Alienation Matters: Validity and Utility of Etzioni's Theory of Commitment in Explaining Prosocial Organizational Behavior

Article excerpt

In this study assumptions of Etzioni's (1975) theory of control and commitment are tested. Psychometric evidence is provided for the reliability and validity of the Organizational Commitment Scale (Penley & Gould, 1988), operationalizing Etzioni's typology of so-called calculative, alienative, and moral commitment. In a sample of 172 hospital workers, these 3 dimensions were found to be empirically distinct. Structural equation modeling was used to confirm differential effects of distributive and procedural justice perceptions on calculative, alienative, and moral commitment, supporting the notion that different forms of attachment develop partly in response to organizational compliance systems. When investigating simultaneous effects on supervisor-rated prosocial behavior, only alienation had a significant (negative) impact. Findings indicate acceptable validity and utility of a commitment model grounded in social theory for explaining organizational behavior.

Keywords: organizational commitment, involvement, alienation, organizational justice, prosocial behavior.

Questions regarding how and why individuals relate psychologically to their work organizations, and die ways in which titis influences their workplace behavior, are perennial topics in organizational research. Indeed, a prolific body of literature has been devoted to die forms, foci, causes, and consequences of organizational commitment (e.g., Cohen, 2003; Mathieu & Zajac, 1990; Meyer, Stanley, Herscovitch, & Topolnytsky, 2002; Mowday, Porter, & Steers, 1982). However, die vast number of empirical studies contrasts with the lack of a strong theoretical foundation. The aim in the present study was to address this issue by reintroducing a model of commidnent that is based on Etzioni's (1975) theory of organizational power and involvement. This theory-guided approach distinguishes between three types of employee attachment to the organization, that have been termed by Etzioni calculative, moral, and ahenative commitment. Despite some promising studies, Etzioni's model has received Utile attention in the literature (e.g., Azim & Boseman, 1975; Banai, 2002; Franklin, 1975). My aim was to provide evidence for its theoretical and empirical vaUdity and usefulness in predicting organizationally desirable prosocial behavior.


Etzioni's model of commitment is rooted in macro-organizational sociological theory (Etzioni, 1961, 1975). The model differentiates between three sources of organizational power or control and corresponding forms of employee involvement or commitment: a) remunerative power and calculative commitment; b) coercive power and ahenative commitment; and c) normative or symbotic power and moral commitment (foUowing Penley & Gould, 1988, the terms involvement and commitment are used interchangeably here). According to this dieory, each form of commitment develops in response to die respective form of control exercised over the individual. Calculative commitment provides an adequate response to organizational comphance structures that emphasize the instrumentality of organizationally desired behavior for attaining material benefits or incentives. The term alienative commitment is used to describe a negativeaffective form of attachment in light of being forced to a course of action by environmental pressures, experienced loss of control, and lack of alternatives. In contrast, moral commitment is characterized by positive-affective attachment and internalization of organizational goals and values, based on a compUance structure that emphasizes immaterial or symboUc rewards, shared norms, and personal dedication (e.g., Etzioni, 1975; Penley & Gould, 1988). Initially, Etzioni had theorized that organizational comphance systems typicaUy rely primarily on one form of power, thus generating one dominant form of attachment (e.g., Banai, 2002). However, subsequent researchers have demonstrated the prevalence of various combinations of the three identified forms of commitment within the same organizations (Azim & Boseman, 1975; Penley & Gould, 1988). …


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