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娀 Academy of Management Journal

2008, Vol. 51, No. 5, 898–918.

GIVING COMMITMENT: EMPLOYEE SUPPORT PROGRAMS


AND THE PROSOCIAL SENSEMAKING PROCESS
ADAM M. GRANT
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

JANE E. DUTTON
BRENT D. ROSSO
University of Michigan

Researchers have assumed that employee support programs cultivate affective organ-
izational commitment by enabling employees to receive support. Using multimethod
data from a Fortune 500 retail company, we propose that these programs also
strengthen commitment by enabling employees to give support. We find that giving
strengthens affective organizational commitment through a “prosocial sensemaking”
process in which employees interpret personal and company actions and identities as
caring. We discuss theoretical implications for organizational programs, commitment,
sensemaking and identity, and citizenship behaviors.

Changing employment landscapes have weak- Searching for new ways to strengthen employees’
ened employees’ physical, administrative, and tem- affective commitment, many organizations have
poral attachments to organizations (Cascio, 2003; adopted employee support programs (Hartwell,
Pfeffer & Baron, 1988). Employees are more mobile, Steele, French, Potter, Rodman, & Zarkin, 1996).
more autonomous, and less dependent on their or- Employee support programs are formalized prac-
ganizations for employment than ever before. To tices designed to improve employees’ experiences
address these challenges, organizations are in- at work by providing emotional, financial, and in-
creasingly seeking to strengthen employees’ psy- strumental assistance beyond the scope of standard
chological attachments by cultivating affective HR pay, benefit, recognition, and training and de-
commitment—an attitude of emotional dedica- velopment programs. These increasingly common
tion—to organizations (Mathieu & Zajac, 1990; programs, ranging from employee assistance pro-
Meyer & Allen, 1991). Extensive research has dem- grams to work-family programs such as child care
onstrated that affective commitment to organiza- and elder care, provide employees with various
tions is linked to important behavioral outcomes forms of help and aid (Cascio, 2003; Edwards &
ranging from decreased absenteeism and turnover Rothbard, 2000; Goodstein, 1995). Scholars typi-
to increased job performance (Cooper-Hakim & Vi-
cally assume that employee support programs cul-
swesvaran, 2005; Riketta, 2002; Somers, 1995). Ac-
tivate commitment by enabling employees to re-
cordingly, scholars and practitioners continue to
ceive support (Johnson, 1986; Perry-Smith & Blum,
share a deep interest in understanding how affec-
2000; Trice & Beyer, 1984). When employees be-
tive commitment to organizations develops. This
come aware of or utilize the services offered by
pursuit is a foundational task for organizational
support programs, they are more likely to feel that
scholarship (Mowday & Sutton, 1993).
their work organizations value their well-being and
thus reciprocate by developing affective commit-
For helpful feedback and suggestions, we are grateful ment to these organizations. For example, the liter-
to Associate Editor Brad Kirkman, three anonymous re- ature on perceived organizational support suggests
viewers, Jeff Edwards, Nancy Rothbard, and Jim West- that when employees feel supported by their organ-
phal. For their assistance with data collection and cod- izations, they develop beliefs that their organiza-
ing, we offer special thanks to our project liaisons (Thom tions care about their welfare, which further moti-
Bales, Sarah Baumann, Barbara Kinzer), research assis- vate them to strengthen their affective commitment
tants (Alex Jaffe, Shanna Goldenberg, Brett Lavery,
to their organizations (Rhoades & Eisenberger,
Heather Ross, Jana Bek, Katie Benedetto, Emily Feldman,
Caroline Martin, Krista Wagner, Adrienne Waller), and 2002). Scholars writing within this literature draw
survey and interview participants. We also thank Ben on social exchange theory (Blau, 1964; Emerson,
Rosen and members of the Relationships Reading Com- 1976; Homans, 1958) to propose that employees
munity for their advice and encouragement. form attachments to reciprocate what they have
898
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2008 Grant, Dutton, and Rosso 899

received from organizations. However, researchers novel framework for explaining how support pro-
have noted that there are additional pathways grams cultivate affective organizational commit-
through which commitment develops, calling for a ment, introduces giving as a new antecedent of
broader understanding of the underlying mecha- affective commitment, identifies two “prosocial
nisms (Fuller, Barnett, Hester, & Relyea, 2003). In sensemaking” mechanisms to account for this rela-
particular, researchers have criticized social ex- tionship, and addresses calls to move beyond social
change perspectives for relying on the assumption exchange theory as a means of understanding ante-
of rational self-interest (Meglino & Korsgaard, cedents of affective commitment.
2004): employee support programs are assumed to
strengthen commitment by fulfilling employees’
EMPLOYEE SUPPORT PROGRAMS
self-interested motives to receive. Researchers have
AND COMMITMENT
yet to explore the possibility that employee support
programs may strengthen commitment by fulfilling Commitment is a key concept for explaining re-
employees’ other-interested motives to give. lationships between individuals and organizations
Our objective in this article is to fill this gap by (Mathieu & Zajac, 1990; Mowday & Sutton, 1993).
offering an expanded view of the other-interested We focus on organizations as commitment targets
mechanisms through which employee support pro- for both theoretical and practical reasons. From a
grams cultivate affective organizational commit- theoretical perspective, we seek to deepen existing
ment. Although employee support programs were knowledge about how organizational programs af-
initially formed to allow employees to receive sup- fect employees’ psychological attachments to their
port, it is increasingly common for these programs work organizations. From a practical perspective,
to allow employees to participate in giving as well organizational commitment is a strong predictor of
as receiving (Cascio, 2003; Pfeffer, 2006). For exam- decreased absenteeism and turnover (for a review,
ple, through support programs in the airline, auto, see Meyer, Stanley, Herscovitch, and Topolnytsky
construction, and railroad industries, employees [2002]). Understanding how organizational com-
are provided with opportunities to volunteer as a mitment develops can assist organizations in ef-
means of supporting coworkers (Bacharach, Bam- forts to increase employee retention, which is im-
berger, & McKinney, 2000). At Southwest Airlines portant in industries in which organizations
and DaVita, employees are able to donate money to struggle to retain employees, such as the retail and
programs supporting fellow employees facing med- service industries (Cascio, 2003).
ical and financial emergencies (Pfeffer, 2006). Sim- Recognizing that organizational commitment can
ilar programs exist at Domino’s Pizza, The Limited, take multiple forms, we focus specifically on affec-
Jackson Hospital, and First Energy Corporation, tive organizational commitment. Many organiza-
where employees can give financial and emotional tional commitment researchers distinguish among
support to fellow employees in need. Our focus in three commitment forms: affective, normative, and
this article is on these types of internal employee continuance (Meyer & Allen, 1991). Whereas nor-
support programs, which are structured so that em- mative and continuance commitment often involve
ployees have the opportunity to give as well as feelings of obligation or pressure to be attached,
receive. affective commitment involves feelings of intrinsic
We propose that the act of giving to support motivation and self-determination (Meyer, Becker,
programs strengthens employees’ affective commit- & Vandenberghe, 2004). As a result, affective com-
ment to their organization by enabling them to see mitment is likely to be more consistently associated
themselves and the organization in more prosocial, with constructive attitudes and behaviors than con-
caring terms. We examined the specific processes tinuance and normative commitment. In a meta-
through which giving-based commitment unfolds, analysis of the organizational commitment litera-
using a combination of qualitative and quantitative ture, Meyer et al. (2002) found that relative to
data from a Fortune 500 retail organization that normative and continuance commitment, affective
manages an employee support program providing commitment is associated with the most favorable
financial, material, and educational assistance to outcomes for both employees and organizations,
employees. In Study 1, we developed theory from such as high job performance, attendance, and or-
interview data to deepen knowledge about the ganizational citizenship behavior, as well as low
mechanisms through which giving builds commit- turnover, stress, and work-family conflict. In light
ment. In Study 2, we used quantitative survey data of these benefits of affective organizational commit-
to conduct an exploratory test of these mechanisms ment, it is theoretically and practically important
as mediators of the relationship between giving to understand how employee support programs
behavior and commitment. Our research offers a may facilitate it.
900 Academy of Management Journal October

