I frequently hear comments from students that Saint Vincent feels like home to them. They want to stay. Even after graduation, many alumni long to reconnect with their alma mater whether it’s through homecoming events, alumni activities, donating, volunteering at the school or returning as an employee. I personally engaged in several of these including, most notably, the latter. After graduating from SVC, working in industry for a few years, studying for graduate degrees at two other institutions and ultimately moving out of state to begin my academic career, Saint Vincent called to me and I returned as an instructor. I am likely to stay here for a while unless something unexpected happens in life.
Such a phenomenon – the desire to remain somewhere or a part of something – is what is known as commitment. Commitment can be directed at one’s school, workplace, personal relationships, team, religious institution and other groups to which an individual might belong. To me, commitment seems to be closely related to the major Benedictine Hallmarks of community and stability. Organizational behaviorists have studied what causes commitment and researchers have found that there are three types: affective commitment, continuance commitment and normative commitment (Allen & Meyer, 1990).
Affective commitment is when an individual has an emotional attachment. That person wants to remain a part of a group or in a relationship because he or she truly cares. Often one’s personal values will align with those of the group or the other individual. This is possibly the strongest type of commitment because someone who possesses this has personally and emotionally weaved part of her or his own individuality into that of the group or relationship so that he or she may come to define self in a large part through belonging.
Continuance commitment, on the other hand, is when an individual considers a trade-off with leaving a group or relationship. For example, some people choose to stay at their employer because they don’t want to have to look for a new job, relocate their family to a different geographic region, have their current skills questioned or worry about a change in wages. Continuance commitment, therefore, is about remaining in a group or relationship because taking a risk and venturing into the unknown can be scary. This is likely the weakest form of commitment. Once someone finds a better opportunity (i.e. a new job in a desirable geographic area that fully leverages one’s skillsets and pays well), she or he will leave her or his current situation if he or she only possesses continuance commitment.
Lastly, normative commitment is about obligation. Some people stay in a group or relationship because they feel, in essence, like they have a duty to do so. They might feel that they “owe” their employer for some reason. Perhaps that employer hired someone when she or he was really desperate for a job and so now she or he wants to remain in that organization due to a perceived obligation. The strength of this type of commitment is most likely in between that of affective and continuance.
However, most people don’t possess just one type of commitment. It is likely that individuals possess varying levels of all three. For me, personally, I feel like I have all three types directed at Saint Vincent College. I have affective commitment because I am emotionally invested in the mission and vision of this institution. If someone were to stop me on the street and ask who I was, the first thing I would likely tell them is that I am a professor at Saint Vincent. I, at least in part, define myself by this organization. I have continuance commitment because I am comfortable in this environment. I grew up in this area and many of my family and friends are from the western Pennsylvania region. I don’t really want to start over somewhere else. Lastly, I have normative commitment because Saint Vincent hired me as a fresh academic. It provided me with resources to do my research and helped develop me over the past several years. I feel that I have some obligation to the organization because of this.
Managers, of course, want their employees to possess high levels of all three types of commitment as doing so means that those who perform well will likely stay in their organizations and continue to accomplish their missions and visions.
What (or who) are you committed to? What accounts for your desire to stay? Do you see any elements of affective, continuance or normative commitment in your life? I’m excited to hear about your experiences so please reach out. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and connect with me on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/urickmj/) and LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-urick-05b775a3/). Or you can leave a comment below.
Dr. Mike Urick
Allen, N. J., & Meyer, J. P. (1990). The measurement and antecedents of affective, continuance and normative commitment to the organization. Journal of occupational psychology, 63(1), 1-18.