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a longitudinal study of pre- and post-entry influences

Development of organizational commitment during the first year of employment: a longitudinal study of pre- and post-entry influences

John P. Meyer

To test hypotheses concerning the influence of prospective and retrospective rationality in the development of organizational commitment, we measured both the affective and continuance commitment of recent university graduates on three occasions during their first year of employment and examined their relations with variables measured prior to and following entry into an organization. Prior to entry, we measured variables presumed to bind individuals to their choice of organization (i.e., volition, irrevocability, and importance) as well as perceived decision quality. Following entry, we measured perceptions of job quality, investment, and alternative employment opportunities. The results were more consistent with a prospective-than with a retrospective-rationality view of the development of commitment. The best predictors of affective commitment were the job-quality and decision-quality variables. Continuance commitment correlated most strongly with the pre-and post-entry measures of perceived alternatives. Implications for organizational efforts to foster commitment in employees are discussed.

There is now a sizable body of literature linking organizational commitment to important work behaviors, including turnover (e.g., Porter, Steers, Mowday, & Boulian, 1974; Williams & Hazer, 1986) , absenteeism (e.G., Blau, 1986; Pierce & Dunham, 1987, and job performance (e.g., DeCotiis & Summers, 1987; Steers, 1977). Recently, however, it has been recognized that there are different forms of commitment and that these may have different implications for behavior (e.g., Meyer, Paunonen, Gellatly, Goffin, & Jackson, 1989; O’Reilly & Chatman, 1986). If organizations hope to reduce absenteeism and turnover and improve the on-the-job behavior of their employees by fostering greater commitment, it is important that they understand how commitment develops and what they can do to foster the appropriate kind of commitment.

Mowday, Porter, and Steers (1982) outlines three stages in the development of commitment: pre-entry (anticipation), early employment (initiation), and middle to late career (entrenchment). In this study, we examined the development of two forms of commitment (i.e., effective commitment and continuance commitment) during the first two of these stages. It has been urged previously that commitment particularly affective commitment, is least stable and most easily influenced during these early stages (e.g., Buchanan, 1974; Mowday & McDade, 1979; Porter et al., 1974; Meyer & Allen, 1987, 1988).

Meyer and Allen (1984, 1991; Allen & Meyer, 1990) used the terms effective and continuance commitment to distinguish between the views of commitment popularized by Porter and his associates (Mowday, Steers, & Porter, 1979; Porter et al., 1974) and Becker (1960), respectively. Porter et al. described commitment as “the strength of an individual’s identification with and involvement in a particular organization” (604). For Becker, commitment was the tendency to engage in “consistent lines of activity” (33) because of the perceived cost of doing otherwise. In the case of commitment to the organization, the activity involves staying with the organization, and the perceived cost of leaving might include the loss of attractive benefits and seniority, disruption of personal relationships, and so on.

Although both affective and continuance commitment presumably increase the likelihood that an individual will remain with an organization, the reasons for doing so are different. Employees with strong affective commitment remain because they want to, whereas those who have a strong continuance commitment remain because they have to (i.e., to do otherwise would be costly). As such, affective and continuance commitment are related to March and Simon’s (1985) “desirability” and “ease” of movement concepts, respectively. Although both forms of commitment may have similar effects with respect to turnover, it has been shown recently that they have quite different implications for on-the-job behavior. Allen and Smith (1987) and Meyer and Allen (1986) found that affective commitment correlated positively, whereas continuance commitment correlated negatively, with self-report measures of motivation and performance. Meyer et al. (1989) and Shore and Barksdale (1991) found a similar pattern of correlations with supervisor ratings of performance and promotability.

Considerably more attention has been given to examining the development affective than of continuance commitment. this is due, in large part, to the avialability of measures. The organizational Commitment Questionnaire (QCQ), the most widely used commitment measure, was developed by Porter and his associates (Mowday et al., 1979; Porter et al., 1974) to assess employees’ affective attachment to an organization. Although measures purported to assess Becker’s (1960) cost-based commitment have been developed (e.g., Hrebiniak & Alutto, 1972; Ritzer & Trice, 1969), these have been criticized on both conceptual (Stebbins, 1970) and empirical (Meyer & Allen, 1984) grounds. More recently, Meyer and Allen (1985; Allen & Meyer, 1990) developed the Continuance Commitment Scale (CCS) to measure commitment as conceptualized by Becker. The CCS has been used with some success to test hypotheses derived from Becker’s theory (Allen & Meyer, 1990; Meyer, Allen, & Gellatly, 1990).