How Employee Support Programs Cultivate act of giving to employee support programs
Affective Organizational Commitment strengthens employees’ affective commitment to
their organization, over and above the gain in com-
The prevailing theoretical perspective for ex-
mitment that might derive from the experience of
plaining how employee support programs cultivate
receiving support from these programs. Studies of
affective organizational commitment is based on
individual helping suggest that the act of giving to
the central tenet of social exchange theory: individ-
a recipient can increase the giver’s commitment to
uals reciprocate what they receive (Blau, 1964; Em-
that recipient: individuals make sense of giving
erson, 1976; Homans, 1958). Researchers studying
behaviors by inferring that they like and value the
perceived organizational support have drawn on
recipient (Aronson, 1999; Flynn & Brockner, 2003).
this theory to explain the development of affective
We draw on this tradition in our efforts to elaborate
commitment to organizations, proposing that in ex-
the mechanisms through which giving to others
change for receiving support from organizations,
through organizational programs strengthens affec-
employees reciprocate with emotional dedication
tive organizational commitment. We also seek to
(Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002). When organizations
investigate whether giving strengthens commit-
offer help and assistance through employee sup-
ment when an organizational program manages the
port programs, employees are assured that the or-
giving process. To accomplish these goals and ad-
ganization is willing to meet their material and
dress this gap in knowledge about whether and
socioemotional needs (Rhoades & Eisenberger,
how giving to employee support programs in-
2002). Employees interpret this support as a signal
creases affective organizational commitment, we
that the organization values and cares about their
conducted multimethod research at a Fortune 500
well-being, and following the norm of reciprocity,
retail corporation, which we have given the pseud-
they are motivated to reciprocate by developing a
onym “Big Retail.”
stronger emotional bond with the organization.
Corroborating this hypothesis, cross-lagged longi-
tudinal research indicates that earlier perceptions Research Context
of support from an organization predicted increases
Big Retail manages an internal support program,
in affective commitment to the organization, but
which we have named the “Employee Support
not vice versa (see Rhoades & Eisenberger, 2002).
Foundation” (ESF), and which operates as an inde-
This evidence suggests that when support pro-
pendent not-for-profit arm of the company to sup-
grams enable employees to receive support, they
port employees in need. This charitable foundation
are likely to respond with increased affective com-
serves employee needs beyond the scope of tradi-
mitment to their organization.
tional employee assistance programs (EAPs), which
provide informational and emotional assistance to
employees experiencing personal problems affect-
From Receiving to Giving
ing their work (Johnson, 1986). The ESF is also
We suggest that there is a second plausible path- unlike many charitable foundations in that its mis-
way, which has not been previously examined, sion is to strengthen the Big Retail community
through which employee support programs may through internally focused programs that support
strengthen commitment. The rise of support pro- employees rather than external stakeholders or re-
grams designed to allow employees to give as well cipients. In particular, the ESF provides an outlet
as receive provides an opportunity for scholars to for Big Retail employees to help each other in times
understand an other-interested process through of financial need.
which support programs may strengthen commit- The ESF’s two primary initiatives are financial
ment. We propose that the act of giving has the grants and educational scholarships. Big Retail em-
potential to strengthen employees’ affective com- ployees are encouraged to contribute to the ESF to
mitment to an organization by changing the way help fellow employees, and also to seek support
that employees see themselves and the organiza- from the ESF when facing financial difficulties
tion. Previous research suggests that many employ- themselves. The potential tie between the em-
ees hold prosocial identities—they define them- ployee and the ESF begins when employees are
selves as giving, caring individuals (Aquino & first hired at Big Retail. During orientation, training
Reed, 2002)—and often describe constructing and sessions include the distribution of information
maintaining these prosocial identities as one of about the ESF, as well as discussion of the ESF by
their most important motives, values, and guiding orientation leaders. The policies surrounding in-
principles in life (see Grant, 2007, 2008a). volvement with the ESF leave considerable free-
Building on this evidence, we explore how the dom for whether and how employees can partici-
2008 Grant, Dutton, and Rosso 901

pate. The company allows employees to seek each of the 20 stores, we interviewed two employ-
support from the ESF by approaching their manag- ees by telephone: one manager and one associate.
ers directly, by visiting the ESF website, or by call- Managers were responsible for overseeing store op-
ing an ESF phone number. The company also al- erations, coordinating and delegating tasks, super-
lows employees to give support to other employees vising associates, communicating with regional
via the ESF by donating money from their pay- supervisors, and administering the store budget.
checks and organizing fundraisers. However, the Associates were responsible for product sales, cus-
direct recipient of employees’ donations is the ESF, tomer service, merchandising, inventory process-
which disburses funds to qualified recipients. ing, and distribution.
Thus, as is common in employee support programs, With the help of the human resources depart-
employees’ experiences of giving to the ESF in- ment, we strategically sampled from Big Retail
volve interactions with the company rather than stores to achieve proportional representation of the
direct interactions with recipients, who remain company’s geographic locations, store types, and
anonymous. store contributions to the ESF. In terms of geogra-
phy, we interviewed employees from stores in 23
states across the United States. In terms of store
Overview of Research types, 14 were large free-standing buildings, and 6
We collected qualitative and quantitative data at were smaller mall stores; this distribution was pro-
Big Retail’s ESF to build and test theory about the portional to the representation of these store types
mechanisms through which giving to a support in the corporation. In terms of store contributions
program enhances employees’ affective commit- to the ESF, we selected the 10 highest-contributing
ment to the organization. In Study 1, we used qual- stores and the 10 lowest-contributing stores in the
itative data from 40 interviews with Big Retail man- company, basing these clarifications on the per-
agers and associates to identify two prosocial centage of employees donating to the ESF from
sensemaking mechanisms through which giving their paychecks. We expected that the variations in
cultivates commitment by enabling employees to geographic location and store type would increase
see themselves and the company in more caring the generalizability of our sample, and that the
terms. In Study 2, we utilized quantitative survey variations in store contributions would provide a
data from 249 Big Retail employees to provide an valuable contrast between employees who were fre-
initial test of the giving-commitment relationship, quently engaged versus infrequently engaged in
as mediated by the two prosocial sensemaking giving through the ESF.
mechanisms identified in the qualitative data. The
theoretical model that we developed and tested Data Collection
suggests that after giving to a support program,
employees interpret their actions and the compa- Our interviews focused on understanding em-
ny’s actions as caring, which reinforces both their ployees’ relationships with the ESF and Big Retail.
personal prosocial identities as caring individuals We introduced the interviews by explaining that
and the company’s prosocial identity as a caring we were conducting a needs assessment for the ESF
organization. As a result of feeling gratitude to the and were also interested in learning about how the
company for reinforcing their personal prosocial ESF affected employees’ feelings about the com-
identities and pride in the company for holding a pany. We collected employees’ accounts (Orbuch,
collective prosocial identity, employees develop 1997), or explanations, of how they thought, felt,
stronger affective commitment to the company. and acted in their encounters and relationships
with the ESF and the company. We focused partic-
ular attention on two interrelated types of accounts:
STUDY 1 METHODS accounts of exchange, in which employees de-
scribed giving to and receiving from the ESF, and
Sample
accounts of organizational commitment, in which
We conducted 40 semistructured interviews at employees described their feelings of dedication
Big Retail in February and March 2006. We chose to and attachment to Big Retail. The interviews were
conduct interviews so that we could gather quali- divided into three core phases. In the first phase of
tative data, which are particularly appropriate for the interviews, we opened with an icebreaker ques-
constructing and elaborating theory (Lee, Mitchell, tion about employees’ responsibilities and typical
& Sablynski, 1999). Participants were 20 store man- workdays. In the second phase, we inquired about
agers and 20 store associates (16 male, 24 female) at employees’ relationships with the company. We
20 Big Retail stores across the United States. At asked employees to describe why they work for the
902 Academy of Management Journal October

FIGURE 1
Study 1 Prosocial Sensemaking Model of Giving-Based Commitment

company, how attached they feel to the company, With these codes, we sought to address our re-
what the company’s mission and values are, and search question about how employees explain why
how their identities relate to the company’s iden- giving to an employee support program cultivates
tity. In the third phase, we explored employees’ affective organizational commitment. The key data
experiences with the ESF, asking them to discuss for this analysis consisted of a set of passages
what they know about the ESF’s activities, what culled by the two independent raters in which em-
involvement they have had with it, how important ployees mentioned giving. The first author read
it is, what impacts it has had, and whether they through these passages to generate first-order infor-
have benefited from or contributed to it. The inter- mant codes, or open codes, which comprised
views lasted between 25 and 70 minutes, and we words used by employees to describe why they
tape-recorded and transcribed them for data were committed to the company. We then met as a
analysis. group to revise the first-order codes and generate
aggregate codes to encapsulate the first-order codes
under key themes. Through discussions, we ab-
Data Analysis
stracted these aggregate codes into core theoretical
We identified themes by utilizing an inductive categories, which are displayed in Figure 1.
approach in which we iteratively traveled back and
forth between the interview transcripts and our
STUDY 1 FINDINGS
emerging theoretical understandings (Glaser &
Strauss, 1967). All three authors began by reading Our findings suggest that giving initiates a pro-
through all of the transcripts and generating initial cess of prosocial sensemaking, in which giving
lists of categories for classifying participants’ re- leads employees to judge personal and company
sponses. We integrated our lists with a coding actions and identities as caring, and thereby
scheme specifying that statements would be classi- strengthens their affective commitment to the com-
fied as receiving when employees described the pany. Figure 1 depicts our findings in the form of
ESF in terms of receiving help and support, and as an emergent conceptual model, which draws on the
giving when employees described the ESF in terms following tenets of theoretical perspectives on sen-
of giving help and support. Using this coding semaking (Weick, 1995) and self-perception (Bem,
scheme, two independent raters blind to the re- 1972): (1) Actions trigger efforts to interpret and
search questions coded all of the interview tran- explain the actions, (2) employees generalize these
scripts for mentions of receiving and giving. The interpretations to form inferences about the identi-
overall agreement rate between the two coders was ties of the actors, and (3) identities provide a basis
81.94 percent, and discrepancies were resolved by for forming and changing attitudes toward the ac-
a third coder. tors. As revealed in this context, our findings sug-
2008 Grant, Dutton, and Rosso 903

