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Predictors of Sustained Organizational Commitment Among Nurses With Temporary Job Contracts

Jalonen, Paivi PhD¨; Virtanen, Marianna PhD, RN; Vahtera, Jussi MD, PhD; Elovainio, Marko PhD; Kivimaki, Mika PhD¨

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Author Information

Authors' affiliations: Researcher (Dr Jalonen), Senior Researcher (Dr Virtanen), and Research Professor (Dr Vahtera), Finnish Institute of Occupational Health; Senior Researcher (Dr Elovainio), National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health; Professor (Dr Kivima¨ki), Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland.

Corresponding author: Dr Jalonen, Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Topeliuksenkatu 41 a A, FIN-00250 Helsinki, Finland (

This study is supported by the Academy of Finland (projects 104891 and 105195) and the Finnish Work Environment Foundation.

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Objective: To examine sociodemographic, work-related factors and psychological health as predictors of sustained organizational commitment among temporary hospital employees.

Background: The participants were 412 nurses who had a temporary job contract and reported being committed to their organization at baseline.

Methods: Organizational commitment was measured again 2 years later.

Results: The results of logistic regression analysis showed that age over 35 years, high job control, high participative safety, high perceived justice in decision making, and low psychological distress predicted sustained organizational commitment at follow-up. The change from temporary employment to a permanent job and high job control predicted sustained organizational commitment even after the effect of all the other predictors was taken into account.

Conclusion: Organizations that employ temporary workers should pay attention to the job control and career prospects of temporary staff.

Contemporary work life is characterized by an increased use of several forms of nonstandard employment, such as temporary work, project work, "on call" employment, seasonal work, or replacing employees on maternity leave. A fixed-term contract that ends at a specific point in time often characterizes modern temporary work. In the late 1990s, temporary jobs accounted for 15% of the paid employment in the European Union.1The European Union statistics indicate that the increasing trend toward temporary employment is continuing in Europe.2 Depending on the definition of temporary employment, the proportion in the United States varied between 6% and 20%.5 In Finland, the proportion of temporary workers rose from 14% to 18% during the 1990s, and the proportion of temporary employment contracts in the public healthcare sector and the municipal sector reached 24% in 2001.3

Although for many employees a temporary job is a stepping-stone to a permanent post, economic pressure often prevents employers from recruiting permanent staff, especially in the public sector. Thus, transfer to permanent work is not an available option for every temporary employee. From the organizational point of view, employees commitment is an important requirement for slowly developing organizational key issues, such as well-integrated teams and people s "tacit knowledge." In the United States, there has been nurse organizational downsizing, often resulting in fewer nurses. Laschinger et al4 argue that such a trend could potentially threaten the quality of patient care. Despite the recent layoffs, a shortage of workers is expected in the public sector in the near future due to the accelerated retirement rates of the rapidly aging work force according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)5 and Finnish national statistics.6 This is an additional reason why committed employees are a particularly important resource in the public sector.

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Temporary Work and Organizational Commitment

Organizational commitment is a linking bond between the individual and the organization. It is an affective response to the whole organization. The behavioral consequences of commitment are lower turnover, less frequent turnover intention, a lower level of absenteeism, better job performance, and higher organizational citizenship behavior.7 Kalleberg and Reynolds8 define organizational commitment as intention to remain with the organization, identification with the organization's goals, and willingness to work hard in the organization. Organizational commitment has also been studied in terms of turnover and turnover intentions. Among nurses, job dissatisfaction best predicts intent to leave, whereas job satisfaction and autonomy at work predict intent to stay.9 Also, satisfaction with the administration is an important predictor of nurses' intent to stay in the organization.10

The antecedents of organizational commitment have generally been older age, longer tenure, and higher education of the employee, well-developed group-leader relations, and favorable work characteristics.7 Job characteristics, such as job control and enriched jobs, have correlated positively with organizational commitment. Furthermore, participative decision making, perceived organizational support, and group-leader relations predict organizational commitment.7,11-13 Settoon et al13 reported that the variance in intentions to stay in the organization was partly explained by perceived organizational support, and Janssen et al14 found a correlation between frequent turnover intentions, unmet career expectations, lack of challenging and worthwhile work, low skill variety and autonomy, and few opportunities to learn. Leach15 studied the relationships between nurse executive and organizational commitment among nurses. Managers with a transformational leadership style who seek contributions from the staff have enhanced climate in which information is shared. This promotes decision making at the staff nurse level and is associated with the nurses' commitment. Similarly, Laschinger et al4 suggested that there is a strong relationship between the managers' willingness to share information and support their staff and organizational commitment of the nurses.

