GENDER AND EMOTIONS AT WORK: A RECONCEPTUALIZATION OF ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENT
Department of Management
Gold Coast Campus
PMB 50, GCMC
Ph: +617 55529022
Fax: +617 55528058
Maree V Boyle (Author for correspondence)
Department of Management
Ph: 617 38610256
Associate Dean Research and Research Training
Professor of Management
Gold Coast Campus
PMB 50, GCMC
Ph: +617 555 28544
Fax: +617 555 28909
Research paper submitted for inclusion in Stream C: Gender and Diversity in Organisations
GENDER AND EMOTIONS AT WORK: A RECONCEPTUALIZATION OF ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENT
In this paper we propose a
reconceptualization of organizational commitment utilizing current theoretical
developments on gender and emotions in the workplace. We contend that, as organizational commitment
has been studied mainly from a functionalist and positivist approach, that an
interpretive methodological approach should be utilized to further develop the
concept of organizational commitment. The reasons for this reconceptualization
are related to the fact that commitment has been predominantly studied from a
psychological perspective with a focus on affective and behavioral aspects of
commitment. Current approaches focus on measurement rather than on the meaning
of commitment itself. Important issues such as emotions and gender are not
considered. As a consequence, the
commitment of women, and some men, is not accurately and clearly understood in
the context of the modern workplace.
This leads to the perception that women, and some men, are lacking in
commitment to their organizations. We discuss
themes that have emerged from early analysis of how university academics
conceptualize commitment. These themes reflect gender-biased and emotion-laden
indicators of levels of commitment.
Commitment, emotions, gender, interpretive methods
In this paper we propose
the need for a reconceptualization of organizational commitment. The need for this stems from perceived
deficits in current conceptualizations and subsequent
application of the construct. We contend
that the effects of gender and emotions upon how commitment is experienced and
used, both at an individual and organizational level, are currently not
adequately addressed. The paper will
proceed as follows. First, we provide a
critical overview of the literature on organizational commitment, with a
specific focus on the operationalization and measurement of commitment. Second, we discuss how recent research
by Singh and
Vinnicombe (2000a regarding links between gender, emotion and
perceived levels of organizational commitment indicates a need to fully
understand how these interact in relation to organizational commitment. include flexibility, presenteeism and ability to
meet prescribed standards as gender-biased
and emotion-laden indicators of levels of commitment.
Commitment: Definition and Measurement
The substantial commitment
literature contains a number of approaches to the definition
and measurement of
Meyer, Allen and Smith (1993) proposed that three distinct themes can be identified in the
psychological approach –
First, as a
psychological state that is mainly an attachment between employee and
organization (affective); Second, as a perceived cost associated with leaving the
organization (continuance); and third, as an obligation to remain a member of
the organization (normative).
Commitment has also traditionally been theorized and
measured through the predominant psychological approach, utilizing quantitative
methods designed mainly by men.
Singh and Vinnicombe’s (2000a) research has important implications for the theory and
measurement of commitment.
has been the subject of organizational studies for over thirty years (Hrebiniak & Alutto, 1972).
Attitudinal commitment tends to focus on the organization
(Angle & Perry, 1983; Mowday,
Steers, & Porter, 1979), with the needs of the
individual being satisfied by interaction with the organization.
Behavioral commitment tends to focus on the individual,
in the belief that the behavior of the member is central to organizational
commitment (Angle & Perry, 1983; Mowday et
Measures of organizational commitment tend to be
quantitative, mainly involving factor, correlation and regression
Affective commitment, as measured by the Porter et al. (1974), Allen and Meyer, (1990) and Meyer et al. (1990) instruments, was determined by responses made to
pre-determined items. These items
purport to measure emotional commitment.
studies have focused on women’s commitment specifically.
using male-oriented rationalistic approaches, have in the main developed
measures of organizational commitment.
It is proposed
that emotions, and their gendered nature, are more appropriately dealt with
through the interpretive paradigm, identified by Burrell and Morgan (1979) as an approach based on a
nominalist ontology and anti-positivistic epistemology. A nominalist ontology presumes
that reality is not prescribed, being built up over a period of time through
the empirical experiences of people. An
anti-positivistic epistemology presumes that the scientific method is not the
way that sense is made of reality, instead reality can only be known through
the interaction of the individual and the phenomenon. Through the consistent adoption
of the functionalist paradigm no consideration has been given to attributes
usually associated with women, though not excluding men, such as compassion and
studies of organizational commitment, for example Meyer and Allen (1997), have involved investigations carried out by external
In a recent critique of commitment,
Swailes (2002) suggested that researchers had concentrated on measuring
commitment rather than the meaning of commitment itself.