gest that giving behavior triggers a particular form corporate life as self-interested (Miller, 1999), giv-
of sensemaking—prosocial sensemaking—about ing to the ESF provided employees with an oppor-
oneself and one’s company, that changes an em- tunity to interpret their actions as caring. The com-
ployee’s feelings toward the company. We unpack pany legitimated concern for others by formalizing
our findings with illustrative quotations that indi- and institutionalizing an employee support pro-
cate the presence of prosocial sensemaking and the gram, signaling that helping, giving, and contribut-
process through which it links giving to affective ing behaviors are valid, acceptable, and encour-
commitment.1 aged. As one manager explained, “Donating myself
As a preview, our findings suggest that the act of [helps me to see that] business can make you very
giving to the ESF cultivated affective organizational focused on [making] money, and this kind of re-
commitment by strengthening employees’ percep- leases you from that, to think about other people, to
tions of both personal and company prosocial iden- reach out to others in need” (manager 7). An asso-
tities—images of the self and the organization as ciate elaborated, “I have money taken out every
helpful, caring, and benevolent (Grant, 2007; see paycheck to help with the ESF . . . it benefits a lot of
also Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995). First, at a people that really are in need. . . . I feel real good
personal level, when employees gave to the ESF, that it’s available. I feel good that it can be taken out
they engaged in prosocial sensemaking about the of my paycheck” (associate 16).
self: they interpreted their contributions as caring, Employees discussed how they had often felt
and then generalized this interpretation to their motivated to help coworkers and give their time
self-concepts, reinforcing their prosocial identities and energy to the company, but lacked an appro-
as caring individuals. As a result of gratitude to the priate means for doing so, as well as a compelling
company for the opportunity to affirm a valued explanation for why they would do so. They felt
aspect of their identities, they developed stronger that the ESF provided them with both a means and
affective commitment to the company. Second, at a a rationale: they were able to give money to the ESF
company level, when employees gave to the ESF, as part of regular donation campaigns and payroll
they engaged in prosocial sensemaking about the deductions, and they were able to explain this giv-
company: they judged the company’s contributions ing behavior as part of a legitimate standard prac-
as caring, and then generalized this interpretation tice. Employees were also able to give time to the
to their views of the company, reinforcing the com- ESF as part of their roles as concerned managers
pany’s prosocial identity as a caring organization. and associates. For example, a manager described
As a result of pride in the company as a humane how the ESF provided her with the ability to help
organization, they developed stronger affective an employee in need:
commitment to the company. In the following sec-
I have an employee . . . she was a young single
tions, we present testable hypotheses that elaborate mother. . . . During the pregnancy, she switched
how this prosocial sensemaking process unfolds to from full-time to part-time, and in the process lost
link giving and commitment through both personal her insurance because she didn’t read the packet
and company pathways. completely. . . . When we found out, I grabbed the
ESF paperwork and started calling the ESF, and it
was just the ability to help her through her preg-
Prosocial Sensemaking about the Self nancy. . . . It was good that there was somebody
Our data suggest that giving to the ESF strength- there that I could call and say, “Hey, this is what I’ve
ened affective organizational commitment by trig- got, and can I help?” and to know that I was going to
gering prosocial sensemaking about the self—a pro- be able to help my employee. . . . Because of the
help that they’ve been to the employees . . . I feel
cess through which employees interpreted their
good, because I know that there’s somebody out
personal actions and identities in more caring there that it’s helping. (manager 11)
terms. In contrast to the dominant construction of
As a result of judging their contributions as car-
1
ing, employees were able to generalize these inter-
Although our theory-building efforts drew heavily on pretations to reinforce their prosocial identities.
both manager and associate interviews, our quotations
They made sense of who they were through what
focus primarily on managers because, compared to asso-
ciates, they tended to have more experience with giving
they did (Bem, 1972; Weick, 1995), coming to see
to the ESF, and thus offered richer responses for illus- themselves as caring, helpful individuals. Employ-
trating the themes that inform our hypotheses. We bal- ees discussed how the act of giving time and money
ance this limitation in Study 2, where our sample is to the ESF reinforced their prosocial identities by
comprised of over 80 percent associates and we measure enabling them to contribute more than they could
job level (manager vs. associate) as a control variable. have on their own. They appreciated the steps that
904 Academy of Management Journal October

the company took to match and extend their finan- (Shamir, 1990; Swann, Polzer, Seyle, & Ko, 2004).
cial contributions in order to help others in need. As we illustrate below, employees felt grateful to
For example, one manager spoke about how giving the company for providing an opportunity to rein-
to the ESF reinforced her prosocial identity as a force their prosocial identities through giving, and
caring person by expanding the impact of her do- this gratitude to the company strengthened their
nations on coworkers in New Orleans affected by affective commitment to the company. In the lan-
Hurricane Katrina in August 2005: guage of attribution theory (Weiner, 1985), employ-
ees attributed the opportunity to reinforce their
I’m a pretty caring person . . . it’s important for me to
prosocial identities to the company, and became
get involved in my staff’s lives. . . . During the Hur-
ricane Katrina relief, my partner and I discussed it more committed to the company as a result. For
and decided that, you know, that would be some- example, an associate explained how the company
thing we did, because then . . . people we knew were strengthened her attachment by providing her with
gonna be helped. . . . Feeling that I could give my a way to donate to Katrina victims through the ESF,
hundred dollars to the ESF, they turned it into two reinforcing her prosocial identity as a giving per-
hundred dollars, and then they helped fellow em- son: “We raised money and raised money with the
ployees. You know, they got them jobs elsewhere. Katrina disaster. . . . It makes you feel good to try
They . . . helped them get back into their homes. and help other people. . . . I didn’t even have to
They were able to do small things that meant a lot to think about it. People needed help; they were of-
those people . . . it’s better than I could’ve done
fering a way to help send money and do something
myself. I wasn’t gonna be able to go down there and
to help them . . . it’s good for morale, for the way
help, so that’s how I contribute. I wanted to help
out . . . my money essentially was doubled. . . . I people feel about the company that they work for”
feel like I’ve done something good. . . . I’ve spent my (associate 10).
money in a smart way, knowing that it’s gonna be Thus, giving to the ESF enabled employees to
matched. You know, I think that’s really an impor- judge their actions and identities in more prosocial,
tant thing, not just that the ESF collects everyone caring terms. By providing the opportunity to en-
else’s money, but also that there’s the matching fac- gage in giving behavior, the ESF qualified other-
tor in there, so it makes me feel like what I donate interested behavior as normal and accepted and
can go further. And, you know, that it’s adminis- provided employees with means and rationales for
tered in such a way that they’re not gonna be taken giving. Employees experienced the opportunity to
advantage of, and that they’re gonna be very good
give as a psychological benefit provided by the
help to someone at a very specific time. I always feel
company. As predicted in social exchange theory
good when I do it. . . . Any time I do stop to give it
some thought, I think things like . . . “It’s a good (Blau, 1964), employees reciprocated by strength-
thing that I’m a part of this,” and, you know, “This ening their affective commitment to the company.
really is a good thing that my company has.” Our qualitative data thereby uncover a process of
(manager 4) prosocial sensemaking about the self that helps to
explain the giving-commitment relationship. We
Another manager described how giving led him capture this process in the following set of
to include caring actions as part of his role on the hypotheses:
job, which affirmed his identity as someone who
helped others: Hypothesis 1a. The higher an employee’s level
of giving to a support program, the greater the
It’s my job, too, to raise the awareness . . . that we employee’s interpretations of personal actions
have this great ESF. I think that’s my role now. . . . I as caring.
am involved as a company spokesperson on my
store, being a leader, letting people know that it’s Hypothesis 1b. The greater an employee’s in-
available. . . . I have a payroll deduction and then I terpretations of personal actions as caring, the
also did the extra one for the Katrina Fund. I also stronger the employee’s personal prosocial
have bought some items that they have sold, T-shirts identity.
to give to the staff, that I know a percentage of the
proceeds went to the ESF. So those are ways that I Hypothesis 1c. The stronger an employee’s per-
can think of that I’ve helped. . . . I think it’s good to sonal prosocial identity, the higher the employ-
give. (manager 12) ee’s level of affective commitment to the
company.
Our understanding of the process of prosocial
sensemaking about the self is based on theories of Hypothesis 1d. Prosocial sensemaking about
self-affirmation and self-verification, which suggest the self (judging personal actions and identi-
that employees are motivated to reinforce and au- ties as caring) partially mediates the associa-
thenticate valued aspects of their identities tion between giving and affective commitment.
2008 Grant, Dutton, and Rosso 905