Background and Hypotheses

Development of Affective Commitment

Mowday et al. (1982) identified three broad categories of pre-entry variables believed to be important in the development of (affective) commitment: personal characteristics, job choice characteristics, and expectancies about the job. Post-entry variables were similarly categorized into personal influences, organizational influences, and non-organizational influences. To date, there has been relatively little empirical research examining the impact of pre-entry variables on commitment. From a theoretical standpoint, job choice variables have been purported to influence affective attachment to the organization in two ways: prospectively and retrospectively (see Staw, 1980). According to the prospective view, affective commitment will be greater to the extent that the individual makes a good choice of job and organization (cf. Vroom, 1964; Wanous, 1980). For example, Stumpf and Hartman (1984) found that amount of environmental exploration, amount of information about the job and organization, and realism of expectations prior to entry contributed indirectly to the development of affective commitment through their influence on person-job congruence and quality of work experiences. Accordingly, we included measures of decision quality in the present study and expected that they would correlate positively with affective commitment.

Hypothesis 1. Employees will be more affectively committed to an organization to the extent that they are confident that they have made a good choice and have positive expectations prior to entry.

According to the retrospective view, affective commitment is shaped through a process of post-decision justification. Pre-entry factors that “bind” individuals to a course of action (i.e., their choice of an organization) shape subsequent attitudes to be consistent with that action. Kiesler (1971) identified four situational characteristics that bind individuals to an action: the importance, explicitness, and irrevocability of the act, and the degree of volition involved in the decision to act. Salancik (1977) added “publicity or publicness” of the act to this list. Although these factors have been shown repeatedly to influence attitudes have actually the laboratory (see Kiesler, 1971, and Salansik, 1977), only a few studies have actually examined their influence on the formation of organizational commitment (Mabey, 1986; Mowday & McDade, 1979; O’Reilly & Caldwell, 1981). Although Mabey found no relations, O’Reilly and Caldwell and Mowday and McDade reported positive correlations between affective commitment (as measured by the QCQ) and various indices of volition and irrevocability. The latter findings were interpreted as evidence for post-decisions justification. There are reasons. however, for being cautious in accepting this interpretation.

First, although it is difficult to operationalize variables like volition and irrevocability in field research, some of the measures used by Mowday and McDade, in particular, are questionable. For example, the only measure of irrevocability they used was a question concerning intended length of tenure. An intention to remain does not necessarily imply that the decision is irrevocable. It could, for example, indicate that the individual views the organization as a desirable place to work and does not want to leave (cf. March & Simon, 1958). Consequently, a positive correlation with affective commitment does not necessarily reflect post-decision justification. Among the measures Mowday and McDade used to assess volition were ratings of the perceived ease and probability of transfer opportunities It is not clear, however, that new hires are able to assess transfer opportunities accurately and, even if they are, that such opportunities reflect freedom of choice any more than other desirable characteristics of the chosen organization.

Second, there is a problem with the logic underlying the predictions concerning the relations between affective commitment and volition and irrevocability. In a field setting, volition and irrevocability are likely to be negatively related (Pfeffer & Lawler, 1980). Indeed, O’Reilly and Caldwell reported a significant negative correlation (r + .27) between their measures of volition and irrevocability. This finding makes it less likely, albeit not impossible, that the positive correlations between these variables and commitment both reflect post-decision justification.

Finally, it is possible that the correlations obtained between volition and commitment reflect the fact that the individuals who had greater choice selected better oganizations. Although O’Reilly and Caldwell collected data to help rule out the possibility that the correlations between job choice factors and commitment were due to relations with quality of the organization selected, they acknowledged that these data were “not comprehensive” (613). Mowday and McDade (1979) did not collect data or conduct analyses to rule out alternate interpretations of their findings.

In the present study, we conducted a further test of the retrospective-rationality hypothesis by obtaining measures of volition, irrevocability, and importance and correlating them with commitment measured at several points during the first year, We did not measure publicness and explicitness because it was assumed that job choice is, by nature, highly public and explicit, and because these variables were not found by O’Reilly and Caldwell (1981) to correlate with commitment.

