Want committed employees? Focus on identity


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It is often said that there is a limit to loyalty in organisations… but does loyalty really matter?

My research shows that instilling a sense of belonging, providing meaningful work, and enabling employees to identify with their organisations are all paramount to enhancing workplace commitment as well as performance.

Employee loyalty in the traditional sense

The traditional model for enhancing employees’ loyalty towards their organisation is based on a social exchange relationship; providing job security in exchange for effort and commitment. This is done through the provision of transactional commodities like salary and benefits and social ones like recognition, support and trust.

However, because dynamic market forces are affecting the labour market and due to the increase of remote working, it is becoming increasingly difficult to forge such commitments based on social exchanges alone. There is an end to loyalty as we once knew it, and new approaches are required to enhance employees’ attachment to their organisations. Despite this the foundation upon which most HR managers seek to enhance organisational commitment and employee performance is through transactional methods.

Creating a committed workforce in today’s dynamic and digitalised environment requires the development of a new social contract that not only includes pay and benefits but also provides pride, purpose, mastery, and a sense of belonging.

New mechanism to foster psychological attachment: social identity

By investigating the cognitive side of workplace commitment, my research uncovered a psychological mechanism that increases commitment: social identity. Often referred to as organisational identification, it reflects a sense of oneness and belonging through an employee’s ability to identify with their organisation, and helps to develop a cognitive form of attachment, enhancing commitment.

Employees who strongly identify with the business they work in are able to better deal with uncertain situations, are more intrinsically motivated to pursue organisational goals and have a better understanding of what is happening in the company. This enables them to connect with other employees – even those who don’t work in the same location – and helps direct behaviour in a common direction.

Core values, shared goals, a sense of purpose and meaningful work are therefore important tools for managers to use when attempting to connect and better engage employees.

New model of organisational commitment

Organisations that make effectively developing commitment in the workplace a core part of their ethos, using both social exchange- and social identity-based factors, will be in a better position to strategically drive performance through their people. My research findings have resulted in the development of a socio-cognitive model of organisational commitment that better reflects workplace attachment in modern times. I call this model the Employee Connect Model. This model helps HR leaders and managers to devise more effective ways of engaging and retaining talent in today’s workplace, by giving them the tools to create a commitment mindset among their staff through different psychological pathways. When employed effectively this can both strengthen existing cognitions and feelings of attachment towards an organisation or even counteract negative work attitudes and behaviours.

By building a more resilient form of organisational commitment, employers can improve employee performance and retention, and keep the key players who will drive the business forward.

Ali Fenwick is a behavioural scientist at Nyenrode Business University

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