Prosocial Sensemaking about the Company one employee who was having a lot of medical
issues that were impacting his ability to work, and
Giving to the ESF also strengthened affective or- therefore to, you know, pay his bills and things like
ganizational commitment by triggering prosocial that. . . . I was able to put him in touch with the ESF
sensemaking about the company—a process to ask for additional assistance. I know another . . .
through which employees interpreted the compa- person who got help through an unexpected preg-
ny’s actions and identity in more caring terms. Our nancy and . . . financial stress relating to that, and
data suggest that giving to the ESF counteracted they helped her out as well. And so I think it’s a
employees’ skepticism about the company’s inten- really neat program for the company to have. It’s one
tions by increasing employees’ awareness of the of those things that highlights to me the fact that this
company really does care about their employees.
company’s efforts to do good. Some employees
(manager 6)
were cynical about the company’s motives, perhaps
because the company is situated in the retail indus- Our understanding of the process of prosocial
try and accordingly tends to offer low monetary sensemaking about the company draws on theory
compensation. However, through giving, employ- and research on corporate social responsibility and
ees observed the company’s efforts to match their organizational compassion, which suggest that em-
contributions and encountered stories about how ployees are attracted to, and take pride in, organi-
the funds were being utilized to help employees in zations that aim to do good (Bansal, 2003; Lilius et
need. Employees explained that through giving to al., 2008; Turban & Greening, 1997). As a result of
the ESF, they encountered firsthand evidence that seeing the company’s identity in more prosocial
the company was taking action to help its people, terms, employees experienced greater pride in the
which enabled them to see the company’s actions company, and thereby felt more affectively com-
as caring. For example, one manager described how mitted to it. For instance, an associate who made
contributing to the ESF’s efforts to donate bereave- regular financial donations to the ESF explained
ment baskets to employees who lost family mem- that giving strengthened her feelings of pride in
bers led her to interpret the company’s actions as being part of a caring company:
family-oriented: “We support each other . . . a cou-
I do feel very attached to the company. . . . I al-
ple of employees who had lost family members got ways feel proud that the company [supports the
gift baskets because I called the ESF to let them ESF], and . . . I think my money’s being put to very
know about it. . . . It gives that sense of caring from good use. So I’m always happy to do it. I think
the company, that sense of, you know, we’re there companies should give back. . . . I feel proud that
to help you out in your times of need, that sense of our company does that . . . and is in that kind of
family” (manager 11). Another manager said, “This space where they’re like, you know, let’s give back.
ESF thing is a great example of trying to keep it a Let’s help others. So it does make me feel proud
family. . . . It made me feel good to know that the that, you know, my company does that.
money that I give out of my paycheck, well, it (associate 11)
primarily goes to help someone . . . within this Similarly, a manager discussed how the experi-
company” (manager 5). ence of giving to the ESF solidified her affective
Giving to the ESF provided employees with re- commitment to the company by enabling her to see
peated exposure to the company’s caring actions, the company in caring, humane terms: “The fact
enabling employees to generalize these actions to that the ESF exists is something that impresses me
the company’s identity as a caring, humane organ- about the company. . . . I just think it’s a good,
ization. As one associate explained, “It’s given me a humanitarian effort. . . . I’m proud that I can say I
little bit of faith in our corporate structure that I work for a company that has something like this . . .
didn’t have before. . . . [In] major corporations to- it kind of makes it a little more personal for me”
day . . . it’s all about the bottom line. . . . I under- (manager 4). Three other managers who gave to the
stand that way of thinking, but, you know, it’s ESF expressed parallel sentiments:
always nice to . . . break out of that and, you know,
add a little bit of heart” (associate 8). Another man- It just makes [the company] kinder in my eyes. . . .
They recognize that there’s a need, and that they’ve
ager elaborated on how giving and contributing to
done something about it. . . . It was very generous of
these humane efforts bolsters employees’ confi- them to even think of putting it together, to go out of
dence that the motives behind the ESF were genu- their way to develop it. . . . How attached do I feel to
ine and benevolent: the company? Very attached. (manager 7)
I have had, during my time as general manager, It makes you feel good that you work for a company
about three employees that I’ve put in contact with that chooses to do something like this, that has
the ESF for emergency assistance. Yeah, I’ve had something available for its employees. . . . I have a
906 Academy of Management Journal October

sense of pride in the company. . . . I think it’s good duct an exploratory quantitative investigation of
to give and, you know, it definitely makes me feel their ability to explain the relationship between
. . . that I’m working for a company that shares in giving and commitment.
some of my sensibilities and cares about people.
(manager 12)
STUDY 2 METHODS
Its fundamental purpose is to help any employee of
Big Retail to alleviate the difficulties that they face We collected survey data from Big Retail employ-
when they’re in a catastrophic situation. . . . I think ees that allowed us to provisionally test the model
it’s important because I think it really reflects a kind depicted in Figure 1. Our objective was to lend
of set of core values that the company has . . . if further grounded support, using a different sample
you’re trying to put something concrete on what
and quantitative rather than qualitative data, to our
makes Big Retail a compassionate company, or a
caring company . . . the ESF is something concrete
Study 1 hypotheses.
that really reflects that. . . . I believe that Big Retail
really sets the bar for what a good company is to Sample
work for . . . that’s the fundamental [basis] of my
strong attachment to Big Retail. (manager 1) We collected surveys from 249 employees at Big
Retail in July 2006. Sixty-eight percent of the respon-
Thus, giving to the ESF enabled employees to dents were female; their mean age was 29.08 years
judge the company’s actions and identity in more (s.d. ⫽ 2.50 years), and their mean tenure at the com-
prosocial, caring terms. By exposing employees to pany was 5.52 months (s.d. ⫽ 3.83 months). The
the company’s efforts to do good, giving counter- company operated several hundred retail stores
acted common skepticism about the company’s in- throughout the United States, and 3,000 participants
tentions and motives, strengthening employees’ affec- were asked to volunteer to complete an anonymous
tive commitment to the company by cultivating web survey about the ESF and their feelings about the
feelings of pride in the company. We capture the company. As an incentive to participate, participants
process through which prosocial sensemaking about were offered entry into a drawing to win a $1,000 gift
the company explains the giving-commitment rela- certificate redeemable at any Disney resort, park, or
tionship in the following set of hypotheses: store. Potential respondents were selected by a com-
Hypothesis 2a. The higher an employee’s level puter generator that randomly drew employee
of giving to a support program, the greater the identification numbers.
employee’s interpretations of company actions Company policies prohibited the use of many
as caring. standard response facilitation approaches, includ-
ing prenotifying, publicizing, sending reminder
Hypothesis 2b. The greater an employee’s in- notes, providing multiple response formats, moni-
terpretations of a company’s actions as caring, toring survey response, and fostering survey com-
the stronger the company’s prosocial identity. mitment (Rogelberg & Stanton, 2007). Employees
Hypothesis 2c. The stronger a company’s were not given time to complete the survey at work,
prosocial identity, the higher an employee’s and because many of the stores were undergoing
level of affective commitment to the company. changes in physical layout, HR managers informed
us that it was likely that a substantial proportion of
Hypothesis 2d. Prosocial sensemaking about a the 3,000 mailings had failed to reach potential re-
company (judging company actions and iden- spondents. Nevertheless, since the response rate of
tities as caring) partially mediates the associa- 8.3 percent was quite low, we undertook several steps
tion between giving and affective commitment. recommended by Rogelberg and Stanton (2007) to
assess nonresponse biases. First, we conducted an
archival analysis comparing respondents with the to-
STUDY 1 DISCUSSION
tal Big Retail employee population on available de-
Our emergent model suggests that giving to Big mographic data. Proportions of respondents were
Retail’s ESF strengthens affective commitment to quite similar to the population in terms of job level,
the company by triggering prosocial sensemaking gender, tenure, and age (see Table 1). The distribution
about the self and the company. Giving enables of respondents also matched the total employee pop-
employees to see personal and company actions ulation in terms of geographic locations. Thus, the
and identities in more caring terms, resulting in sample appeared to be representative on demo-
increased affective commitment to the company. graphic dimensions. In addition, the proportion of
Having used qualitative data to identify these Big Retail’s population that had donated to the ESF
prosocial sensemaking processes, we sought to con- (56.0%) nearly perfectly matched the proportion of
2008 Grant, Dutton, and Rosso 907

TABLE 1
Study 2 Nonresponse Bias Impact Assessment

(a) Archival Analysis

Category Big Retail Population Respondent Sample

Job level: Manager 19.6% 19.4%


Job level: Associate 82.8 80.6
Gender: Male 41.0 33.5
Gender: Female 59.0 66.5
Tenure: 0–1 years 35.8 25.4
Tenure: 1–3 years 24.2 24.2
Tenure: 3–5 years 12.4 16.5
Tenure: 5⫹ years 28.5 33.9
Age: 25–34 25.4 25.2
Age: 35–44 17.2 24.0
Age: 45–54 12.5 12.4
Age: 55–64 7.4 11.2
Giving behavior: Has donated to the ESF 56.0 56.1
Giving behavior: Has not donated to the ESF 44.0 43.9

(b) Wave Analysisa

Variable Day 1–3 (23%) Day 4–6 (30%) Day 7–9 (21%) Day 10ⴙ (26%)