Job insecurity, a concept often linked with temporary employment, can cause increased stress reactions and job dissatisfaction, a sense of marginalization, and loss of opportunity for development, career, and organizational identification.16-19 Such findings imply that a shift from a temporary to a permanent job is associated with sustained commitment. In contrast, continuous temporary work would be related to decreasing commitment. Indeed, Beard and Edwards20 suggested that job insecurity, low predictability, low control, and the social comparison processes involved in the use of temporary workers have a negative impact on job satisfaction, involvement, and commitment.

Predictors of turnover have been studied intensively since the 1950s. However, little is known about the organizational commitment or turnover intentions of temporary workers. Isaksson and Bellagh21 found that preferring a permanent job contract was associated with turnover intentions among female temporary agency workers. High psychological distress was also related to turnover intention. Workload, social support, and the possibility of learning new skills on the job were not associated with intention to quit a temporary job.

One way to understand and conceptualize the organizational commitment of temporary employees has been the construct of psychological contract. The psychological contract has been defined by Rousseau22 as the individual's belief about mutual obligations, in the context of the relationship between the employer and the employee. It is a subjective perception of the employees' obligations toward the organization (eg, loyalty, commitment) and the obligations of the employer toward the employee (eg, job security, organizational support). Barringer and Sturman23 examined the effects of variable work arrangements on the organizational commitment of temporary workers and found that organizational commitment was most influenced by their perceptions of how well they were treated by their organizations. The effect of perceived organizational support on commitment was greater than, for example, pay satisfaction or job satisfaction. Millward and Hopkins24 studied the role of contractual beliefs, job, and organizational commitment of temporary workers and found that their organizational commitment was linked more with economic change than with social change. One reason for the conflicting results is that they are based on various types of temporary workers and also different measures of organizational commitment.

Despite the mixed findings on the association between temporary employment and organizational commitment of its correlates, Klein-Hesselink and van Vuuren25 found that most temporary workers were worried about the continuation of their job and would prefer a permanent work contract in the future. In Finland, more than 80% of temporary healthcare personnel would prefer a permanent job.26

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Aims of the Study

The aim of the present study was to determine the extent to which demographic and work-related factors are related to sustained organizational commitment among nurses with temporary work contracts. In addition, we were interested in how the change from temporary employment to a permanent job affects organizational commitment. On the basis of indirect evidence and previous studies on permanent employees, we drew up the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 1: Older age, longer organizational tenure, and working in a full-time arrangement, high job control, high social support, and high organizational justice, as well as satisfaction with one's personal development, and low psychological distress are positively related to sustained organizational commitment among the nurses.

Hypothesis 2: Change from a temporary to a permanent job is positively related to sustained organizational commitment when other hypothesized relationships are controlled for.

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Study Population

This study is based on the ongoing follow-up research project, Work and Health in Finnish Hospital Personnel, coordinated by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The longitudinal design included a baseline survey in 1998 and a follow-up in 2000. At baseline, 8,107 employees (973 men, 7,134 women) in the service of 12 hospitals in Finland responded to a questionnaire on psychosocial factors at work, psychological distress, and organizational commitment (response rate 74%). At follow-up, 6,675 respondents still worked for the target organizations. Of these, 5,433 (81%) responded to the second survey. We selected nurses, the largest single occupational group, as the target for this study. Other inclusion criteria were that the participant responded to both surveys, had a temporary job contract at baseline, and reported being committed to the participant's organization at baseline. A total of 412 nurses (21 men, 391 women) fulfilled these criteria and formed the final cohort of this study.

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Measures of Organizational Commitment

In this study, all employees expressed their intention to stay in their current organization rather than to move to another organization. Sustained organizational commitment was operationalized as an employee's intention to stay working in the same organization also at follow-up. The specific question assessing commitment was: "What would you rather do if your livelihood were sufficient a priori?" The following 5 response categories were given: (1) I would continue in this organization, and in my present job; (2) I would continue in this organization but in a different job; (3) I would switch to another organization in this same occupational field; (4) I would switch to another occupational field; and (5) I would quit working.27,28 Only employees who chose either the first or the second response option in the baseline survey were included. Sustained organizational commitment was indicated by the first 2 options at follow-up and a decrease in organizational commitment by all other ratings at follow-up. A dichotomous variable was formed: 0 = decreasing organizational commitment and 1 = sustained organizational commitment.

