Let’s say your firm is in the process of hiring a new administrative assistant. The final selection has come down to two candidates with similar qualifications. However, one is single, while the other is married. One member of the search team says, “Candidate B would be the best option. Candidate A is single so you know she isn’t settled down and won’t be dependable.”
This is a conventional attitude that many employers have when hiring. The stereotype says that “married employees with families are ‘settled down,’ so they are more dependable and less likely to leave for another job.” Overall, some people think they’ll be more committed to the organization.
This stereotype could spell trouble for employers, because fewer and fewer employees have these “commitment qualifications.” The percentage of married persons and the percentage of parents with minor children in the U.S. workforce is declining.
In addition, it can be illegal to discriminate against applicants and employees due to marital and parental status.
So, how do employers build a committed workforce? What can you do to keep your employees committed by choice? The recommendations below have always been useful tools.
1. Be fair. One of the leading factors that contribute to employee commitment is fairness. This is not just about who gets what, but how those decisions are made. In recent years, there has been a backlash of ill will against work/family programs. Employees without kids feel excluded by family-friendly policies and angered by the inequities. Single staff members often feel that their desire for a personal life receives less employer support.
One married, childless woman was angered when her employer just assumed that she would always be able to work overtime. “It would not have been so bad if I had been asked, if we could have discussed it. I probably would have done it anyway. I just would have liked to have been asked.”
Dr. Mary B. Young, a researcher at Boston University’s Human Resource Policy Institute, agreed. “Assuming that a single or childless person has no personal life doesn’t communicate the kind of respect that employees are looking for.”
2. Show support for employees’ needs. Another factor that drives employee commitment is support from the employer in balancing work and personal life.
In one of Dr. Young’s focus groups, a young, single woman related an episode from her workplace. The young woman had been planning a ski vacation with some high school friends. These were friends from all over the country and it had taken quite a bit of time and effort to plan the vacation. She was on the books to have this time off. The time got closer and her boss came to her and said, “I need you not to do that, I need for you to do this.” There was a sense that whatever her personal commitments were, they weren’t taken seriously.
An employer needs to decide whether or not they are going to set limits on work because of necessity or preference. Nobody can quarrel with the idea of a young child about to be turned out of a daycare center. But, when someone says I need to leave at 6 p.m. because I have a kickboxing class or dinner plans, will this stand up to the challenge?
Dr. Young said that employers need to make sure that an employee’s time away from work is not based on a particular set of circumstances. If time off work is not dependent on a particular reason or excuse it removes that whole business of, “Is my excuse as valid as someone else’s? Does my boss understand my circumstances as well as someone else’s?” Everyone should have the same amount of time off, regardless of the reasons.
Another way to inspire “good” commitment and suppress the bad:
3. Make sure everyone understands the link between their job and the organization’s goals. By analyzing the data of 800 stores regarding employee attitudes, customer satisfaction and financial returns, a large retailer pinpointed the specific factors that had the greatest impact on business results. One finding: When employees grasp the big picture (“I understand our business strategy”) and see “a connection between the work (they) do and the company’s strategic objectives,” the result is higher corporate revenues.
4. Give employees important things to do and enough latitude to make an impact. If employees are given challenging work, are able to use a variety of skills and can exercise autonomy, employee satisfaction, motivation and commitment increases.
5. Invest in employee development and training. This also helps ensure that your employees are committed to your organization. By providing employees with regular training and career counseling, you help reduce the likelihood that they become hapless hangers-on. But, it may increase their attractiveness to other firms. That is why both kinds of commitment are necessary. If you’re able to reduce the number of people who are committed by necessity, and at the same time earn staff members’ “Commitment by Choice,” you are less likely to lose employees to competitors.
A study done by Dr. Mary B. Young, a researcher at Boston University’s Human Resource Policy Institute, indicated that life status alone is useless in predicting commitment to an employer, at least the kind of commitment employers should be going after.
Dr. Young said commitment comes in different varieties, “good” or “bad.” Employees have the “good” kind when they feel emotionally attached to your firm. When an employee has this kind of commitment they have fewer absences, are more likely to be involved in organizational-citizenship behavior, and to do whatever it takes to get the job done. These employees are committed because they want to stay, in other words, they feel a “Commitment by Choice.”
Other employees may have “Commitment by Necessity.” They feel a need to stay, because they believe that the costs of leaving are too high. They may stay put, but their value to your firm may be questionable. These employees tend to have lower job performance and are less likely to engage in organizational-citizenship behaviors.