ESF giving behavior 2.42 (1.32) 2.13 (1.46) 1.97 (1.40) 2.28 (1.27)
Interpretations of personal ESF 0.34 (0.48) 0.32 (0.45) 0.33 (0.53) 0.41 (0.53)
contributions as caring
Interpretations of company ESF 0.64 (0.75) 0.55 (0.64) 0.48 (0.61) 0.41 (0.64)
contributions as caring
Personal prosocial identity 5.99 (0.80) 5.95 (0.84) 6.11 (0.61) 5.81 (0.86)
Company prosocial identity 4.12 (1.57) 4.24 (1.74) 4.59 (1.66) 4.10 (1.60)
Affective company commitment 4.70 (1.59) 4.61 (1.71) 4.62 (1.55) 4.44 (1.44)
Job satisfaction 5.22 (1.46) 5.14 (1.69) 5.69 (1.25) 5.27 (1.54)
Anticipation of receiving ESF support 1.01 (0.77) 0.94 (0.76) 0.91 (0.74) 0.94 (0.77)
Past ESF support received 0.11 (0.36) 0.11 (0.31) 0.02 (0.14) 0.14 (0.39)
Age 38.64 (13.24) 36.25 (13.32) 36.22 (12.78) 35.47 (14.00)
Company tenure 5.36 (5.25) 4.44 (4.75) 3.94 (4.38) 5.30 (5.20)
Job level 0.14 (0.35) 0.15 (0.36) 0.21 (0.41) 0.28 (0.45)

a
The wave analysis shows variable means by response category, with standard deviations in parentheses. Scheffé’s multiple compar-
ison test showed no statistically significant differences between any of the day categories on any of the measured variables.

our respondents that had donated to the ESF (56.1%). differences between early and late respondents on
This evidence minimizes the concern that employees the measured variables (see Table 1). This finding
who gave to the ESF would have been more likely to does not conclusively rule out the possibility of
respond to the survey, suggesting that we have suffi- response bias, but it decreases its likelihood by
cient (and representative) variance on our indepen- suggesting that responsiveness was not influenced
dent variable of giving behavior.2 by the variables being investigated (Rogelberg &
Second, we conducted a wave analysis compar- Stanton, 2007). Together, although these steps can
ing early to late respondents, finding no significant only reduce but not eliminate concerns about re-
sponse biases, they suggest that the sample is suf-
2
ficiently representative of the population on key
We were also concerned that employees who were demographic and ESF dimensions—and that there
familiar with the ESF may have been more likely to re- is sufficient variance in the variables of interest—to
spond. To assess this concern, two independent coders
warrant an exploratory test of our model.
rated participants’ responses to an open-ended question at
the start of the survey: “To the best of your knowledge, what
services does the ESF provide?” The two coders demon- Measures
strated 100 percent agreement, and the resulting data indi-
cated that 18.5 percent of respondents had never heard of Unless otherwise indicated, all items used a seven-
the ESF. This suggests that we received a reasonable re- point Likert-type response scale anchored at 1 “dis-
sponse from employees who were unfamiliar with the ESF. agree strongly,” to 7, “agree strongly”.
908 Academy of Management Journal October

Affective commitment to the company (self-re- and .77 (p ⬍ .001) for average-measure reliability,
port). We measured affective commitment to the and the ICCs for company ESF contributions were
company with five of the six items from the affec- .61 (p ⬍ .001) for single-measure reliability and .76
tive commitment scale reported by Meyer, Smith, (p ⬍ .001) for average-measure reliability.
and Allen (1993), which includes items such as “I Personal prosocial identity and company
really feel as if this company’s problems are my prosocial identity (self-report). Drawing on com-
own” and “This organization has a great deal of monly used phrases in our interview data, we de-
personal meaning for me” (␣ ⫽ .94). We excluded veloped three items each to measure employees’
the item “I would be very happy to spend the rest of perceptions of their own prosocial identities and
my career with this organization” because this item the company’s prosocial identity. The items for
reflects “turnover intentions” rather than the atti- personal prosocial identity were “I see myself as
tude or feeling of affective commitment to the or- caring,” “I see myself as generous,” and “I regu-
ganization (Pittinsky & Shih, 2004). larly go out of my way to help others” (␣ ⫽ .84).
ESF giving behavior (self-report). We measured The items for company prosocial identity were “I
ESF giving behavior with two items developed in see this company as caring,” “I think that this
collaboration with ESF managers. The first item company is generous,” and “I see this company
asked employees if they had ever donated from as being genuinely concerned about its employ-
their paycheck to the ESF and if they had ever ees” (␣ ⫽ .94).
volunteered for ESF fundraising campaigns (0, Control variable 1: Job satisfaction (self-
“neither”; 1, “yes to one”; 2, “yes to both”). The report). Because job satisfaction is strongly related
second item asked them to indicate their agreement to affective organizational commitment (Harrison,
with the statement, “I donate to the ESF on a reg- Newman, & Roth, 2006; Mathieu & Zajac, 1990),
ular basis” (␣ ⫽ .74). and also because common method and source bi-
Interpretations of personal and company ESF
ases were potential concerns, we measured job sat-
contributions as caring (independent coders). To
isfaction as a control variable. Job satisfaction re-
measure employees’ interpretations of personal
flects general positive attitudes toward one’s work
and company ESF contributions as caring, we en-
and thereby serves as a filter through which other
listed two independent coders. The coders rated
work judgments are made (Brief & Weiss, 2002). We
employees’ qualitative responses to four open-
thus expected that controlling for job satisfaction
ended questions in the survey: “In a few sentences,
would allow us to more rigorously assess the rela-
please describe what the ESF means to you,” “In a
tionships among the constructs by adjusting these
few sentences, please describe what you think the
ESF means to the company,” [for those who donate] relationships for general positive attitudes (Podsa-
“What are the reasons that you donate to the ESF?” koff, MacKenzie, & Lee, 2003). We used the job
and “What do you see as the strengths of the ESF?” satisfaction scale developed by Quinn and Shepard
The two coders rated whether or not each response (1974), which includes items such as “All in all, I
from employees mentioned (1) their own contribu- am very satisfied with my current job” (␣ ⫽ .92).
tions to the ESF as caring and/or (2) the company’s Control variable 2: Anticipation of receiving
contributions to the ESF as caring. Statements were ESF support (independent coders). Because antic-
coded as caring when they described personal or ipating support from the ESF might influence affec-
company actions as “generous,” “benevolent,” tive organizational commitment, we again enlisted
“good,” “humane,” “concerned,” “compassionate,” two independent coders to rate employees’ re-
“having heart,” or “intending to help.” Table 2 sponses to the four open-ended questions about the
displays sample statements for each of the two cat- ESF listed above. The two coders rated whether or
egories. We summed the ratings for each coder into not each response from employees mentioned that
an overall score for each employee, representing a the ESF might provide them with support in the
count of the number of times (0 – 4) that each em- future; Table 2 provides sample statements. We
ployee mentioned interpreting personal and com- summed the ratings for each coder into an overall
pany contributions, respectively, as caring. These score for each employee, representing a count of
scores provided us with measures from a different the number of times (0 – 4) that each employee men-
source, using a different rating method than the tioned the possibility of receiving support from the
self-report data. The coders demonstrated strong ESF in the future. The coders once again demon-
agreement. Using a two-way mixed model with strated strong agreement. In a two-way mixed
consistency agreement, the intraclass correlation model with consistency agreement, the ICCs were
coefficients (ICCs) for personal ESF contributions .52 (p ⬍ .001) for single-measure reliability and .68
were .62 (p ⬍ .001) for single-measure reliability (p ⬍ .001) for average-measure reliability.
2008 Grant, Dutton, and Rosso 909

TABLE 2
Study 2 Sample Statements for Coding Categories
Interpretations of Personal ESF Interpretations of Company ESF
Contributions as Caring Contributions as Caring Anticipation of Receiving ESF Support

I feel a sense of goodness by doing so. It’s a great way to show my employees that I know if I need financial assistance due to
I donate what I can . . . I care about creating a not only do I care about them, but their a life changing event, the ESF may be
sense of community and looking out for company cares about them. When Big able to help me.
others. So I give what I am able to. Retail helps one of my employees it I feel secure they are there. If I ever need
It makes me feel good knowing that I am able reminds me that I work for a great assistance, I know they are a stepping
to help a fellow employee get back on their company. stone for me to go to for help.
feet. It helps to build a community for Big It’s nice to know in a worst case scenario
I donate as a way to help others who might be Retail employees and shows that the that it’s there—a safety net for some of
less fortunate than I. company cares about its employees. the things benefits doesn’t cover.
I like to know that I had a small part of I’m proud to work for a company that has Having been a recipient several years ago, I
helping someone else out when needed. taken the time and resources to form an can honestly say the ESF means there
I donate because I want to be a blessing to ESF to help people in need. may be help available. It’s kind of like a
others. I think it means it cares for employees. friend . . . it’s nice to know they’re here.
I donate because every dollar makes a What this program does demonstrates It means that if something were to happen
difference. It’s a good cause. the value the company states it feels for to me such as a death in the immediate
I like helping employees who are in need. employees. family, I can ask for help. Also may help
In order for the ESF to continue to help others It gives the employees a better outlook with college expenses.
there must be people that can contribute. I toward the company. It seems like more The ESF gives us all the assurance that
feel that I am a person who will give as than a cold business. should something arise with a
much as I can. It shows that the company cares about its significant financial impact that we are
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute employees. unable to handle on our own, we will
through my paycheck to those fellow It’s a way to show the human side of have a partner in the company to deal
employees in need. business. It’s an extra arm that can reach with the situation . . . the company is
I like helping others. out and give comfort when people need willing to invest in our lives.
It’s nice to feel that we can contribute. it most. If I need financial assistance, I can apply
Helps those employees who donate feel good It strengthens employee loyalty. It for a grant.
about themselves/feel they are doing humanizes the public image of the I have heard the ESF would provide
something useful. corporation. financial aid for school. I . . . would like
Employee contributions give us a feeling of I think it shows that Big Retail cares and to take advantage [of this] in the future.
being directly involved in helping each looks out for its employees. If I am ever in need of its assistance I will
other. The ESF represents a commitment of take advantage of it.
It makes people feel good to donate. caring and concern toward all A service that issues grants to Big Retail
It’s nice to feel that I’m contributing to employees. employees who truly are in need [is] one
something. It is a way for the company to show its that I may need to take advantage of
Gives employees an opportunity to think of concern for its employees. someday.
and help each other. It puts a more human face on a I hope to benefit from it with a scholarship
Helping someone in need makes people feel corporation. It means the company cares. stipend for my children in the future.
good. It makes people feel as though Helping employees through difficult times
something they did matters. shows that a large company has a heart.
It makes you feel good to work for a
company who helps its employees
through tough times.