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Potential Predictors of Sustained Organizational Commitment

Potential predictors of sustained organizational commitment were as follows: receiving a permanent job contract during the follow-up period, demographic characteristics (sex and age), organizational background (organizational tenure, work arrangement, ie, full-time vs part-time job, and hospital type), psychosocial factors at work, and psychological distress. All these factors were measured at baseline except the change from a temporary to a permanent job, which was based on information collected at baseline and at follow-up. We obtained data on demographic characteristics and organizational background from the employer's registers. Information about tenure and work arrangements was based on survey responses.

Scales assessing the psychosocial factors (Table 1) were job control (including decision authority and skill discretion),29 work overload,30 4 components of the Team Climate inventory,31,32 participatory safety, support for innovation, vision, and task orientation. The procedural justice scale and the relational justice scale were used to measure perceived organizational justice and leadership.11 Satisfaction with personal development was assessed with a 4-item scale from Hackman and Oldham's33 Job Diagnostic Survey. Psychological distress was assessed with the 12-item version of the General Health Questionnaire34 measuring depression and social dysfunction. Individuals scoring greater than 4 were estimated to have psychological distress according to the studies validating the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) against standardized psychiatric interviews,35 and this dichotomized measure was applied in the present study. The other scales of work characteristics were split by the median and dichotomized.

Table 1
Table 1
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Statistical Analysis

We used logistic regression analysis to test the demographic characteristics, work arrangements, psychological work characteristics, and individual psychological health as predictors of sustained organizational commitment.

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Table 2 presents descriptive statistics separately for those 256 temporary employees who remained in temporary work and those 156 temporary employees who received a permanent post during the follow-up (temporary-to-permanent group), and the differences were tested by Student t test and χ2 test. The workers in the temporary-to-permanent group were older and had a longer organizational tenure than those who remained in temporary work. The temporary-to-permanent group had also more favorable perceptions regarding participative safety and task orientation in team work. There were no differences between the groups in other dimensions of experienced team climate, nor did the groups differ from each other in terms of sex, perceived job control, workload, procedural or relational justice, or satisfaction with personal development in their work.

Table 2
Table 2
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In logistic regression analysis, older age predicted sustained organizational commitment compared with younger age (Table 3). Furthermore, high job control, high participative safety, high organizational justice, and low psychological distress predicted sustained organizational commitment. Table 4 presents the results of the 4 regression models to assess whether a shift from a temporary to a permanent job predicted sustained organizational commitment after the effects of other predictors of sustained organizational commitment were taken into account. Shift from temporary to permanent work and high job control had a significant effect at the level P < .05 in all regression models. In the fully adjusted model, the change from temporary to permanent employment and high job control predicted sustained organizational commitment, with odds ratios of 1.79 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.02-3.13) and 1.74 (95% CI 1.02-2.95), respectively. In the fully adjusted model, age remained a statistically significant predictor (odds ratio 2.03, 95% CI 1.14-3.59).

Table 3
Table 3
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Table 4
Table 4
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This is the first longitudinal study concerning sustained organizational commitment of temporary employees. Furthermore, the impact of a shift from a temporary to a permanent job on organizational commitment has not been analyzed in a longitudinal or cross-sectional study before. Our data were based on the follow-up study of health and well-being of Finnish hospital personnel, in which the sustained organizational commitment of nurses was followed up for 2 years. Our finding of an association between age over 35 years and sustained commitment agrees with earlier studies on age as a predictor of organizational commitment.7,36-38 Potential explanations for the observed association are that older workers might have developed a high level of autonomy in their job, and they may have other advantages of long-term tenure, such as longer annual leaves and higher pay.

Our hypothesis was also supported with regard to job control, participative safety, low psychological distress, and procedural justice. Of these, in the fully adjusted model, job control was the strongest predictor of sustained organizational commitment after the effects of job control and other predictors were adjusted for. The concept of control, as used here, refers to the degree to which a job provides freedom and independence to the individual regarding the nature and timing of work. The effects of job demands on employees' well-being are influenced by the degree to which the employees have the potential to control their work.29 Contingent workers cannot control the type of work performed; they must take the work assignments that are offered by the employer. The specific skills or preferences of the workers are usually not taken into account.20 Also, Parker et al39 found evidence that temporary employees have less participative decision making. Janssen et al14 examined turnover intentions of nurses and found that in order to improve the intrinsic work motivation of nurses, attention must be focused on job characteristics such as autonomy at work. Furthermore, Kennerly40 suggests that the leaders in nursing systems face the challenge of understanding the importance of freedom and autonomy in decision making among nurses. Similarly, Mrayyan41 found supportive management as an important variable to increase nurses' autonomy at work. According to the present study, this proposition is likely to apply to temporary nurses as well.

