Employee Attitudes in Theoretical Views

By Cheuk Yue Wan, Georgiana Darau |

Employee attitudes are one of the most major focuses in work and organizational psychology. Job attitudes are defined as “affective responses to and cognitive evaluations of job experiences and the job situation”. Three constructs of the attitudes are widely agreed in the field: job satisfaction, job involvement, and organizational commitment. In this chapter, we will discuss the antecedents, consequences, and measurement of each construct introduced by the theorists. As Kurt Lewin said, “There is Nothing More Practical Than A Good Theory”. Theories are extracted and developed from the real-world and a good theory helps us to understand and explain the real-world.

Satisfaction, Engagement and Commitment at work

The meanings and differentiations of job satisfaction, job involvement, and organizational commitment are crucial to understand the following theoretical contents. Job satisfaction is the pleasure or positive emotional state resulting from the appraisal of one’s job or job experiences. Job involvement means the degree to which one is cognitively preoccupied with, engaged in, and concerned with one’s job. The strength of one’s identification with and involvement in a particular organization is considered as organizational commitment. There are even three types of commitment. The first is affective commitment which represents employees’ identification with the organization, sense of belonging, and desire to see the goals of the organization fulfilled while the second one is normative commitment representing a sense of obligation toward the organization. Finally continuance commitment largely refers to a calculative approach to commitment (i.e. staying committed due to the lack of better alternatives).

 What affects employee attitudes?

Job characteristics exhibit relatively large and positive relationships with job satisfaction. The dimensions of job characteristics are task variety, information processing requirements, interdependence, feedback from others, and social support. The effects of task identity and job challenge on job involvement are also empirically supported. However, the effect depends on a variety of individual differences. For example, if employees are high on growth needs, enriched jobs are associated with positive employee attitudes.

Cognitive evaluation happens in many aspects in jobs. Need-Satisfaction Theories told us that satisfaction of salient needs is associated with positive employee attitudes. The gap between their needs and what they are given is negatively associated with their positive employee attitudes. The discrepancy between inputs (e.g. skills) and outputs (e.g. salary) in their jobs would also lower positive employee attitudes. Meanwhile, some individuals may value a specific job facet more, and thus they would evaluate how much the facet is provided. Examples of job facets are achievement, comfort, status, altruism, safety, autonomy. On social level, people would compare their own outputs of job and the outputs received by the members of the reference group (e.g. friends or colleagues) or from past membership (e.g. last member of the same position).

Affective responses can be induced by workplace events. Those momentary responses can become part of individuals’ affective and cognitive evaluation of the job, especially on job satisfaction and commitment. Apart from the momentary affectivity, an individual’s trait of affectivity also influences attitudes. Those trait affects can act as a lens through which the attitude object is viewed. In more precise, personality characteristics influence (1) what individuals attend to and how they remember and process organizational events, (2) the kind of situations they seek out, (3) how individuals impact the situations, and (4) how they regulate their mood states.

Environmental factors such as organizational and national cultures also have an influence on employee’s attitudes. A climate of positive organizational support is associated with more positive attitudes while cultural values are associated with a level of positive employee attitudes and moderate the relationships between organizational practices and employee attitudes. Cross-cultural differences may influence the importance of antecedent variables thereby amplifying or attenuating the relationship between the antecedent and the job attitudes more directly.

What are the consequences of employee attitudes?

According to the Theory of Planned Behaviour, there is an association of employee’s attitudes and their behaviors – employees behave in accordance to their attitudes. Social Exchange Theory and the Norm of Reciprocity predict that employees reciprocate the positive (or negative) treatment of the organization with positive (or negative) behaviors. Although it is widely believed that changes in job satisfaction cause changes in task performance via a motivational mechanism, alternative models have been proposed with some empirical support. For instance, job satisfaction and task performance are reciprocally related, or there is a common factor causing both job satisfaction and task performance. In terms of job involvement, high involvement reflects an employee’s appraisal the job is able to satisfy desired needs.

Furthermore, job attitudes are widely negatively linked to both turnover intentions and actual voluntary turnover. And these relationships are moderated by economic conditions and the unemployment climate in the society.

How to measure employee attitudes?

Traditionally, organizations can measure employees’ attitudes using self-report inventories such as Job Descriptive Index (JDI), the Job in General scale (JIG), and the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (MSQ). These have been developed into different languages and different lengths for practitioners. Other measures like the Faces Scale, the Brayfield-Rothe measure, the Job Satisfaction Survey, and the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS-X) focus on the affective component of job satisfaction. Job involvement can be measured in either a 20-item or a 6-item. Organizational commitment is predominantly measured using one of the two inventories: the Organizational Commitment Questionnaire (OCQ; with 15 items), and the six-item measures of affective, normative, and continuance commitment.

Yet, more recently, researchers suggested that Item Response Theory (IRT) can help us better distinguish extremely (dis)satisfied from merely (dis)satisfied respondents by specifically designing assessment purposes.



Credé, M. (2018). Attitudes: Satisfaction, Commitment and Involvement. In Ones, D. S., Anderson, N., Viswesvaran, C., & Sinangil, H. K. (Eds.). The SAGE Handbook of Industrial, Work & Organizational Psychology, 2v: Personnel Psychology and Employee Performance; Organizational Psychology; Managerial Psychology and Organizational Approaches. (pp. 3-24). SAGE Publications.

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