HRM evaluation measures to procedural justice and organizational support and from justice and support to affective and normative commitment. That is, the links between employees’ evaluations of HRM practices and affective and normative commitment were expected to be mediated completely by perceptions of justice and support.
In contrast, the effects of employees’ beliefs about HRM practices on continuance commitment were expected to be direct. In addition to those paths of direct relevance to the mediation hypothesis, the model includes paths required to account for known relations among the endogenous variables. Specifically, the researchers anticipated that there would be significant positive relations between the two mediating variables, procedural justice and organizational support, and between affective and normative commitment. In the absence of empirical evidence concerning the direction of causality in these relations, the researchers were forced, for model testing purposes, to make judgments based on their current understanding of the constructs involved. In the case of the relation between the mediating variables, they argued that organizational support is a broader construct and is therefore more likely to be influenced by perceptions of procedural justice than the reverse.
To account for the correlation between affective and normative commitment, Meyer and Smith (2000) included a path from the former to the latter. This decision was based on the finding that many of the work experience variables found to correlate with affective commitment also correlate, albeit not as strongly, with normative commitment (Allen & Meyer 1996). Thus, the researchers reasoned that employees who want to remain in the organization because of their positive experiences might also feel some sense of obligation to do so. The reverse, however, is not necessarily the case. That is, employees can feel a sense of obligation to continue employment (for instance, to repay the organization for valued training) without feeling an affective attachment to the company.
Meyer and Smith (2000) tested the mediation model using AMOS 4.0 to generate maximum likelihood parameter estimates. Because the researchers were interested primarily in testing the structural model, they conducted the analysis on the matrix of covariance among scale scores. They then corrected for measurement error following procedures used previously. The model fit was assessed using the Tucker Lewis Index (TLI) (Tucker & Lewis 1973) and the Root Mean Squared Error of Approximation (RMSEA). Tucker Lewis Index values that are greater than 0.90 are generally considered to indicate a good fit. Values of the RMSEA below 0.08 indicate a reasonable fit, and those below 0.05 indicate a good fit to the data.
Following the test of the initial model, the researchers conducted analyses to evaluate competing models that reversed or relaxed their initial assumptions. In each case, they examined the impact that these reversals had on parameter estimates of relevance to their mediation hypothesis. Next, they assessed the accuracy of their assumption that the effects of HRM evaluations on affective and normative commitment would be completely mediated by testing models that included direct paths. These paths were included one at a time, and improvement in fit over the initial model was evaluated (Meyer & Smith 2000).
One of the most significant results that is applicable to this present study is that affective and normative commitment are both significantly correlated with all of the HRM evaluation measures including career training and development. This implies that career training and development programs increase employees’ affective and normative commitment. On the other hand, continuance commitment was not significantly correlated with any of the HRM evaluation measures. Continuance commitment was, however, significantly correlated with all three demographic variables: age, sex, and tenure. This implies that as employees grow older and have longer work experiences, they find it too costly to leave their present organization. Finally, affective commitment and normative commitment were highly correlated.
The findings of this study support the results of prior studies (for instance, Gaertner & Nollen 1989; Koys 1991; Ogilvie 1986) in showing links between organizational HRM practices and employees’ affective commitment. They extend previous findings by illustrating that relations between these HRM practices and affective commitment are mediated by perceptions of organizational support and, to a lesser extent, procedural justice. This suggests the possibility that HRM practices might serve as a means by which organizations can demonstrate their support for, or commitment to, their employees and, in turn, foster a reciprocal attachment by employees (Eisenberger et al. 1986; Shore & Wayne 1993).
The findings also suggest that perceptions of HRM practices are related to employees’ normative commitment to the organization. The relations between perceptions of HRM practices and normative commitment were also mediated by affective commitment. Thus, to a large extent, employees’ sense of obligation to remain with the organization might be due to the same experiences, including fair and supportive HRM practices that contribute to their desire to remain. These findings suggest that HRM practices are related, although indirectly, to affective and normative commitment which, in turn, are related to desirable work behaviour (for example, performance, attendance, and citizenship; Allen & Meyer 1997). Consequently, there are potential organizational benefits to be derived from the use of fair and supportive HRM practices. Indeed, it is possible that the financial benefits that have been demonstrated recently to result from effective HRM strategies are, at least in part, mediated by their effects on employee commitment.
Although it was speculated that HRM practices might also affect continuance commitment by making it costly for employees to leave (e.g., acquired skills would be less useful elsewhere), the findings provided little evidence for this. The HRM evaluation measures did not contribute significantly to the prediction of continuance commitment, either individually or as a group. The best predictors of continuance commitment in the study were the demographic variables that were included in the analysis as control variables; that is sex and tenure. Thus, it seems that women and more senior employees perceived greater costs associated with leaving the organization than did men and newer employees, but that these perceived costs were independent of their evaluations of the HRM practices examined in this study.
Evaluations of career training and development were found to be the best predictors of affective and normative commitment. This is perhaps not surprising given that these practices are involved in preparing employees for a future in the organization. Organizations that take an active role in helping employees to prepare themselves for advancement in the organization, and do so in a way that creates a perception of support, might foster a stronger bond to the organization among employees than those that do not. Gaertner and Nollen (1989) came to a similar conclusion based on their findings that perceptions of the organization’s adherence to career-oriented employment practices were related to commitment among employees in a Fortune 100 manufacturing firm.
Human resources managers engage in several practices that may have either positive or negative effects on employees’ commitment to their organizations. Career training and development is one such HRM practice. Employees who go through career training and development programs feel attached to their organizations and become actively involved in them. In addition, such employees are more likely to continue working in their organizations because they feel obligated to reciprocate the good deeds their employers offered them. On the other hand, career training and development does not have a significant positive effect on continuance commitment because the skills gained can easily be transferred to other organizations. These results have significant implications for human resource managers who may need to increase their employees’ loyalty and minimize their intentions to leave their organizations.
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