Recent research (Franzway, 2000; Singh & Vinnicombe,
that there is a link between gender, emotions and organizational
Singh and Vinnicombe (2000a) also suggested that in the workplace women are perceived as
having lower levels of organizational commitment than men, a view that
Vinnicombe (2000a) Singh and
Vinnicombe’s (2000a) (Singh & Vinnicombe, 2000a) . . , particularly when one considers
changes that have occurred in the workplace. Changes in the workplace include
a greater number of women in the workforce together with more women holding
positions at higher levels in organizations. Growth of international business
has brought changes to the workplace, including the restructuring of
organizations into different, usually smaller, entities demanding more complex
forms of managing. Legislative
changes, with a focus on anti-discrimination and equal opportunity in the
workplace, have changed the relationships between managers, peers and
subordinates. New technology has resulted
in the need to retrain and, in some cases, reduce the numbers of workers. Finally, the increase of casual employment
and other peripheral work, at the expense of full-time work, has fundamentally
changed the attachments of many employees to the workplace. Women fill these ranks, but not necessarily
willingly. All of these workplace issues have contributed to changes in the way
that employees are committed to their organizations, occupations and
professions, and their emotional engagement or involvement with their work. Further
to the workplace changes mentioned above, the relationship between time spent
at work and time spent at home has changed over the past thirty years (Hochschild, 1997) .
During this time the balance has changed to the extent that some
employees now turn to the workplace rather than the home for emotional support (Hochschild, 1997) . For example, women were more
likely to have most of their friends at work compared to men. Hochschild (1997) also proposed that for some
women, workplaces that emphasize empowerment, quality management, training and
employee assistance schemes, have replaced the home as the most desirable place
to spend time. GENDER AND ORGANIZATIONAL COMMITMENT
meta-analysis carried out by Mathieu and Zajac (1990) involving 124 published studies of organizational
commitment, based on the positivist approach mentioned above,
there w ere 14
were identified as a
analysis to that of Mathieu and Zajac (1990) was also carried out by Cohen and Lowenberg (1990), which involved 50 published studies of organizational
commitment. Using positivist or
quantitative approaches for analysis, ten studies were found where women were
identified as a discrete group.
the meta-analyses carried out by Mathieu and Zajac (1990) and Cohen and Lowenberg (1990) were based on studies that differentiated between women and
men in the sample, none of these studies were conducted to discover women’s
organizational commitment explicitly.
studies, using the measures of organizational commitment previously discussed,
have shown mixed results.
and Vinnicombe’s (2000a) study, utilizing 37 matched pairs of men and women workers, it was found
that women’s career prospects were adversely affected by male managers’
perceptions of women’s career and organizational commitment. Singh and
Vinnicombe’s (2000a) (2000a).
barriers to success faced by women who have to manage the complexities of
family and career have been identified (Franzway, 2000).
The proposition that women express
organizational commitment in a different way to men is supported by Franzway’s (2000) research
involving women working in the trade union movement.
commitment has been predominantly measured and studied using approaches that
may have little relevance in today’s business environment.
and Linstead (1999) proposed that emotions are an
important and problematical part of organizational life. Emotions that are perceived as
negative or dysfunctional are usually regarded as being part of the personality
of organizational members, and are often suppressed in organizations by
managers. At the same
time, emotions that are perceived as having value for the organization are
encouraged. In the main this has
Excluding emotions from the measures of commitment, or
distortion through quantitative measures, results in an important part of the
meaning of the commitment of organizational members being lost.
Previous studies of commitment have not considered
emotions but rather emotional factors.
It is proposed to
reconceptualize organizational commitment utilizing an interpretive
the study will bgrounded
theory. analysis linking categories
into theory (Locke, 2001).
academic staff , minimal amount ofeach of approximately one hour duration. Examples of prompt questions include, “how do you feel about working here”, “can you give me an example of what you find meaningful in your work life”, and “what do other people in the workplace do that leads you to believe that they are committed to the organization”. the interviewer, the first author
analysis indicate the following themes: (i) flexibility – being
available when requested; (ii) presenteeism; and (iii)
Perceived ability to
meet standards. We will now briefly discuss each of these in turn
relation to perceived ability to meet standards, respondents indicated that
there still exist strong perceptions about women being more likely to “fail the
commitment qualitatively, as described above, will enable an area of
organizational studies that has been neglected in several important respects,
to be understood from the perspective of organizational memberss.
be studied, in the proposed research, using an interpretive
approach , drawing on grounded theory . Thirdly,
current measures of commitment are misleading.
By exclu dingemotions in
the reconceptualisation it is impossible , to obtain
picture of the commitment of women , let alone tha tof
commitment is a prerequisite to actually achieving increased levels of
commitment. A more complete
understanding of commitment is particularly important in a rapidly changing
business environment. Equitable employee
performance management and promotion of the most appropriate employees are
fundamental to business success. To this
end, a reconceptualization of organizational commitment is needed.
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