Why some of your old work commitments never seem to go away

January 18, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio - You can quit work commitments if you want - but some of them never really leave you, new research suggests.

In a study of 420 employees representing a wide variety of occupations and work settings at three organizations, researchers found that commitments that workers no longer had were still lingering in their minds.

"It was clear to us that past commitments were still affecting employees," said Howard Klein, lead author of the study and professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business.

While these effects could be positive or negative, the study revealed that many employees harbor negative feelings about long-gone obligations that their supervisors may not realize.

"We need to find out what managers can do to mitigate the negative effects of these prior commitments that may be holding people back in their jobs," Klein said.

The study appears online in the journal Academy of Management Discoveries.

While there has been a lot of research on commitment in the workplace, Klein said he believes this is the first to examine the impact of past commitments.

The researchers called these "quondam commitments." Quondam means "that which once was." Workplace commitments examined in the study included those to organizations, supervisors, workplace teams, projects, goals or occupations, among others.

The research involved surveys of employees at a health care facility, a financial institution and a large, unionized manufacturing plant. As this was an exploratory study, the researchers asked employees just two questions: The first asked participants to describe in a few words a specific thing that they were committed to at work but were not anymore. The second asked them to say why they no longer had that commitment.

After reading the responses, the researchers sorted them into 11 broad reasons for why commitments ended. The most common was changes in work circumstances, which included about 30 percent of all responses. This could involve changed jobs or positions or shifted responsibilities.

"The fact that changes in work circumstances was the No. 1 reason was surprising to me," Klein said. "We all talk about the rapidly changing workplace, but I still didn't expect it to be the most cited reason for commitments ending."

The second most common reason, cited 16 percent of the time, was over-commitment. This included conflicting responsibilities or there simply not being enough time or capacity to fulfill all of one's obligations.

"Over-commitment at work hasn't been given the attention it deserves. Our findings suggest we need to look at this a lot more closely," he said.

"There is evidence that having commitments facilitates well-being because it gives you a sense of purpose. But commitments become a problem when employees feel they have too many to keep up."

Indeed, "negative effects on well-being" was another category of identified reasons for no longer being committed.

Several of the other reasons cited for quondam commitments also had troubling implications for companies, including "negative perceptions of other personnel," "negative perception of leadership/management," and a "significant negative work event."

A strong negative quondam commitment could make employees reluctant to fully commit to new projects, supervisors or goals in their jobs, Klein said.

"The closest thing to this that has been studied is romantic relationships. Workplace commitments are not the same, of course, but there are parallels," he said.

"People talk about how they have been burned in the past and don't want to make the same mistake again. Something similar could happen to employees whose past work commitments didn't end when, or the way, they wanted."

Klein said that, as an exploratory study, this research asks a lot more questions than it answers. But it points out the need to take quondam commitments seriously in the workplace.

"We need to figure out when a quondam commitment is going to be positive or negative for both employee and/or the organization, and when its effects are going to linger or dissipate quickly," he said.

"Companies today often need to pivot quickly and they need employees to change commitments just as fast. How managers deal with these changes for their employees, and the effects of prior commitments, is crucial."
-end-
Klein's co-authors on the study were Chad Brinsfield of the University of St. Thomas, Joseph Cooper of the University of Toledo and Janice Molloy of the University of Michigan - Dearborn.

Contact: Howard Klein, 614-292-0719; Klein.12@osu.edu

Written by Jeff Grabmeier, 614-292-8457; Grabmeier.1@osu.edu

Ohio State University

Related Employees Articles from Brightsurf:

How initiatives empowering employees can backfire
Strategies meant to motivate people in the workplace may have unintended consequences -- depending on who's in charge.

Some employees more likely to adhere to information security policies than others
Information security policies (ISP) that are not grounded in the realities of an employee's work responsibilities and priorities exposes organizations to higher risk for data breaches, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Covert tobacco industry marketing tactics exposed by former employees
Tobacco companies use covert marketing tactics and exploit loopholes in Australian tobacco control laws to promote their products despite current tobacco advertising bans, finds new research from University of Sydney and Cancer Council NSW.

How employees' rankings disrupt cooperation and how managers can restore it
First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado, second prize a set of steak knives, third prize you're firedĀ».

Employees less upset at being replaced by robots than by other people
Generally speaking, most people find the idea of workers being replaced by robots or software worse than if the jobs are taken over by other workers.

Some LGBT employees feel less supported at federal agencies
Workplace inequality is visible when it involves gender and race, but less so with sexual identity and gender expression.

Workplace interventions may improve sleep habits and duration for employees
Simple workplace interventions, like educating employees about the importance of sleep and providing behavioral sleep strategies, may produce beneficial results, according to a new review.

To keep the creative juices flowing, employees should be receptive to criticism
Though most firms today embrace a culture of criticism, when supervisors and peers dispense negative feedback it can actually stunt the creative process, according to a new study co-authored by Yeun Joon Kim, a Ph.D. student at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management.

How a positive work environment leads to feelings of inclusion among employees
Fostering an inclusive work environment can lead to higher satisfaction, innovation, trust and retention among employees, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

How susceptible are hospital employees to phishing attacks?
A multicenter study finds high click rate for simulated phishing emails, potential benefit in phishing awareness training.

Read More: Employees News and Employees Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.