Rethinking Commitment

Who doesn’t want committed workers?  Commitment is a type of bond one forms. In the workplace, there are many potential targets for commitment including, but not limited to, the organization, a supervisor, co-workers, projects, goals, decisions, values and one’s career.

Commitment bonds are characterized by dedication and accountability. Because of these features, when there is strong commitment, increased effort and persistence can be expected. This is because people will go above and beyond in support of their commitments and to continue those efforts when faced with difficulties.

Although committed workers are generally desired, commitment has its downsides that are often overlooked:

  • There are costs to developing and maintaining commitments. In some situations, those costs may outweigh the benefits, particularly when another type of bond would suffice.
  • An extremely strong commitment can become overzealousness, negatively impacting judgment and decision-making, blinding workers to the need for change and possibly resulting in detrimental, perhaps even illegal or unethical actions.
  • Even if not extreme, strong commitments can be detrimental when the target of that commitment is problematic (e.g., a flawed decision, rogue supervisor, misguided goal).
  • Workers remaining committed to targets that are no longer relevant or needed by the organization can create rigidity and hinder the organization’s ability to adapt.
  • Workers can have too many commitments, leading to conflicting commitments or being unable to act upon them all, hindering performance and resulting in stress.
  • Negative outcomes can be expected when a single commitment results in expending levels of effort that are not sustainable without sacrificing other commitments resulting in high levels of stress or burnout.

To avoid the above shortcomings of commitment, leaders need to determine, based on strategy and culture, (a) the types of bonds they need from their workers (b) to what targets and (c) for how long.

As noted above, commitment is a type of bond, but it is not the only type of bond. A commitment bond entails an emotional attachment and a psychological investment that may not be needed or wanted. In contrast, an instrumental bond is rational and calculated; achieved through an implicit agreement or explicit contract specifying expectations and outcomes. With an instrumental bond, you do not have the same levels of dedication as with a commitment bond, but that may be appropriate and sufficient.

Leaders thus need to determine who they need committed to what targets, and where and for whom instrumental bonds are adequate. For example, high commitment to the organization or its core values may be desired from workers most critical to its success, whereas commitment to projects or goals may be most relevant for more peripheral and contingent workers.

In terms of duration, it is important to recognize when worker commitments are no longer aligned with the interests of the organization and facilitate needed changes in commitments. In short, leaders need to determine where commitment is needed and then ensure the right workers are committed to the right things for the right duration.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.



Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.