Measurement issues in the Meyer & Allen model of organizational commitment
Paper to be presented at the 2007 Academy of Management Meetings.
The Meyer/Allen three-component model of commitment arguably dominates organizational commitment research. Given its widespread use, the measures used to tap the affective, continuance, and normative commitment constructs merit close scrutiny. This paper will outline some of the key measurement problems and challenges associated with this model, and present recommendations for future research. First, I discuss the degree to which the three Meyer and Allen scales, the ACS, the CCS, and the NCS, tap their associated affective commitment, continuance commitment, and normative commitment constructs. Next, I discuss some measurement issues that pertain specifically to normative commitment. Third, I offer a discussion of measurement issues that pertain specifically to continuance commitment. I conclude with some comments about the model's generalizability and relationship with recently-developed work attitudes that may overlap its conceptual domain.
I. Degree of correspondence between the ACS, CCS, and NCS and Meyer & Herscovitch's (2001) conceptualizations of the underlying constructs
How well do the ACS, CCS, and NCS reflect the underlying affective, normative, and continuance commitment constructs? In this section, I argue that there are some discrepancies between these scales and the constructs, as defined by Meyer & Herscovitch (2001) and, with respect to normative commitment, Meyer, Becker, & Van Dick (2006), that they are designed to reflect.
Meyer & Herscovitch's definitions of commitment. Meyer & Herscovitch (2001) propose that commitment is “a force that binds an individual to a course of action of relevance to one or more targets.” Employees are theorized to experience this force in the form of three mindsets: affective, normative, and continuance, which reflect emotional ties, perceived obligation, and perceived sunk costs in relation to a target, respectively.
In addition to these mindsets, their concept of commitment also includes the notions of focal and discretionary behavior. A focal behavior is one believed to be integral to the concept of commitment to a particular target, such that all three mindsets should predict this behavior. In contrast, discretionary behaviors are 'optional', in the sense that some mindsets, but not others, may predict these behaviors. For organizational commitment, the focal behavior is theorized to be maintaining membership in the organization. One key measurement difference between the two kinds of behaviors is that Meyer and Herscovitch argue that a commitment’s focal behavior should be referenced in the scale items used to measure each commitment mindset, whereas discretionary behaviors should not be. Thus, the basic form of an organizational commitment item should be that it is worded to reflect (a) the mindset, (b) the target of commitment, in this case the organization, and (c) the focal behavior, in this case remaining a member of the organization.
Comparing the ACS, NCS, and CCS to the Meyer and Herscovitch conceptualization. Let's consider each scale in light of the above conceptualization: Looking at the eight items of the original NCS (see the Appendix for the original ACS, NCS, and CCS scales items, with my notes), it appears to me that all eight items reference the organization, and also seemingly tap the mindset of 'obligation'. Additionally, it appears that five of the eight items directly reference staying/leaving, while the remaining three items indirectly reference it (they mention remaining loyal, which many respondents might interpret to encompass remaining with the organization). Although this scale is not reproduced here, I also looked at the 1993 revised NCS, and in my opinion four of the six items...
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Appendix: Commitment Scale Items (from Allen & Meyer, 1990):
Affective Commitment Scale items
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