Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: When Employees Help Each Other, Organizational Commitment Grows

By Amy Lemley

Here’s a study finding that may surprise you: Organizations that establish employee support programs engender greater commitment when they provide a chance for workers to contribute time or money to help their colleagues.

In Shawn’s blog entry two days ago, he shared how his cousin’s firefighter colleagues have taken all his shifts while he and his wife spend their days with their son, who is in a hospital four hours from home after being injured in a car accident. Not only are they protecting his job, but they have also arranged for the pay to go to him.

Because their organization approved this, the study findings would suggest, these firefighters are likely to be more committed to the fire company. The study also found that they probably feel grateful for the chance to make a difference, further engendering their commitment.

Typically, organizations believe workers place value in employee assistance programs for what they can get from them. But this study, says coauthor Jane Dutton, saw benefits far beyond “What’s in it for me?”:

-Individuals defined themselves more positively.

-Organizational commitment grew.

-Organizational citizenship was enhanced.

With Dutton, lead author Adam Grant (author of the study I discussed in my last entry), and Brent Russo surveyed about 300 managers and employees of Borders bookstores. Published in the Academy of Management Journal in 2008, their paper “Giving Commitment: Employee Support Programs and the Prosocial Sensemaking Process” examined the company’s employee assistance program, which is specifically designed to help co-workers who are struggling.

This opportunity engenders goodwill by giving employees the chance to make a difference, whether with confidential financial help or via something more public like bereavement baskets for colleagues who have lost loved ones.

One staff member reported feeling like a “better person” because he or she could make a difference. Said another, “It made me feel good to know that the money I give out of my paycheck goes to help someone within this company.”

Knowing the company allows for giving has heightened employee commitment. “How attached do I feel to the company?” an employee asked. “Very attached.”

Companies that have added the employee-giving component include Southwest Airlines, Domino’s Pizza, the Limited, and First Engineering Corporation. Will yours be among them?

Dutton has a few suggestions managers can follow to promote success:

-Introduce the employee support program.

-Make it simple for employees to give as well as receive.

-Communicate ways employees can give (e.g., financial donations, peer-to-peer support).

-Actively support the program by modeling participation, not relying on the program’s existence to promote itself.

-Subtly highlight the company’s own contributions to the programs (e.g., matching donations).

 Chances are, the change in your organization will be palpable: individuals will be more fulfilled, the work force as a whole will make an increased commitment to your organization, and your organization will enjoy an enhanced sense of citizenship). It’s what you might call a win-win-win.