09/06/2009 10:22

Comparing Quantitative and Qualitative studies of the Variables that Affect Employee Organizational Commitment

A Comparison between a quantitative study and a qualitative study of the factors that influence organizational commitment has shown that both these research methods have their advantages as well as shortfalls. The quantitative study provided scientific data that could be applied to a wider population, the qualitative study provided in-depth insight into determinants of organizational commitment that might not have been detected in a quantitative approach.

 

Background

The aim of this project was to assess the advantages and problems related respectively to quantitative and qualitative research methods. This was achieved by comparing two independent research studies on the same subject, namely the variables that affect employee organizational commitment. As such, the focus was on identifying positive and negative aspects of the two research approaches, and not on analyzing or discussing employee organizational commitment or its determinants.

Method of Assessment

This assessment of the two research methodologies was done by studying the respective research reports in order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of their methodologies. In addition, several other published articles and research reports dealing with research methodology and employee commitment were reviewed.

Definition of Terms: 
Deduction (deductive reasoning): A form of reasoning used in quantitative research which moves from the general to the specific. It starts with an expected pattern (the hypothesis) which is then tested to see if it actually occurs (De Vos, Strydom, Fouché, & Delport, 2005, p. 47).

Induction (inductive reasoning): A form of reasoning often used in qualitative research which moves from the particular to the general. Patterns are discovered through specific observations to draw conclusions about “entire classes of objects and events” (De Vos, Strydom, Fouché, & Delport, 2005, p. 47).

Organizational commitment:  Porter, Steers, Mowday and Boulian (1974) developed a three-part definition of organizational commitment: a strong belief in and acceptance of the organization’s goals and values, a willingness to exert considerable effort on behalf of the organization, and a strong desire to remain in the organization (p. 604). Simply put, organizational commitment generally “refers to the attachment, emotionally and functionally, to one’s place of work” (Elizur & Koslowsky, 2001, p. 594).

Analysis of the Two Studies

Study 1: Quantitative research in Lithuania

Description of Quantitative Research. Quantitative research draws from the scientific method used in the physical sciences (Carr, 1994, Goode & Evans, 2007; Bisgaard, 2000), and describes, test and studies cause and effect relationships by using a deductive method of knowledge building. The aim is therefore to gather concrete, measurable, and projectable data that can be expressed in numerical or statistical form and analyzed in order to support a clear hypothesis. Data is ideally collected from large randomly-selected groups by using standardized, systematic procedures via surveys or questionnaires, and is presented as statistics, tables and graphs (De Vos, Strydom, Fouché, & Delport, 2005; Fillis, 2005; Glencoe, 2004, Carr, 1994).   

Example Study. The quantitative study used for this research paper - Individual correlates of organizational commitment and intention to leave the organization - was conducted by Labatmediene, Endriulaitiene, and Gustainiene (2007) among employees in several Lithuanian organizations. The aim of the study was two-fold: to test the hypothesis that there is was a relationship between organizational commitment and intention to leave the organization (Labatmediene, Endriulaitiene, & Gustainiene, 2007, p. 196), and to analyze the relationships among individual factors (education, age, gender, personality traits) and organizational commitment. The additional hypotheses that more educated employees are less committed to the organization, and that there was a correlation between personality traits and organizational commitment, were also tested.  

Method and Instruments. The researchers collected data from 105 non-management employees working in various Lithuanian organizations. The subjects completed a questionnaire that included a self-report measure of temperament, responses to three-dimensional measure of organizational commitment, as well as demographic information. Affective commitment, continuance commitment and normative commitment were gauged with scales developed by Allen and Meyer (1990, p. 6, 7). The subjects’ personality or temperament traits were measured with the Adult Temperament Questionnaire (ATQ) developed by Rothbart, Ahandi, and Evans (2000).

Findings. The results confirmed the hypothesis that there was a “significant correlation” (p. 204) between organizational commitment and intention to leave the organization. It was significant that affective or emotional commitment proved to be a considerably stronger predictor of organizational commitment than continuance or normative commitment (p. 206). The hypothesis that a relationship exists between organizational commitment and level of education was also confirmed. However, results showed no support for the hypotheses that a correlation existed between personality traits and organizational commitment.

 

Study 2: Qualitative research in United Kingdom

Description of Qualitative Research. Qualitative research generally focus on the humanistic, primarily qualitative methods of research which aspire to gain “first-hand, holistic understanding” of phenomena (De Vos, Strydom, Fouché, & Delport, 2005, p. 74). In stead of attempting to prove a formulated hypothesis, the aim of the qualitative approach is to construct theory and generate new knowledge from observations (Fillis, 2005), often through inductive reasoning (Sogunro, 2001, Carr, 1994).

Qualitative research aims to gain insight into “underlying issues” surrounding a research problem (Glencoe, 2004) by gathering non-statistical information. This information can include individual’s perceptions, opinions, attitudes, values and feelings. Unlike quantitative research, it is generally conducted among small groups or even in the form of in one-on-one personal interviews. 