Hypotheses 2. Employees will be more affectively committed to an organization to the extent that their decision was made freely, is irrevocable, and is considered important.

As noted above, it is difficult in field research to distinguish the effects of prospective and retrospective rationality. Therefore, correlations between affective commitment and volition, irrevocability, and importance variables will be interpreted as evidence for post-decision justification in the present study only if it can be shown that the relations maintain when pre-entry measures of decision quality and post-entry measures of job quality are controlled.

In contrast to the pre-entry variables, there has been considerable research demonstrating links between post-entry variables (particularly organizational influences) and affective commitment (see Griffin & Bateman, 1986, Mowday et al., 1982, and Reichers, 1985, for reviews). It is generally the case that employees reporting higher quality work experiences also report being more committed to their organizations. In the present study, we measured two variables found in previous research to correlate with commitment – confirmation of expectations and job scope (e.g., job challenge, participation in decision-making) – and examined their within-occasion and time-lagged relations with commitment during the first year of employment.

Hypothesis 3. Confirmation of expectations and job scope will correlate positively with affective commitment measured concurrently and on subsequent occasions during the first year.

Development of Continuance Commitment

Meyer and Allen (1984, 1991 Allen & Meyer, 1990) proposed that continuance commitment can be affected by anything that makes leaving the organization more difficult (costly) for the individual. Although the actual costs may be quite specific (e.g., loss of a particular benefit; disruption of a personal relationship), Meyer and Allen identified two general categories of antecedents: (a) lack of available alternative employment opportunities and (b) investments (Farrell & Rusbult, 1981), or side-bets (Becker, 1960), that would be lost if the individual were to leave the organization. Allen and Meyer (1990) found that measures of alternative and investments were indeed significantly correlated with continuance commitment in a sample of established employees.

In this study, we examined whether continuance commitment is influenced by investments made prior to and shortly after entry into the organization, as well as by early perceptions of the availability of alternatives. It is conceivable, for exmple, that new employees view the time and effort spent in the job search process, and in training and socialization, to be wasted if they leave the organization. For some, the specificity of their educational background might be seen as restricting employment opportunities and may therefore contribute to continuance commitment. Finally, perceptions about the availability of alternate employment opportunities are likely to be shaped during the job search process and to influence continuance commitment during the first year.

Hypothesis 4. Continuance commitment will be greater to the extent that individuals believe it would be difficult to find alternate employment and to the extent that they make investments that would be lost if they leave the organization.

It should be noted that the measures of the binding variables, particularly irrevocability and importance, used in this study to test Hypothesis 2 will also be used as pre-entry measures of alternatives and investments to test Hypothesis 4. This is consistent with the parallelism in the measures used in previous research. For example, Allen and Meyer’s (1990) measure of perceived alternatives was similar to the irrevocability measure (i.e., difficulty of changing jobs) used by O’Reilly and Caldwell (1981). The time and effort investment measure used by Allen and Meyer was similar to the measure of decision importance used by Mowday and McDade (1979). O’Reilly and Caldwell and Mowday and McDade assumed that irrevocability and importance would bind job-seekers to their decision and, therefore, contribute through the process of dissonance reduction or self-justification to the development of affective commitment to the organization. Allen and Meyer proposed that investments and lack of alternatives would contribute to a conscious recognition of costs associated with leaving the organization and would, therefore, be reflected in greater continuance commitment. Thus, whether lack of alternatives and importance of (or investment in) the decision leads to affective commitment (through retrospective rationality) or continuance commitment may depend on whether individuals consciously recognize that these factors bind them to their decisions.

Method

Sample and Data Collection Procedures

Participants in the study were recent university graduates who had accepted full-time permanent jobs with a number of different organizations. Students who participated in the on-campus recruitment program at The University of Western Ontario during the 1984-85 and 1985-86 academic years were contacted in April of their graduating year by the university placement office to check on the progress of their jobs search efforts. Those who accepted jobs were asked to paticipate in a longitudinal study of work attitudes. Of those who qualified by virtue of having accepted full-time employment, almost all agreed to participate.

Participants were mailed four questionnaires, one prior to entry, and the others approximately 1, 6, and 11 months after they started their jobs. Completed questionnaires were returned by mail to the research office. The first questionnaire requested demographic information as well as information about the job search and pre-entry expectations. Of the 192 questionnaires sent, 157 were returned with usable data. The post-entry questionnaires included the commitment measures as well as measures of the hypothesized antecedent variables. Questionnaires with usable data were returned by 145, 115, and 104 participants at 1, 6, and 11 months, respectively.

