...multiple commitments

Is it possible to be committed to two opposite units? For example, can employees feel identified with both their union and their management? What about headquarters and a branch office? Or to more than one country? And what types of commitments are those?

The answer to these questions is intriguing at many levels and for many audiences! Corporations, unions, headquarters, subsidiaries, even countries are at some time or another pitted against each other and loyalty from individuals from these places is often questioned by “the other side.” The answer seems to be a categorical “yes,” though, as is for many other topics in business, “it depends.”

Yes, even though there is great potential for conflict between unions and companies, it is possible for workers to feel attached to and interested in remaining members of both organizations. Yes, it is also possible for people to be loyal to apparently opposing foci of commitment such as headquarters and branch offices, even when their interests may be at odds, as in the case of a divestiture or other tough choices that often have to be taken in business. And YES, it is possible for people who have reasons to feel as part of two (and even more) countries to be patriotic about both. My guess is that many NSHMBA members –and their families--have experienced the latter in a very personal manner.

Of course, when expectations (the “psychological contract” that is created inside individuals' minds) are not met by one of these entities, it is not hard for the corresponding attachment to dwindle. For example, employees who feel “taken” by management or perceive that unions’ dues are not worth the services received from them, are more likely to detach themselves from that focus of their commitment.

Also importantly, there are at least two distinct types of commitment empirically documented by work psychologists: affective and continuance -or calculative. Affective commitment deals with the feelings of identification with and attachment toward an organization, manager, workgroup, etc. This is the type of commitment that we, as managers want to elicit in our coworkers and associates, as it seems to relate to a more cohesive and pleasant work climate, as well as to a more satisfied workforce. Continuance commitment, on the other hand, is more of a cost-benefit analysis that individuals sometimes keep in their mind to assess whether there are alternatives to their current employment. In the first case, employees are committed because they “feel good” to be associated to their workplace, while in the latter case they are committed because they do not perceive a desirable alternative, a situation that may breed cynicism, disengagement, and other unwelcome circumstances.

A meta-analysis –a “study of studies” see Johnson et al. (1999)—analyzed 31 studies with over twenty-two thousand employees in seven countries. Their findings include the existence of commitment toward both union and company, but cultural work values and industrial relation systems on those nations made a difference!

If you are interested in the scientific evidence for this theme -I am sure many of my colleagues would be interested in a research project on this topic, or simply for your own, professional development--, I have added a few references at the end of this column. Also, you may want to read some of the studies that were generated on this topic; all you have to do is search the term “dual commitment” or “dual allegiance” on a scholarly database, and you will find a wide variety of articles that dealt with this puzzle.

What do you think? Do you ever worry about how committed your employees (or your employer!) will be "when the rubber meets the road"? Do you find as ridiculous as I do all those commentators that try to pit Hispanics against main stream America? Feel free to post your comment on my facebook page or send me an email.

¡Hasta la próxima!

To learn more:

  • Gregersen, H.B. & Black, J.S. (1992). Antecedents to commitment to a parent company and a foreign operation. Academy of Management Journal, 35 (1), 65-90.
  • Hoff, T.J. (2001). Exploring dual commitment among physician executives in managed care. Journal of Healthcare Management, 46 (2), 91-109.
  • Johnson, W.R.; Johnson, G.J.; & Patterson, C.R. (1999). Moderators of the relationship between company and union commitment: a meta-analysis. Journal of Psychology, 133 (11), 85-103.
  • Liden, R.C.; Wayne, S.J.; Kraimer, M.L.; & Sparrowe, R.T. (2003). The dual commitments of contingent workers: An examination of contingents' commitment to the agency and the organization. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 24 (5), 609-625.