Commitment ≠ Commitment

In an age of more and more home office and remote working, how can we ensure that employees behave autonomously and self-motivated in line with the organisation’s goals? By strengthening identification and commitment.

For employees to act in line with the company’s objectives, these objectives must first be clear. This may seem trivial, but in practice it is often not the case, even though many managers firmly believe that objectives and tasks are clear. “Andreas, everything is clear…”, managers often tell me. But when I ask employees, I hear a completely different story…

A classic way to create clarity is to issue memos with clear instructions on what the respective employees have to deliver and by when. For example, a manager can demand that time sheets for past week and the calendar for the following week be updated by Friday at 18:00. Correct time sheet and updated calendars are definitely in line with the objectives of most companies.

Although the memo with the clear instructions solves the problem of a lack of clarity, it does little to motivate employees, especially when it comes to simple tasks. We have known for a long time that specific goals can have a performance-enhancing effect, but only when they are challenging and have been developed together with the employee.

Just because the targets are clear does not guarantee that employees are motivated to fully commit to them. Especially when it comes to less demanding tasks such as updating calendars or regularly entering hours in the time recording system.

Goals and targets alone are not enough to ensure that employees are motivated and behave in the interests of the company without much external control.

In addition to clear goals, two additional elements are required: identification and commitment.

What is meant by identification and why is it important?

Personal identification with organisations has been studied for over 40 years. The concept of social identity has proven to be particularly valuable. The idea of social identity helps to explain why we feel that we belong to a group, a team or a company, but also why conflicts and prejudices arise between social groups.

The decisive factor here is that people naturally want to create and maintain a positive self-concept . Part of this self-concept is the aforementioned social identity.

Employees will identify with an organisation or a team if this affiliation leads to positive feelings. In other words, the stronger my affiliation with the organisation strengthens my own social identity, the more I identify with the organisation.

If I identify particularly strongly with the organisation, I will also be motivated to commit to its tasks and goals.


There are three different types of commitment:

  1. Affective commitment is the emotional attachment to the organisation. The higher the affective commitment, the greater my personal bond and the more important the organisation is to me.With high affective commitment, I feel like “part of the family”.
  2. Moral commitment means that I feel a moral or ethical sense of obligation towards the organisation.
  3. Cost/benefit-based commitment is the result of rationally weighing up the advantages and disadvantages. I stay in the organisation because the costs of switching seem too high to me.

Source: Rolf van Dick, Identifikation und Commitment, in Handbuch der Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie

Affective Commitment

If employees have a high level of affective commitment, this means that they enjoy being in the organisation, identify with its goals and values and have a strong desire to be part of the organisation and contribute to its development.

The main motivation for employees with a high affective commitment to stay in the organisation is based on the desire to do so because they feel connected to the organisation and find their work personally enriching. This is typically the case when there is a strong congruence between one’s own goals and the goals of the organisation. Keyword meaningfulness!

Moral Commitment 

Moral commitment is based on the sense of obligation that employees feel towards the organisation. This sense of obligation can arise for moral or ethical reasons, such as the conviction that remaining loyal to the organisation is the right thing to do, or because of benefits received, such as training, for which one feels obliged to “give something back”.

Employees with high moral commitment stay in the organisation because they believe it is their duty to do so, often regardless of personal satisfaction with their work. They feel that they owe the organisation something or that it would be morally wrong to leave the organisation.

Cost/benefit-based commitment

Cost/benefit-based commitment differs from the other two in that it is based on the perceived costs associated with leaving the organisation.

In contrast to affective commitment, which focuses on emotional attachment to the organisation, and moral commitment, which is based on a sense of moral or ethical obligation, employees with high cost/benefit-based commitment remain in the organisation because they perceive the costs of leaving to be too high.

These costs can be financial (e.g. loss of salary, bonuses or pension entitlements), social (e.g. loss of friendships or professional networks at work) or in the form of career opportunities (loss of promotion prospects or the need to demonstrate skills that are highly valued in the current organisation elsewhere).

The decision to stay is therefore more rational and calculating, based on a weighing up of advantages and disadvantages.

To summarise, the main difference between the different types of commitment is the nature of the bond between the employee and the organisaiton

In affective commitment, the bond is emotional and is based on identification with the organisation, whereas in moral commitment, the bond results from a sense of obligation. In the case of cost-benefit-based commitment, the bond is purely rational.

How do the different types of commitment affect satisfaction, performance and willingness to quit?