Control variable 3: Past ESF support received STUDY 2 RESULTS


(self-report). Because having received support
Because the sample was sufficient in size and
from the ESF in the past could also influence affec-
respondent-to-item ratio, we analyzed the data
tive organizational commitment, we asked employ-
ees to report whether they had ever received assis- with structural equation modeling (SEM), using
tance from the ESF (0, “never”; 1, “once”; 2, EQS software (version 6.1) with maximum likeli-
“twice”). hood estimation procedures. Missing data was not
Control variables 4 – 6: Demographic charac- a significant problem, as all items had less than 3
teristics. In their seminal meta-analysis, Mathieu percent of cases missing. Following recommenda-
and Zajac (1990) examined a number of demo- tions from Anderson and Gerbing (1988), we began
graphic correlates of organizational commitment, by conducting a confirmatory factor analysis spec-
finding that the three strongest demographic corre- ifying a 12-factor solution, which displayed excel-
lates were age, organizational tenure, and job level. lent fit with the data according to the rules of
Accordingly, we asked employees to report their thumb in the literature (Hu & Bentler, 1999) (␹2
age (years), company tenure (years), and job level [237] ⫽ 345.83, NNFI ⫽ .96, CFI ⫽ .97, RMSEA ⫽
(1, “managerial role”; 0, “associate”). .04, RMSEA confidence interval ⫽ .03, .05). Factor
910 Academy of Management Journal October

TABLE 3
Study 2 Means, Standard Deviations, and Disattenuated Correlations at the Index Levela

Index Mean s.d. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

1. ESF giving behavior 2.20 1.37 (.74)


2. Interpretations of personal 0.35 0.50 .60*** (.77)
ESF contributions as
caring
3. Interpretations of 0.52 0.66 .32** .25** (.76)
company ESF
contributions as caring
4. Personal prosocial 5.96 0.79 .21* .14 .11 (.84)
identity
5. Company prosocial 4.25 1.65 .20* .13 .32** .31** (.94)
identity
6. Affective company 4.59 1.58 .26** .16* .28** .37** .69*** (.94)
commitment
7. Job satisfaction 5.31 1.52 .11 .06 .15 .40*** .67*** .62*** (.92)
8. Anticipation of receiving 0.95 0.76 .36** .16* .40*** .22* .25** .23* .12
ESF support
9. Past ESF support received 0.10 0.32 .20* ⫺.06 .06 .03 .03 .10 .00 .17*
10. Age 36.59 13.35 .13 ⫺.02 .06 .00 ⫺.04 .05 .06 ⫺.04 .09
11. Company tenure 4.77 4.92 .25** .17* .10 ⫺.01 ⫺.07 .03 ⫺.02 .05 .12 .42***
12. Job level 0.19 0.40 .24** .21* .20 ⫺.05 .12 .13 .02 ⫺.14 .04 .12 .31**

a
Internal consistency statistics (Cronbach’s alphas) for each index are displayed in parentheses on the diagonal.
* p ⬍ .05
** p ⬍ .01
*** p ⬍ .001

correlations, along with means and standard devi- nificantly superior to that of this alternative model
ations, are displayed in Table 3. (␹2[19] ⫽ 717.08, p ⬍ .001). Thus, the 12-factor
To examine whether this was the most parsimo- model displayed significantly better fit than both of
nious solution, we compared this 12-factor model the plausible alternative models.
with two plausible alternative models. The corre- Structural models. We then tested full structural
lations in Table 3 indicate four high correlations: models both with and without control variables.
ESF giving behavior and interpretations of personal The model without control variables (Figure 2)
ESF contributions as caring (F1 and F2; r ⫽ .60), demonstrated excellent fit with the data according
company prosocial identity and affective commit- to Hu and Bentler’s (1999) cut-off values (␹2[111] ⫽
ment (F5 and F6; r ⫽ .69), prosocial company iden- 169.42, NNFI ⫽ .97, CFI ⫽ .98, RMSEA ⫽ .05,
tity and job satisfaction (F5 and F7; r ⫽ .67), and RMSEA confidence interval ⫽ .03, .06).3 As de-
affective commitment and job satisfaction (F6 and picted in Figure 3, the model still displayed good
F7; r ⫽ .62). These correlations suggest two plausi- fit after we added the control variables as exoge-
ble alternative models. The first, an 11-factor model
with ESF giving behavior and interpretations of
personal ESF contributions as caring loading on the 3
To examine the possibility of reverse causality, we
same factor, displayed poorer fit on all indices (␹2 tested an alternative model in which affective commit-
[248] ⫽ 444.30, NNFI ⫽ .93, CFI ⫽ .95, RMSEA ⫽ ment led to giving behavior, which led to interpretations
.06, RMSEA confidence interval ⫽ .05, .07). A chi- of personal and company ESF contributions as caring,
square difference test showed that the fit of the which in turn led to personal and company prosocial
12-factor model was significantly superior to that of identity. This model involved moving affective commit-
this alternative model (␹2[11] ⫽ 98.47, p ⬍ .001). ment from its position as the final dependent variable to
a position as the only exogenous independent variable.
The second, a ten-factor model with prosocial com-
On all indices, the model displayed poorer fit and failed
pany identity, affective commitment, and job satis- to achieve Hu and Bentler’s (1999) cutoff values: ␹2
faction loading on a single factor, displayed very (112) ⫽ 288.11, NNFI ⫽ .92, CFI ⫽ .94, RMSEA ⫽ .08,
poor fit on all indices (␹2[258] ⫽ 1062.91, NNFI ⫽ RMSEA confidence interval ⫽ .07, .09. A chi-square dif-
.72, CFI ⫽ .78, RMSEA ⫽ .12, RMSEA confidence ference test demonstrated that our initial model dis-
interval ⫽ .11, .12). A chi-square difference test played significantly superior fit to this alternative model:
showed that the fit of the 12-factor model was sig- ␹2(1) ⫽ 118.69, p ⬍ .001.
2008 Grant, Dutton, and Rosso 911

FIGURE 2
Study 2 Structural Modela

␹ (111) ⫽ 169.42, NNFI ⫽ .97, CFI ⫽ .98, RMSEA ⫽ .05, RMSEA confidence interval (.03, .06). All reported relationships are
a 2

statistically significant at the p ⬍ .05 level. Asterisks indicate that the factor correlations are freely estimated.
The prosocial individual and company identity factors explained a total of 48 percent of the variance in affective organizational
commitment. Because common causes may have been omitted, we allowed two residual disturbances to correlate freely: d1– d2 and d3– d4.

nous influences on affective commitment (␹2 behavior and affective commitment to the com-
[270] ⫽ 548.86, NNFI ⫽ .91, CFI ⫽ .92, RMSEA ⫽ pany, we followed the procedures recommended
.07, RMSEA confidence interval ⫽ .06, .08). In by James, Mulaik, and Brett (2006).5 We estimated
both models, supporting our hypotheses, there the indirect effects with the coefficients from the
were statistically significant paths from ESF giv- full model and then used bootstrapping methods to
ing behavior to interpretations of personal ESF construct confidence intervals based on 1,000 ran-
contributions as caring (Hypothesis 1a) to per- dom samples with replacement from the full sam-
sonal prosocial identity (Hypothesis 1b) to affec- ple (Stine, 1989).6 The coefficient for the prosocial
tive commitment (Hypothesis 1c), and from ESF
giving behavior to interpretations of company
5
ESF contributions as caring (Hypothesis 2a) to We also examined whether the mediated paths im-
company prosocial identity (Hypothesis 2b) to proved model fit by testing a nested model in which we
affective commitment (Hypothesis 2c).4 added a direct path from giving to commitment and re-
moved the mediating prosocial sensemaking paths. Despite
Mediation analysis. The previous analyses dem-
the decrease in parsimony, the mediated model displayed
onstrated that the mediators were significantly re- significantly superior fit (␹2[1] ⫽ 57.52, p ⬍ .001).
lated to both the independent and dependent vari- 6
Because this is a two-stage mediation model rather
ables. To examine whether the intervening than a traditional one-stage mediation model, each indi-
variables mediated the relationship between giving rect effect is the product of three paths ([F13F2] ⫻
[F23F4] ⫻ [F43F6] for prosocial sensemaking about the
self and [F13F3] ⫻ [F33F5] ⫻ [F53F6] for prosocial
4
To examine whether giving explained variance over sensemaking about the company), rather than the stan-
and above the six control variables in predicting affective dard two paths. Accordingly, the path coefficients for the
commitment, we conducted a hierarchical regression indirect effects are substantially lower than would be
analysis. Even with all six control variables included, observed for a traditional one-stage mediation model.
giving behavior was a significant predictor of affective This is merely a scaling artifact of the standardized paths
commitment (␤ ⫽ .14, t[239] ⫽ 2.61, p ⫽ .01), increasing being represented on a scale from 0 to 1. The standard
variance explained significantly (from R2 ⫽ .40 to R2 ⫽ errors are affected in the same direction, resulting in an
.42, F[1, 232] ⫽ 6.81, p ⫽ .01). accurate estimate of the confidence intervals.
912 Academy of Management Journal October

