The term career has been defined by several prominent behavioral scientists as a pattern of work-related experiences, including attitudes and behaviors, that span a person’s life. Such a definition encompasses different work referents, including job involvement, organizational commitment, occupational commitment, and work/nonwork roles. Adopting this definition suggests that a person can change jobs, organizations, and occupations, as well as retire and then even “unretire,” all as a part of his or her career.
In their study of different work commitment measures, Gary Blau, Allison Paul, and Natalie St. John found that the career commitment measures could be combined into a more parsimonious measure of occupational commitment. Other research shows that just as organizational commitment has three components, so too does occupational commitment, namely affective commitment, normative commitment, and continuance commitment. Affective commitment is one’s emotional attachment to his or her occupation, normative commitment is a person’s sense of obligation to remain in the occupation, and continuance commitment involves the individual’s assessment of the costs associated with leaving one’s occupation.
In a quantitative review of the research on occupational commitment, Kibeom Lee, Julie Carswell, and Natalie Allen noted that most prior research had defined occupational commitment as the psychological link between an individual and his or her occupation that was based on an affective reaction to that occupation. This definition clearly emphasizes the affective component, that is, individuals with higher occupational commitment strongly identify with and have positive feelings about their occupation. Although empirical work has found support for the affective, normative, and continuance components of occupational commitment, such research has been less successful in demonstrating differences in the relationships of these separate occupational commitment components to other variables, which would provide stronger evidence for the uniqueness of each component. Recent research, however, has found support for the distinction between the three components of occupational commitment, demonstrating that affective commitment had a stronger negative relationship to occupational withdrawal cognitions and had stronger positive relationships to forms of professional participation. Moreover, normative and continuance commitment combined to explain withdrawal cognitions, such that there was a negative relationship between normative commitment and withdrawal cognitions only when continuance commitment was low.
Research supports the view of John Meyer and Natalie Allen that continuance organizational commitment develops as employees recognize that they have accumulated investments or costs that would be lost if they left their organization, or that the availability of comparable alternatives is limited. Applying this notion to occupational commitment suggests the usefulness of the concept of career (or occupational) entrenchment. Career entrenchment focuses on the perceived costs associated with leaving one’s occupation and the perceived lack of occupational alternatives. Research suggests that occupational entrenchment consists of three dimensions: occupational investment, emotional costs, and limited occupational alternatives.
Occupational investment represents the accumulated investments or costs (e.g., time, money, training) in one’s occupation that would be lost if one changed occupations. Often, professionally trained employees need to have either advanced schooling or some form of certification to enter their occupation and then must maintain their competence through attending continuing education programs and/or participation in associations. Emotional costs refer to the anticipated emotional price associated with pursuing a new occupation. For example, the loss of coworker friendships and severance of professional ties can exact an emotional toll on a person changing his or her occupation. Based on investment model research, coworker friendships, a network of contacts, time, money, and training each represents investments or accumulated costs in one’s occupation. Limited occupational alternatives tap the perceived lack of available options for pursuing a new occupation. Individual efforts to maintain occupational investments and minimize emotional costs will divert an individual from scanning the environment for viable occupational alternatives.
Gary Blau has suggested that emotional costs and occupational investments might be better represented together as accumulated occupational costs, and he found support for four components of occupational commitment: affective, normative, accumulated costs, and limited alternatives. The components of accumulated costs and limited alternatives represent two distinct aspects of continuance commitment. By subsuming occupational entrenchment within occupational commitment, researchers now can focus on a common integrative construct, that is, occupational rather than career commitment.
Occupational commitment is an important construct for future study because organizations will continue to restructure and revise the psychological contract of mutual employee-organization expectations, employees will make multiple job changes during the course of their work lives, and the contingent workforce will continue to grow. Collectively this suggests that employee commitment may be shifting in many industries from organizations to occupations. As such, understanding the meaning, antecedents, and consequences of occupational commitment will only become more important for both academics and human resource practitioners to understand.
- Blau, G. 2001. “On Assessing the Construct Validity of Two Multidimensional Constructs: Occupational Commitment and Occupational Entrenchment.” Human Resource Management Review 11:279-298.
- Blau, G. 2001. 2003. “Testing a Four-Dimensional Structure of Occupational Commitment.” Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology 76:469-488.
- Blau, G., Paul, A. and St. John, N. 1993. “On Developing a General Index of Work Commitment.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 42:298-314.
- Lee, K., Carswell, J. and Allen, N. 2000. “A Meta-analytic Review of Occupational Commitment: Relations with Person and Work-Related Variables.” Journal of Applied Psychology 85:799-811.
- Meyer, J. and Allen, N. 1997. Commitment in the Workplace: Theory, Research and Application. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Meyer, J., Allen, N. and Smith, C. 1993. “Commitment to Organizations and Occupations: Extension and Test of a Three-Component Conceptualization.” Journal of Applied Psychology 78:538-551.