Affective Commitment has the strongest and most lasting effect on satisfaction and performance. It is also the type of commitment that most strongly motivates employees to stay with the company.

Moral commitment has a positive effect on satisfaction, but hardly influences the willingness to perform better.

In contrast, cost/benefit-based commitment has a certain effect on the willingness to stay with the company, but unfortunately has hardly any positive effect on satisfaction and performance.

Experience has shown that employees with high cost/benefit-based commitment are less motivated to deliver high performance than employees with high affective commitment. However, the presence of cost/benefit-based commitment can also contribute to stability, as employees are less likely to quit, which can reduce turnover rates, especially in times or industries where labour market opportunities are limited.


How can I identify the type of commitment among our employees?

In order to recognise what type of commitment employees have, managers can look at various indicators and take targeted measures. It is important to note that these methods are not always clear-cut and there can be overlaps between the different types of commitment.

Below are some approaches that can help identify the type of commitment. You can enter the results in the Commitment Assessment Tool. To get a copy of the tool, use the Contact Form with the subject “Commitment Assessment Tool”.


Indicators for affective Commitment

  • Enthusiasm and passion: Employees show a natural enthusiasm for their work and the organisation’s goals
  • Volunteering: They go above and beyond their normal duties and take part in voluntary activities or initiatives<
  • Positive attitude: A generally positive attitude towards work and the working environment is recognisable<
  • Strong identification: Employees identify strongly with the organisation, its values and goals<

Indicators for moral commitment

  • Sense of obligation: Employees feel a sense of obligation towards the organisation, regardless of their personal satisfaction
  • Expressions of commitment: Expressions that reveal a sense of guilt or moral obligation when it comes to work or the organisation
  • Strong focus on ethics and values: Decisions and actions are strongly guided by moral considerations.

Indicators for cost/benefit commitment

  • Statements about switching costs: Employees talk about how difficult it would be to leave the organisation, whether because of loss of benefits, pension entitlements or fear of the unknown.
  • Lack of alternatives: Statements that there are no better job opportunities or that the labour market is difficult
  • Focus on material benefits: A strong focus on salary, bonuses and other material benefits can be an indicator.

General strategies identify type of commitment

  • Employee surveys: Conduct regular employee surveys with questions specifically designed to measure the different types of commitment
  • One-to-one conversations: Regular, open conversations with employees can provide valuable insights into their motivations and commitment to the company.
  • Observation of behavioural patterns: Behavioural patterns over a longer period of time can provide information about the prevailing level of commitment.

It is important to use these findings sensitively and responsibly in order to promote a positive working environment and take into account the individual needs and motivations of employees.

What does this mean for managers ?

In practice, it is important for organisations to promote a balance between the different forms of commitment. Ideally, an organisation should foster strong emotional commitment (affective commitment), complemented by an appropriate level of normative and continuance commitment to maintain a committed and loyal workforce.

Over-reliance on continuance-based commitment, however, can lead to a workforce that remains mainly out of obligation, which can affect innovation and employee satisfaction.

Invitation for action

7 proven strategies to strengthen identification and commitment

  • Communicate a clear vision and values: Companies should have a clear and inspiring vision and core values that are communicated regularly. This helps employees to identify with the company’s goals and culture.
  • Involve employees: Companies should involve employees in decision-making processes, especially those that directly affect their work. This promotes a sense of importance and contribution to the company’s success.
  • Provide development opportunities: Career and training opportunities are important factors for employee retention. Companies should support individual development plans and offer opportunities for further training and promotion within the company.
  • Maintain transparent communication: Open and honest communication about company developments, challenges and successes creates trust and security. Employees feel informed and involved.
  • Team building and social activities: Joint activities and events can strengthen the sense of community and promote personal relationships between employees.
  • Promoting health and well-being: Health promotion and well-being programmes show that the company cares about the physical and mental health of its employees
  • Establish a feedback culture: Regular, constructive feedback enables employees to continuously develop and feel part of the whole. This also includes listening to employees’ concerns and ideas.

By combining these strategies, companies can promote strong employee retention and loyalty, which has a positive impact on work performance and corporate culture.

Next steps

If you are ready to tackle this topic in your organisation, I recommend the following three steps

  • Use the Commitment Assessment Tool – see above
  • Create a list of your employees together and assess for each of them what their dominant type of commitment is
  • Use the list to identify where there is an immediate need for action
  • Thanks for reading

    Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

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