Participative safety refers to a situation in which the members of the work group feel free to bring up new ideas and problem solutions, and they perceive the interpersonal environment as nonthreatening. Anderson and West31 propose that the more people participate in decision making through interaction and by sharing information, the more likely they become committed to the group and will invest in the outcomes of group decision. Similarly, Ingersoll et al42 suggested that organizational readiness measured by innovativeness, cooperation, and propensity for risk taking was associated with nurses 'organizational commitment. Our findings are consistent with this idea.

Job control has shown to be strongly related to the perceived fairness of formal procedures manifesting the procedural justice in the organization. In line with previous studies by Barringer and Sturman23 and Elovainio et al,43 we also found a relationship between procedural justice and sustained organizational commitment. According to Cohen-Charash and Spector44 and Konovsky and Folger,45 high procedural justice is associated with high affective commitment, trust, and altruism. Lemons and Jones46 suggest that procedural justice refers to the perceived fairness of the procedures used in decision making regarding rewards, such as promotion. They found a significant effect of the perceived fairness of the promotion-decision system on organizational commitment. Laschinger et al4 found in their study among nurses a strong relationship between trust in the management and the nurses 'perceived managerial support and the managers' willingness to share accurate information in a timely fashion. It is possible that employees who trusted the fairness of the procedural justice in the present study may also put their trust in the possibility of gaining a permanent job in the future, a factor potentially explaining the observed association between justice and sustained organizational commitment. According to the earlier findings, relational justice seems to be an independent form of justice and not so strongly associated with organizational commitment.43

Low psychological distress was related to sustained organizational commitment. The result is in line with the study of Isaksson and Bellagh21 in which high psychological distress was related to turnover intentions among temporary workers.

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Change From Temporary to Permanent Job

As expected, the change from temporary job to a permanent one predicted sustained organizational commitment of the employee. In the multivariate regression analysis, in which all the other predictors were entered into the same model, age, job control, and a shift from a temporary to a permanent job predicted sustained organizational commitment of the basically temporary nurses. According to the construct of psychological contract, it has been shown that when employees believe that their employer has broken their psychological contract, the employees' trust may diminish, and their satisfaction and commitment to the organization decrease.47,48 In turn, met expectations may have a positive impact on a temporary employees' attitude toward their employer. This refers to the notion of social exchange: workers are willing to commit to the organization according to how the organization is committed to them. The vast majority of nurses in Finland prefer permanent job to temporary contracts.26 Sustained organizational commitment associated with appointment to a permanent job may be explained as met expectations among them.

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We used a single question to inquire about organizational commitment, whereas many researchers have applied multi-item scales.49 However, the advantage of our indicator of commitment is that it gives the respondents freedom to imagine different alternatives concerning the organizational commitment. One can also note that the earlier studies on the commitment of temporary workers are based on workers with various types of flexible contracts, different measures of organizational commitment, and a variety of control variables in the analysis. This may limit somewhat the comparability of the studies.

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Not much is known about the association between different job characteristics and sustained organizational commitment of temporary workers. Neither is there earlier research on the effect of a change from a temporary to a permanent job on organizational commitment.

Organizational commitment among nurses is an important question, as the employment status of nurses may affect patient care at least in the following ways: continuity of care and the care giver, the knowledge that the nurse has about the patient, and the nurse's ability to influence decision making at the workplace.50 The question of sustained organizational commitment is important because temporary nurses are an increasingly common feature of the labor market.15,51,52 Our finding that the level of job control predicts the organizational commitment of nurses in a temporary work indicates that nurse leaders should pay careful attention to the nurses' opportunities for job control and participative decision making. It should apply to the employment based on the contract itself, the length of the assignment. For instance, realistic and honest information about the chances of getting a permanent job in the future may be considered as one aspect of job control and a possibility to participate in decision making concerning the individual him/herself. But first of all, the participative decision making should apply to nurses' practice in patient care and organizing the works in their ward. Furthermore, the specific skills and preferences of the nurses should be taken into account. Nurse executive should neither be afraid of employing older nurses. It seems that older temporary workers are more motivated and committed to their jobs than their younger colleagues.

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