Example Study. The qualitative study used for this paper - Don't leave me this way: A qualitative study of influences on the organisational commitment and turnover intentions of graduates early in their career - was conducted by Sturges and Guest (2001) in five large organizations in the United Kingdom. The aim of the study was to gain wider understanding of organizational commitment by determining the factors that influenced graduates’ decisions to stay with or leave their employers in the early years of their career.

Method. The researchers chose fifty graduates with an average of three years working experience in organizations which recruit large numbers of graduates annually. The subjects were interviewed individually for about one and a half hours to gain “an authentic understanding of the graduates’ attitudes and experiences related to organisational commitment” (Sturges & Guest, 2001, p. 451). True to the adaptable nature of qualitative data gathering, the interviews were structured to enable the subjects to “reflect at length on what might influence their commitment, past, present and future, to the organisation which had recruited them when they graduated” (p. 451). The interviews were recorded and transcribed, and the data was analyzed to build theory inductively.

Findings. The study identified two related groups of factors that influenced the employees’ level of organizational commitment, namely the extend to which their pre-employment expectations had been met, and the extend to which they experienced the organizational culture as “comfortable and helpful” (Sturges & Guest, 2001, p. 458).

The first group of factors transmits to specific issues about which the organizations had made promises to the employees before they started working. These promises created expectations about the job, training, development, and career management. A Positive correlation was found between the extend to which these expectations were met, and the employees’ job satisfaction and organizational commitment. The second group of factors concern organizational culture and the degree to which employees felt they “fit in” with the culture (p. 458). Again, a positive correlation was found between fitting into the organizational culture and organizational commitment.

 

Quantitative Methodology

Advantages of the Quantitative Methodology. The advantages of quantitative research (see Appendix 1: Advantages and Disadvantages of Quantitative and Qualitative Methods) is that the results are generally statistically reliable and objective. The hypotheses (or several, as in the case of the sample study) is stated in “specific and set terms” and original research goals can be followed throughout the process as the hypothesis is tested (Matveev, 2002). Because larger groups of subjects are involved, results are projectable to the entire population. This means that the sample study’s findings which showed, for instance, the importance of emotional commitment as a determinant of organizational commitment and that a positive correlation existed between education level and organizational commitment, could be applied to most other organizations.

Problems with the Quantitative Methodology. Disadvantages of this method is that only subjects or issues of which the researchers are aware, can be measured (in order to be included in the questionnaire). It also fails to provide information about the context or circumstances of the issues that are studied while researches might find it difficult to control the environment where respondents complete the survey. Another practical disadvantage is that quantitative research projects often include large numbers of respondents and is therefore generally more expensive than qualitative research (McCullough, 1988; Matveev, 2002; Lee, 1992). It is unclear to what extend these factors influenced the results of the sample study.

 

Quantitative Methodology

Advantages of the Qualitative Methodology. Qualitative research is often able gain insight into “underlying issues” surrounding a research problem (Glencoe, 2004) by gathering non-statistical information. In the sample study, this approach enabled the researchers to collect information related to the employee’s personal perceptions, opinions, attitudes, values and feelings before and after joining their organizations.

By interacting with the respondents and asking follow-up questions based on previous answers, the researchers were able to increase their understanding of the underlying issues. Qualitative methods also allows for interaction between members of the focus group, which often reveals issues not previously anticipated by the researchers. Researchers can control the environment where the research is conducted and use flexible methods to gather data. It is often argued that the overall result is a more realistic picture of the situation that cannot be derived from numbers and statistics (Matveev, 2002; McCullough, 1988). In the sample study, however, the results merely provided in-depth information on two aspects of organizational commitment.

Problems with the Qualitative Methodology. The main disadvantage of qualitative research is that because only small focus groups are involved, it is an “unreliable predictor of the population” (McCullough, 1988, p. 1) - this means that results from the sample study cannot be presumed to apply to all employees in similar circumstances. Another danger is that researcher can departing from the original objectives (Matveev, 2002, p. 3) due to the flexible nature of the data collection process, although this did not seem to be the case in the sample study. Results of qualitative research might also be inconsistent due to the influence of personal characteristics and techniques of the researcher (Matveev, 2002; McCullough, 1988; Lee, 1992). (See Appendix 1: Advantages and Disadvantages of Quantitative and Qualitative Methods.)

Conclusion

Both the qualitative and quantitative research methodology used in these studies contributed to gaining a better understanding of  the variables that affect employee organizational commitment. However, as each methodology proved to have its particular strengths and weaknesses, the combined results serves as motivation for mix-method studies. A growing number of researchers are calling for combining quantitative and qualitative methods in what is often referred to as “methodological triangulation” (Mangan, 2004, p. 565). It is proposed that by following this route, researchers can avoid some pitfalls related to individual paradigms and gain multidimensional insights into research problems (Connolly, 2009; Fillis, 2005; Mangan, 2004; Matveev, 2002; Clark, 1998; Lee, 1992; Kaplan, 1988; McCullough, 1988; Daft, 1983).

 

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Copyright: H.L Bosman, 9 June 2009

 

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