Of the individuals who returned the pre-entry questionnaire, 44% were women, over 90% were 20 to 25 years of age, all had undergraduate degrees, and over 90% were starting employment at organizations with more than 500 employees. These proportions did not change significantly over the course of the study.

Measures

Organizational commitment. Affective and continuance commitment were measured using 8-item scales developed by Meyer and Allen (1984; Allen & Meyer, 1990). The items in both scales are reported by Allen and Meyer (1990) and McGee and Ford (1987). Responses were made on 7-point disagree-agree scales, and composite scores were computed by averaging across items. Internal consistency estimates (alpha coefficients) obtained in previous research ranged from .84 to .88 for the Affective Commitment Scale (ACS) and from .70 to .84 for the Continuance Commitment Scale (CCS). Meyer and Allen (1984) reported a correlation of -.01 between the ACS and CCS, suggesting that the two constructs are approximately orthogonal. Furthermore, they reported a correlation of .86 (p < .001) between the ACS and OCQ, the instrument used by Mowday and McDade (1979) and O'Reilly and Caldwell (1981). The CCS was found to correlate -.06 with the OCQ.

Pre-entry antecedent variables. The pre-entry variables measured were of two types: those expected to reflect decision quality and those purported to bind individuals to their choice. These variables are described below with number of items and response scale, where appropriate, indicated in parentheses.

The binding variables were chosen on the basis of theory and previous research to reflect three of the five general categories identified by Kiesler (1971) and Salancik (1977); volition, irrevocability, and importance of the decision. Four variables were included as indices of volition: number of job offers, amount of information about the job and organization (2 items; 7-point scale), and freedom from external (e.g., financial, parental) pressures in the job choice (3 items; 3-point scale). Irrevocability was measured using items concerning whether respondents had agreed to remain with the organization for a specified period of time (no = 1, yes = 2) and the difficulty of finding alternate employment (7-point scale). Finally, importance of the decision was measured by asking respondents to rate the amount of time and effort that they had invested in various job-search activities (3 items; 7-point scales). As more objective indices of time and effort, we also asked respondents to indicate the number of contacts they made and the number of first interviews they had undergone.

To simplify the presentation of results, variables within each of the volition, irrevocability, and importance categories were combined by averaging standard scores. Note that variables within categories can each be expected to contribute to the participants’ overall sense of volition, irrevocability, and importance, respectively, but they are not necessarily related to other variables within the same category. For example, the more job offers individuals receive and the more information they have available in making their decision, the more likely it is that they will experience a sense of volition. Number of job offers and availability of information, however, are not necessarily related. Although this does not preclude creation of linear combinations, traditional methods of assessing reliability (e.g., coefficient alpha) are not appropriate (see Nunnally, 1978: 246-254). Nunnally provided an alternate formula for estimating the reliability of linear combinations. Because this formula requires reliability estimates for the variables being combined, and because in each case at least one of the variables was assessed using a single-item measure, we were unable to use this formula. It should be noted, however, that the single-item measure used in this study (e.g., number of job offers, contacts, and interviews) are likely to be highly reliable and unlikely to attenuate the reliability of the linear combinations into which they are incorporated.

The decision-quality variables included measures of anticipated satisfaction with the job (7-point scale), confidence in the choice of job and organization (3 items; 7-point scales), and importance of intrinsic factors (e.g., interest in the job; intellectual challenge) in the decision to join the organization (2 items; 7-point scales). Variables within this category all correlated significantly (p [greater than].001) with one another and were therefore combined to form an overall measure of decision quality (i.e., standard scores were average).

Post-entry variables. The proposed antecedents of affective commitment were assessed with measures used in previous research by Meyer and Allen (1988). For ease of presentation, and because of their intercorrelations, the individual measures (i.e., job challenge, participation, self-expression, personal importance, role clarity, and feedback) were combined (i.e., average0 in this study to form a single 14-item measure of job scope. Confirmation of expectations was assessed with the same 2-item scale used by Meyer and Allen. Responses to items in both measures were made on 7-point disagree-agree scales, and composite scores were computed by averaging across items. Because the two variable correlated significantly (p [greater than].001) on all three occasions of measurement, they were also combined (i.e., averaged) to form a measure of job quality.

