Howard Klein, The Ohio State University – Prior Commitments at Work

Do you still think about prior commitments you’ve had at work?

Howard Klein, professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University, discusses the need for businesses to help employees feel good about moving on.

Howard J. Klein is a professor of management and human resources in the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University. Professor Klein received his B.A. degree from the University of Minnesota in psychology, his M.B.A. from Michigan State University in human resource management, and his Ph.D. degree in organizational behavior and human resource management from Michigan State University.  His research interests center on the commitment, motivation, and performance of individuals and teams through the study of workplace commitments, socialization, goal setting, training, and performance management. Professor Klein has authored more than 60 articles and book chapters and made over 75 presentations at scholarly conferences on these and other topics. He has also edited a book on Commitment in Organizations. His articles have been published in outlets including the Academy of Management Review, Academy of Management Journal, Journal of Applied Psychology, and Personnel Psychology and, according to Google Scholar, have been cited over 9,100 times. Professor Klein has received multiple awards each for his research, teaching, and service. He teaches courses in talent aquisition, training and development, HR analytics, human resource management, organizational behavior, and research methods at the undergraduate, masters, and doctoral levels. Professor Klein is Editor-in-Chief for Human Resources Management Review and serves, or has served, on several other editorial review boards including the Academy of Management Discoveries, Journal of Applied Psychology, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, and Personnel Psychology. He is a past Chair of the Human Resources Division of the Academy of Management and served on the Board of Directors for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation and was Board Chair. Professor Klein is a fellow of the American Psychological Association, the Association for Psychological Science, and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Prior Commitments at Work

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We all have many different commitments in the workplace, but even after those commitments end, they can still have influence on the way we think, feel, and act. Those lingering effects can be either positive or negative for both the individual and the organization. These prior or quondam commitments, quondam meaning “that which once was,” were examined in a study of 420 employees at three organizations, who represented a wide variety of occupations and work settings.

Employees were asked to describe a specific thing that they were previously committed to at work as well as why they no longer had that commitment. The past commitments that employees mentioned included those to organizations, supervisors, workplace teams, projects, and goals and occupations. Some of the explanation provided mirror factors we know lead to developing commitments, but a number of unique explanations were also identified.  

Although the effects of quondam commitments can be positive or negative, our study revealed that many employees harbor negative feelings about those prior obligations. These feelings from those commitments could make employees reluctant to fully commit to new projects, supervisors or goals, hindering their performance and holding back their careers.

These lingering effects are increasingly important because of the frequency with which people now change jobs and the increased percentage of the workforce that are contract or temporary workers. Even for employees that stay with the same organization, companies increasingly need to pivot quickly, which can require employees to change commitments just as fast.  Given that workers need to more frequently form and forgo commitments in today’s workplace, organizations need to ensure people are committed to the right things for the right duration, and also effectively manage the cessation of commitments and the potential carryover effects of those ended commitments.

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