Zach’s Blog

The Secret of Employee Commitment? Love

On the topic of human motivation, Abraham Maslow stated, “The fact is that people are good. Give people affection and security and they will give affection and be secure in their feelings and their behavior.”

Affection, or love, may indeed be the primary ingredient to foster employee commitment to your organization.

In the modern landscape of economic uncertainty, rapid change, continued globalization, increasing competition, and the rise of the mobile millennial generation, leaders in organizations from public school districts to Fortune 500 companies are tasked with attracting, cultivating, and retaining talent.

Moreover, they are tasked with fostering a commitment to the organization among their members.

The commitment problem

In this mad scramble for attracting and retaining talent, leaders in many organizations have resorted to flashy cultural artifacts such as in-facility gyms, bring-your-dog-to-work-days, and flexible schedules to “buy” commitment. Or, they have gone back to the transactional tactics such as monthly awards, quarterly “merit” raises, and vacation time to attract and keep people committed to their organization.

While these tactics often produce an initial positive response (and look nice in recruitment ads), from a systemic perspective, they don’t seem to be working.

In a poll conducted by Gallup just this past year, only 3 out of every 10 employees in the U.S. said they felt engaged in their jobs and committed to their organizations.

Sure, on the surface that is a fun statistic to tweet about or share with fellow managers at a leadership retreat, but look deeper, and this statistic represents a symptom of something dire.

The implications of the endemic lack of organizational engagement and commitment are not just economic, but deeply social.

Think about it. Seventy percent of workers in this country leave their homes, families, friends, children, and hobbies to spend the majority of their lives at a place they don’t like, don’t feel involved in, and don’t feel committed to.

And guess what? They go back home. They live in our communities. They vote. They raise children. They are our society. They are you and I. The engagement and commitment of the people in our organizations, thus, has broad societal and social implications.

I have seen this in our training grounds for the future workforce – higher education. As we plug students into paths and curricula they feel no emotional connection to, we expect some sort of positive performance outcome. We try to rope them in with transactional rewards like a “job when you graduate” or a “summer internship.”

The best business schools in America market themselves based on their output and not the experience they provide. It is not surprising then, that their management grads operate their companies in the same way. The move to universities as job factories is disturbing, namely because it will inevitable kill the same creative, entrepreneurial spirit that move us forward as people.

What is missing?

So, what is missing in our organizations when it comes to employee commitment?


Okay, not the kind of love you are thinking of, but the feeling of emotional connection and investment in the broader global purpose of an organization.

This type of commitment, in the psychological literature, is called “affective commitment.”

All we need to do is look at the findings from scholarly, psychosocial research on commitment to see what a powerful construct affective commitment can be. Over the past 50 years, researchers have hypothesized and debated around the hypothesis that commitment is developed because of three main constructs: affective commitment (emotional connection to the organization), continuance commitment (that transactions such as benefits foster commitment), and normative commitment (the obligation to stay in an organization). The last two are seen most widely as  organizational interventions to build commitment.

In nearly all of the empirical research studies looking at these three types of commitment, however, affective commitment as a construct is the only type of commitment that repeatedly has a predictive relationship with lower turnover, higher organizational citizenship behaviors, and performance.

Ironically, it also seems that affective commitment is the least invested-in type of commitment in our modern organizations (and even universities).

Asking the below questions can be revealing:

  • How much time do you focus on cultivating the connection between your employees/people/volunteers and the purpose of the organization?
  • How much time and money is spent on interviewing and on-boarding that focuses on inspiring a love for the organization and its mission?
  • How much training and development money is invested in developing an emotional bond between the individual and the organization?
  • Does your organization look immediately to “what” solutions (like salaries) to maintain engagement and commitment?

The answers to these questions have big implications, both socially and economically.

– Zach

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