Participants’ perceptions of how difficult it would be to find alternate employment if they were to leave the organization were assessed with a single item. The investments measures included single items concerning the extent to which formal education, time and effort invested in the organization, and training/experience would be wasted, or less useful, if participants were to leave the organization. Responses to the alternatives and investments items were all made on 7-point scales, with higher scores reflecting greater difficulty in finding an alternative and greater investment, respectively. Again, although the individuals investment items were not expected to correlate, they were each expected to contribute to perceived overall investment and were therefore combined to form an overall measure of investment following the rationale outlined above.

Results

In a preliminary analysis, we compared the variables scores of participants who completed all four questionnaires with those of participants who dropped out of the study after completing three or fewer of the pre- and post-entry questionnaires. Significant differences were obtained for only 3 of the 42 measures examined. Those who completed all four questionnaires indicated greater confirmation of expectations after 1 month on the job and rated their education as less useful elsewhere on both the 1- and 6-month post-entry questionnaires. Although these findings might be expected if dropouts from the study were those who voluntarily left their organizations, it was not possible in many cases to determine why participants left the study. Some indicated that they had indeed left the company, but many simply failed to respond to our correspondence. Had we been to identify a larger number of voluntary leavers, we might have detected significant differences on other variables as well. The relative lack of differences overall, however, suggests that the characteristics and experiences of those who completed the study were not appreciably different from those who did not.

Analyses conducted to test our hypotheses were performed using each of the measured variables as well as the linear combinations described above. For ease of presentation, we will focus on the results of analyses involving the linear combinations and report only these findings in tables. We will, however, describe the results of analyses involving individual variables where they help to clarify interpretation.

Pre-entry Predictors

Correlations among the pre-entry variables and commitment scores obtained on the three occasions during the first year of employment are reported in Table 1. Also included in Table 1 are the means, standard deviations, and, where appropriate, the reliability estimates for these variables.

Affective commitment. As can be seen from Table 1, decision quality had the strongest correlations with affective commitment. Of the binding variables, only volition correlated significantly with affective commitment. (Among the individual variables within the volition category, information about the job and organization, and number of job offers correlated significantly; within the decision-quality category, confidence in the decision and anticipated satisfaction had the strongest and most consistently significant correlations.) Thus, the data provide strong support for Hypothesis 1 and modest support for Hypothesis 2. [Tabular Data Omitted]

The correlations involving the binding variables can be interpreted both from prospective- and restrospective-rationality perspectives. As a test of the competing hypotheses, we computed correlations between the binding variables and affective commitment with decision quality partialled out. The results are reported in Table 2. As can be seen, none of the partial correlations was significant. (Among the individual variables, only the partial correlation between amount of information and commitment measured after 6 months was significant). Thus, there is little evidence for retrospective rationality in the development of affective commitment.

Continuance commitment. As predicted (Hypothesis 4), volition and irrevocability correlated significantly with continuance commitment measured on all three occasions. Volition correlated negatively and irrevocability positively. These correlations changed little when decision quality was controlled (see Table 2). (When individual variables were examined, it was the number of offers [negative] and difficulty of finding an alternative [positive] that correlated consistently with continuance commitment and thus appear to be responsible for the correlation involving volition and irrevocability, respectively. Among the decision quality variables, importance of intrinsic factors correlated significantly in a negative direction with continuance commitment measured after 1 and 6 months on the job.) [Tabular Data Omitted]

Post-Entry Predictors

Concurrent and time-lagged correlations among the post-entry variables and with affective and continuance commitment scores for the three occasions of measurement are reported in Table 3. Also included in Table 3 are the means, standard deviations and, where appropriate, reliability estimates for the post-entry variables. [Tabular Data Omitted]

Affective commitment. As expected (Hypothesis 3), job quality correlated significantly with affective commitment both within and across time. (Both job scope and confirmation of expectations also correlated significantly within and across time when examined individually.) The only other post-entry variable that correlated significantly with affective commitment was perceived difficulty of finding an alternative. These correlations, however, were considerably lower than those for job quality.