FIGURE 3
Study 2 Structural Model with Control Variablesa

␹ (268) ⫽ 533.08, NNFI ⫽ .91, CFI ⫽ .93, RMSEA ⫽ .07, RMSEA confidence interval (.06, .07). All paths from the original model are
a 2

statistically significant at the p ⬍ .05 level, but of the six control variables, only the path from job satisfaction was significant. We allowed
ESF giving behavior to correlate freely with all of the control variables, which also correlated freely with each other.

sensemaking about the self path was .02, and the 95 ciation between giving and commitment. These
percent confidence interval excluded zero (.01, .02). findings suggest that giving to an employee sup-
The coefficient for the prosocial sensemaking about port program is associated with higher levels of
the company path was .07, and the 95 percent confi- affective commitment to one’s organization
dence interval excluded zero (.07, .08). Since media- through employees’ interpretations of personal
tion is present when the size of an indirect effect is and organizational actions and identities in
significantly different from zero (Shrout & Bolger, prosocial, caring terms.
2002), these confidence intervals suggest that each of
the two pathways was a partial mediator: the link
GENERAL DISCUSSION
between giving to the ESF and affective commitment
was partially mediated by prosocial sensemaking We used qualitative and quantitative data to
about the self (Hypothesis 1d) and prosocial sense- build and test theory about the relationship be-
making about the company (Hypothesis 2d). tween giving to an employee support program and
affective commitment to the organization that man-
ages the program. Taken together, our findings sug-
STUDY 2 DISCUSSION
gest that giving triggers a process of prosocial sen-
This provisional quantitative test provided sup- semaking about the self and the company that
port for our theoretical model. We found that giving strengthens employees’ affective commitment to
behavior explained significant variance in affective the company. The two studies provide convergent
organizational commitment, even after controlling evidence for our claims that giving strengthens af-
for past support received from the ESF and ex- fective commitment by enabling employees to in-
pected future support received from the ESF, as terpret personal and company actions in more car-
well as job satisfaction, age, company tenure, and ing, prosocial terms. Our findings extend previous
job level. We further found that each of the two research by introducing giving as a novel anteced-
prosocial sensemaking mechanisms identified in ent of commitment and as a novel, other-interested
the qualitative study partially mediated the asso- process through which employee support programs
2008 Grant, Dutton, and Rosso 913

cultivate commitment. Our findings also extend grams can enable employees to contribute to, and
previous research by identifying two prosocial sen- thus attach to, the organizations. Our research sug-
semaking mechanisms through which giving culti- gests that by providing opportunities to give, organi-
vates commitment, drawing attention to the impor- zational programs can facilitate employees’ efforts to
tance of prosocial interpretations of personal and construct prosocial identities as caring individuals, as
organizational actions and identities as sources of well as to see their organization as a more prosocial,
commitment. caring institution. These findings are applicable to a
wide variety of programs in which an organization
provides a valued giving opportunity: when employ-
Theoretical Implications
ees act on the opportunity to give, they are able to see
Below, we elaborate on how our studies contrib- themselves and the organization as more caring,
ute to theory and research on organizational pro- which is likely to strengthen their commitment to the
grams, commitment, sensemaking and identity, organization that manages the program.
and citizenship behavior. Commitment. Our research answers recent calls
Organizational programs. Our research makes to explain commitment using alternative theoreti-
two contributions toward understanding the organ- cal mechanisms that transcend self-interest (Meg-
izational and individual benefits of support pro- lino & Korsgaard, 2004). We find that behaviors
grams. First, as noted earlier, scholars have tradi- directed toward giving and contributing can
tionally assumed that support programs cultivate strengthen employees’ emotional bonds with their
commitment through the self-interested pathway of work organizations. Our discovery of prosocial sen-
enabling employees to receive support (e.g., Good- semaking processes suggests that affective commit-
stein, 1995; Johnson, 1986; Trice & Beyer, 1984). ment can be shaped in powerful ways by prosocial
Our findings suggest that support programs also interpretations of the self and the organization as
cultivate commitment through the other-interested caring entities, advancing existing theory toward a
pathway of enabling employees to give support. We more complete understanding of the antecedents of
thus provide researchers with a wider conceptual affective organizational commitment. Indeed, in
lens for examining how support programs assist their meta-analysis, Meyer et al. (2002) found
organizations in increasing employee commitment that work experiences in which employees re-
by facilitating both giving and receiving. Second, ceive positive treatment from an organization—in
with respect to individual benefits, scholars have the form of perceived organizational support,
focused primarily on the experiences of employees transformational leadership, organizational jus-
who receive support, giving less attention to the tice, and clearly defined, well-structured roles—
experiences of employees who provide support are the strongest known predictor of affective
(Bacharach et al., 2000). Our findings underscore organizational commitment. Our research sug-
the potential benefits of support programs for sup- gests that in addition to the treatment that em-
port providers, in terms of seeing their personal ployees receive from the organization, the giving
identities and the company’s identity in more behaviors in which employees engage toward the
prosocial, caring terms. Our findings bolster evi- organization have important implications for
dence that support can benefit givers as well as their affective commitment to the organization.
receivers (Penner, Dovidio, Piliavin, & Schroeder, Our research further fills a gap in existing
2005). Our research thus provides scholars with a knowledge about the role of emotions in affective
new window for investigating and understanding organizational commitment. Although affective
the organizational and individual benefits of sup- organizational commitment is by definition an
port programs. emotion-laden attitude, little research has exam-
Our research also informs scholarship on the ined the role of discrete emotions in guiding this
psychological processes through which a broader commitment (e.g., Brief & Weiss, 2002). Although
class of organizational programs, not only support we were unable to test these mechanisms in our
programs, cultivates commitment. The prosocial quantitative model, our qualitative findings shed
sensemaking process that we proposed is applica- light on the relationship between the discrete emo-
ble to any organizational program that provides tions of gratitude and pride and affective commit-
employees with opportunities to give and contrib- ment. Our results suggest that when employees en-
ute, including corporate volunteer programs and gage in prosocial sensemaking about the self, their
corporate social responsibility initiatives. Whereas commitment is based on gratitude to their organi-
scholars often understand these programs as pro- zation for facilitating their own giving behaviors
viding image benefits to organizations (e.g., Els- and caring identities. When employees engage in
bach, 2003), our research suggests that these pro- prosocial sensemaking about the organization, their
914 Academy of Management Journal October

commitment is based on pride in the organization Our research also advances this literature by
for being a giving and caring institution. These shedding new light on the motives that underlie
findings illuminate how giving can foster commit- citizenship behavior. Organizational scholars have
ment through two distinct emotional pathways. debated about whether citizenship behavior is
Sensemaking and identity. Our research adds driven by self-interested or prosocial motives (Bo-
novel content to the traditionally process-focused lino, 1999; Meglino & Korsgaard, 2004), and our
theories of sensemaking and identity. Sensemaking findings suggest that this debate contributes to a
theories emphasize the processes through which false dichotomy. Rather than pitting self-interested
individuals interpret actions and identities, paying and prosocial motives against each other, our find-
less attention to the content of these interpreta- ings suggest that giving can serve both sets of mo-
tions—the type or nature of understandings formed tives simultaneously. We find that organizations’
(Maitlis, 2005; Pratt, 2000; Weick, 1995; Weick, efforts to facilitate the experience of giving and
Sutcliffe, & Obstfeld, 2005). Similarly, identity the- contributing to a support program indirectly serve
ories emphasize the processes through which indi- employees’ self-interests by enabling them to see
viduals develop and maintain personal and collec- themselves and the company in more prosocial,
tive self-concepts (e.g., Dutton, Dukerich, & caring terms. Our research thereby answers recent
Harquail, 1994), giving less attention to the content calls to explain attitudes and behaviors through
of these self-concepts—the descriptive adjectives theoretical perspectives that blend, rather than di-
that characterize the identity (Wrzesniewski, Dut- chotomize, self-interest and other-interest (De
ton, & Debebe, 2003). Our research points to the Dreu, 2006; Grant, 2007).
importance of other-interested, prosocial content in
employees’ sensemaking and identity construction
Managerial Implications
efforts. It also highlights that sensemaking is more
than a cognitive process, generating and being af- Our findings suggest that managers can achieve
fected by the emotions of gratitude and pride that both individual and organizational benefits by pro-
prosocial sensemaking evokes. viding employees with opportunities to give and
Citizenship behavior. Our research enriches ex- contribute. This advice to managers is somewhat
isting knowledge about organizational citizenship counterintuitive: we propose that organizations can
behavior, acts directed toward contributing to other cultivate commitment not only by enabling em-
people and an organization. Research has demon- ployees to receive support, but also by enabling
strated that affective organizational commitment is employees to give support. By designing programs
a robust predictor of citizenship behaviors (Harri- that enable employees to help others, managers
son et al., 2006; Meyer et al., 2002). Our research may improve the quality of employees’ experiences
reverses the causal arrow by suggesting that citizen- while simultaneously promoting the welfare of re-
ship behaviors are not only influenced by, but can cipients and benefiting from increased affective
also strengthen, organizational commitment. By commitment from employees. Our findings may
contributing to their organization, employees are motivate managers to achieve these benefits by en-
internally and externally signaling their investment gaging in the following specific behaviors: (1) in-
in the organization, creating private and public troducing employee support programs, (2) design-
conditions for enhanced commitment. Our re- ing these programs to allow employees to give as
search thus enters the long-standing debate about well as receive, (3) communicating to employees
whether attitudes cause behaviors and/or vice about the range of ways in which they can give time
versa. Although there is now clear evidence that and money to these programs, (4) dismantling
causality flows in both directions (e.g., Judge, norms of self-interest by modeling the appropriate-
Thoresen, Bono, & Patton, 2001; McBroom & Reed, ness and legitimacy of giving to these programs,
1992), researchers have primarily assumed that be- and (5) subtly highlighting the organization’s con-
haviors are a consequence of affective commitment, tributions to these programs. By taking these ac-
paying little attention to the possibility that behav- tions, managers may facilitate employee giving be-
iors are also a cause of affective commitment (see haviors that trigger the prosocial sensemaking
Meyer et al., 2002). We have taken a step toward process.
balancing this literature by suggesting that giving
behaviors can cause, not only result from, affective
Limitations and Future Directions
organizational commitment. Our research thereby
identifies fresh questions for researchers to inves- Our research is subject to a number of limita-
tigate concerning how the act of contributing tions. First, although both of our studies suggest
shapes employees’ organizational commitment. that giving contributes to affective organizational
2008 Grant, Dutton, and Rosso 915