Continuance commitment. The strongest correlations with continuance commitment, both within and across time, involved perceived difficulty of finding alternate employment. Those who believed it would be difficult to find employment elsewhere reported greater cost associated with leaving the organization. Significant, but somewhat weaker correlations within and across time were also found for investments. These findings provide additional support for Hypothesis 4. (Of the variables included in the investment measure, only wasted time and effort correlated significantly within occasion of measurement and only usefulness of education correlated significantly across time.)

Relative Contribution of Pre- and Post-entry Predictors of Commitment

To determine the relative contribution of the pre-and post-entry variables to the prediction of affective and continuance commitment, we conducted multiple regression analyses in which all pre- and post-entry measures were entered simultaneously as predictors. Because using post-entry measures obtained concurrently with the measures of commitment could bias the results in favor of the post-entry variables (e.g., because of priming or consistency), we used only the post-entry variables measured after the first month of employment as predictors and only the commitment measures obtained after 6 and 11 months as criterion variables. The results are summarized in Table 4. [Tabular Data Omitted]

Affective commitment. Together, the predictor variables account for 29% and 24% of the variance in affective commitment after 6 and 11 months, respectively (correlating for relative error as recommended by Cattin, 1980, reduces [R.sup.2] to .21 and .14, respectively). Only decision quality measured prior to entry and job quality measured after 1 month contributed uniquely to the prediction of affective commitment. The binding variables did not contributing significantly to prediction when decision quality and job quality were controlled. This finding is consistent with the results of the partial correlation analyses reported earlier and support as prospective-rationality, rather than a retrospective-rationality, interpretation of the relationships.

Continuance commitment. Together, the predictor variables account for 30% and 21% (21% and 11% respectively, when correlated) of the variance in continuance commitment after 6 and 11 months, respectively. The major contributors to the prediction of continuance commitment were difficulty of finding an alternative (measured following entry) and volition. The fact that irrevocability did not contribute uniquely to prediction in spite of its significant zero-order correlations with continuance commitment is attributable to its relations with volition and difficulty of finding an alternative. One component of the irrevocability measure is a pre-entry measure of difficulty of finding alternate employment. As a result, irrevocability correlates positively with the post-entry measure of difficulty, and negatively with the volition measure, which includes number of job offers.

Discussion

Our results provide little evidence that retrospective rationalization is a factor in the development of affective commitment to the organization during the first year of employment. Significant zero-order correlations were observed between one of the binding variables (volition) and affective commitment. When decision quality was controlled, however, these relations essentially disappeared, suggesting that the correlations can be best explained from a prospective-rationality perspective. That is, rather than binding individuals to their decisions and creating the need for post-decision justification, having greater freedom of choice appears to permit job seekers to make better decisions (cf. Stumpf & Hartman, 1984).

The data also suggest that more important than volition, irrevocability, and importance of the decision for the development of affective commitment are the on-the-job experiences employees have during the first month of employment. Self-reports of the extent to which expectations are confirmed and jobs are of high quality during the first month predict commitment reported after 6 and 11 months on the job, even with all pre-entry measures controlled. Decision quality also contributed to the prediction of affective commitment, with all other variables controlled, including job quality. Together, these findings provide strong evidence for prospective rationality in the development of affective commitment.

We also examined the correlates of continuance commitment in this study. As expected, some of the variables that were presumed to bind individuals to their course of action were found to influence continuance commitment. The strongest pre-entry predictors of continuance commitment were volition (negative) and irrevocability (positive). Of the variables that compose these global measures, number of offers (negative), freedom from external pressures (negative) and difficulty of finding an alternative (positive) had the strongest correlations.

Consistent with previous research, difficulty of finding alternate employment was included in the present study as an index of irrevocability of the decision. As such, it was expected to influence affective commitment through the process of post-decision justification. It appears, however, that the availability of alternatives is such an obvious influence on the choice of an organization that it tends not to be ignored, denied, or distorted. Rather, employees who realize that they have few alternatives appear also to recognize that the leave their organization would be costly.

Volition also appears to influence commitment somewhat differently from what was predicted from the restrospective-rationality perspective. The fact that volition correlated negatively with continuance commitment suggests that, rather than being bound by freedom of choice and developing affective commitment retrospectively, external pressure to choose a particular course of action (i.e., reduced volition) leads to the development of continuance commitment.

Of the post-entry predictors of continuance commitment, only difficulty of finding alternate employment correlated significantly with continuance commitment both within and across occasion of measurement. Correlations with investments were more modest and variable. Of the variables composing the investments measure, ratings of transferability of education measured at 6 months correlated significantly with continuance commitment measured after 11 months. Ratings of the extent to which time and effort would be wasted correlated significantly with continuance commitment only within occasion. This finding suggests that even though recognition of such an investment contributes to the perceived cost associated with leaving at a given point in time, it does not contribute to the longer-term development of continuance commitment. Transferability of training did not correlate significantly within or across time. It is conceivable that investments made prior to entry or in the first year of employment are not of sufficient magnitude to create continuance commitment. Rather, investments may accumulate over time and therefore have a stronger impact on continuance commitment among more established employees. Among newcomers, it appears that the greatest contributor to strong continuance commitment is a scarcity of alternatives.

Meyer and Allen (1984, 1991; Allen & Meyer, 1990) recognized availability of alternatives as an important contributor to continuance commitment. Indeed, examination of the items included on the continuance commitment scale reveals some that specifically address the contribution of lack of alternatives to perceived cost (e.g., “I feel that I have too few options to consider leaving this organization.”). It might be argued, therefore, that the correlation between a measure of perceived lack of alternatives and continuance commitment merely reflects content redundancy. To test this possibility, we performed additional analyses using the CCS with the alternatives items removed. Removing these items from the CCS leaves only those items that reflect the perception that leaving would be costly (e.g., “It would be very hard for me to leave my organization right now, even if I wanted to.”), without specifying lack of alternatives as a source of the cost. We found in these analyses that the correlations were still significant, indicating that the correlations with the full CCS were not attributable to construct redundancy, but reflect a link between availability of alternatives and perceived cost associated with leaving.

Implications

Our findings suggest that organizations can be instrumental in the development of affective commitment in their employees. They can, for example, provide job-seekers with accurate information (cf. Stumpf & Hartman, 1984; Wanous, 1980) and provide new hires with quality work experiences. The nature of the experiences that contribute to commitment may, of course, vary as a function of the types of employees selected. Although job challenge, participation in decision making, and other characteristics included in the job scope measure used in this study may appeal to university graduates, different characteristics may be more important to other groups. Organizations would be well advised to indentify the needs and preferences of their own hires and, where possible, attempt to structure early work experiences to be compatible.

Advocates of the retrospective-rationality perspective have been critical of the prospective view. Salancik (1977), for example, argued that a difficulty with this conceptualization is that it is useful only after the fact; that is, one can indentify people as being committed or uncommitted, but cannot say much about how they become committed. Although it is true that the process (e.g., social exchange) by which commitment develops prospectively has not been clearly delineated, it is evident from the present study, and others like it (e.g., Allen & Meyer, 1990; Stumpf & Hartman, 1984), that commitment is associated with positive experiences both prior to and following entry into the organization. Moreover, these experiences (e.g., access to accurate information, job quality) are, to a large extent, within the control of the organization, and their links to affective commitment have face validity. There appears, therefore, to be considerable practical value in the prospective-rationality perspective.

By contrast, although post-decision justification has been demonstrated as a mechanism for attitude development and change in laboratory studies, there is relatively little evidence of its influence on attitude formation in field research. Those studies that purport to have found evidence for retrospective rationality have at best shown relatively weak or short-term effects (Lawler, Kuleck, Rhode, & Sorensen, 1975; O’Reilly & Caldwell, 1981; Pfeffer & Lawler, 1980; Vroom, 1966; Vroom & Deci, 1971; Walster, 1964), or have not ruled out alternate explanations for their findings (Mowday & McDade, 1979; O’Reilly & Caldwell, 1981). Even where the findings are stronger and more long lasting (e.g., Staw, 1976), their implications for human resource management are not clear. To apply the retrospective approach to increase the affective commitment of its employees, an organization would have to entice employees to act under conditions (volition, irrevocability, importance) that would bind them to their action and create dissonance with existing cognitions that can be reduced only through the development of a more positive attitude toward the organization. Ethical issues aside, this is clearly a more convoluted and potentially risky approach to promoting affective commitment. If conditions are not properly managed to promote dissonance reduction and employees recognize the pressures being placed on them, it could create reactance (Brehm, 1966), or if there are costs associated with failure to comply, continuance commitment may result. Like affective commitment, continuance commitment might increase the likelihood that an individual will remain with an organization. It may do so, however, at the cost of poorer on-the-job performance

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