commitment, our cross-sectional data do not rule fruitful for researchers to move beyond attitudinal
out the possibility of alternative causal pathways. consequences of giving toward a broader examina-
For example, it is likely that affective commitment tion of behavior and performance effects. By
is a cause, as well as a consequence, of giving. This strengthening affective commitment, giving is
is suggested by meta-analyses linking identification likely to reduce absenteeism and turnover (Cooper-
and affective commitment to higher levels of citi- Hakim & Viswesvaran, 2005; Meyer et al., 2002),
zenship (Harrison et al., 2006; Meyer et al., 2002), and it may also increase productivity by improving
as well as by evidence that individuals define their employees’ reputations as dedicated, competent
roles more broadly to include citizenship behaviors contributors (e.g., Flynn, 2003). Fifth, researchers
when they are more affectively committed (Morri- have observed that giving behaviors take multiple
son, 1994; Tepper, Lockhart, & Hoobler, 2001). Re- forms (Penner et al., 2005), but we did not theoret-
search using experimental or longitudinal designs ically or empirically differentiate forms of giving
is necessary to substantiate our causal inferences such as giving time versus money, emotional ver-
and examine these issues of reciprocal causality. sus instrumental support, and formal versus infor-
Second, the low response rate in Study 2 raises mal peer support, which may have divergent effects
questions about selection and response biases. We (Penner et al., 2005). Sixth, ESF recipients are
used strategic sampling in Study 1 to obtain a more anonymous, but in settings in which giving is di-
representative sample, but future research is neces- rected toward identified recipients, researchers
sary to examine the generalizability of our findings, should examine whether employees’ propensities
which are likely circumscribed to internal rather to give and feel affectively committed are linked to
than external giving behaviors, as well as to em- their relational proximity and intimacy with in-
ployees who want to give. tended or potential recipients (Grant, 2007).
Third, researchers have emphasized that organi- Seventh, giving may strengthen affective com-
zational commitment takes multiple forms (e.g., mitment through additional mechanisms that are
Meyer et al., 2002), but we focused only on affec- complementary to prosocial sensemaking. We en-
tive commitment. We encourage researchers to in- courage researchers to investigate the possibility
vestigate how giving influences continuance and that through giving, employees become engaged in
normative forms of organizational commitment. community building, increasing their attachment
We expect giving to strengthen continuance com- to a community to which they feel they have con-
mitment by increasing the perceived costs of with- tributed (e.g., Bacharach, Bamberger, & Sonnen-
drawing from the organization. Because giving stuhl, 2001). Eighth, we assumed that all employ-
privately and publicly demonstrates employees’ ees value personal prosocial identities as caring
dedication to their organization, employees may individuals and company prosocial identities as
feel that they will lose the credit gained for their caring organizations. It will be worthwhile for fu-
donations if they leave the organization, and will ture research to investigate whether our model
thus display stronger continuance commitment in holds for all individuals, or whether individuals
order to avoid these costs. On the other hand, we with high levels of agreeableness, strong prosocial
envision competing hypotheses for the effects of motives and values, and salient moral identities are
giving on normative commitment. Through a dis- more likely to seek and construct prosocial expla-
sonance or self-perception mechanism (Bem, nations for personal and organizational actions
1972), giving may increase normative commitment: (Aquino & Reed, 2002; Grant, 2008b; Penner et al.,
employees may justify or interpret their giving be- 2005). Ninth, we treated prosocial sensemaking
haviors as driven by perceived duty, and will there- about the self and the company as independent
fore display stronger normative commitment as a pathways through which giving strengthens com-
result of feeling obligated to the organization. Con- mitment, but it is possible that these two pathways
versely, through a psychological contract mecha- may interact. Future research should address
nism, giving may decrease normative commitment: whether commitment is highest when employees
employees may see their giving behaviors as fulfill- experience “prosocial fit,” or congruence between
ing their obligations, reducing feelings of further personal and organizational prosocial identities.
obligation. We hope researchers will explore the Finally, there are likely several “dark sides” to
effects of giving on continuance and normative the present research that do not appear in our data.
forms of organizational commitment. One risk is that the opportunity to give may elicit
Fourth, in focusing on affective organizational high expectations that, if unfulfilled, lead employ-
commitment, we did not examine whether giving ees to feel that their psychological contracts have
and receiving are related to distinct psychological been breached and violated (e.g., Thompson &
and behavioral outcomes. We believe it will be Bunderson, 2003), generating attributions of hypoc-
916 Academy of Management Journal October

risy and feelings of disenchantment (Cha & Ed- Boundary management tactics and logics of action:
mondson, 2006). Such reactions may be particu- The case of peer-support providers. Administrative
larly likely when giving is forced rather than Science Quarterly, 45: 704 –736.
merely facilitated (Grant, 2008a). A second risk is Bacharach, S. B., Bamberger, P. A., & Sonnenstuhl, W. J.
that employee support programs may harm the very 2001. Mutual aid and union renewal: Cycles of logics
employees they are designed to help, leaving em- of action. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
ployees financially and emotionally dependent on Bansal, P. 2003. From issues to actions: The importance
receiving contributions from others and the organ- of individual concerns and organizational values in
ization. A third risk is that managers may take responding to natural environmental issues. Orga-
advantage of giving as a cheap alternative to receiv- nization Science, 14: 510 –527.
ing: instead of providing support to employees, Bem, D. J. 1972. Self-perception theory. In L. Berkowitz
managers may simply provide employees with op- (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology,
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ing-based commitment may be misappropriated as Blau, P. M. 1964. Exchange and power in social life.
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ers attempt to get more from employees in ex- Bolino, M. C. 1999. Citizenship and impression manage-
change for less. Critical theorists have expressed ment: Good soldiers or good actors? Academy of
concerns about similar risks of empowerment prac- Management Review, 24: 82–98.
tices (Fineman, 2006), and it will be important for Brief, A. P, & Weiss, H. M. 2002. Organizational behavior:
future research to examine the conditions under Affect in the workplace. In S. T. Fiske, D. L.
which giving opportunities are undermined by Schacter, & C. Zahn-Waxler (Eds.), Annual review
pressure, cynicism, distrust, and ill intentions. of psychology, vol. 53: 279 –307. Palo Alto, CA: An-
nual Reviews.
Cascio, W. F. 2003. Changes in workers, work, and or-
Conclusion ganizations. In W. Borman, R. Klimoski, & D. Ilgen
(Eds.), Handbook of psychology, vol. 12: Industrial
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Cha, S. E., & Edmondson, A. C. 2006. When values back-
scholars need new lenses for understanding how
fire: Leadership, attribution, and disenchantment in
and why organizational commitment develops, and a values-driven organization. Leadership Quar-
practitioners need new resources for cultivating terly, 17: 57–78.
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Cooper-Hakim, A., & Viswesvaran, C. 2005. The con-
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Organizational Behavior, 23: 257–266. Carolina at Chapel Hill. He received his Ph.D. from the
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and non-experimental studies: New procedures and
related to a focus and interest in positive organizational
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interaction effects. Journal of Organizational Be- and Management & Organizations at the University of
havior, 16: 49 –58. Michigan. His research focuses on human flourishing in
the workplace and on flourishing organizations, with
Stine, R. 1989. An introduction to bootstrap methods. particular emphasis on prosocial behavior, meaningful
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