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Normative commitment in the ICT sector: Why professional commitment and flexible work practices matter.

ABSTRACT

This research examines commitment factors amongst ICT workers. It further reappraises the role and impact of normative commitment as a separate facet (Meyer & Parfyonova, 2010) by taking a novel approach that focuses on the impact of normative commitment on ICT worker behaviour, without an associated examination of affective organisational commitment variables. The study found that ICT workers' commitment to their profession and flexible working practices were positively linked to normative commitment. Australian ICT firms tend to be small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) that lack the resources to compete with larger firms on pay rates. Non-wage benefits, such as flexible working hours, may therefore be a more effective strategy for SMEs looking to increase organisational commitment, than wages alone.

Keywords

ICT workers, organisational commitment, normative commitment, professional commitment, flexible work practices.

INTRODUCTION

The end of the mining sector boom heightened the need for Australia to make the transition to a more diversified economy if it wished to continue its long-term economic prosperity (Cully, 2015). This is a particular concern for resource rich Australian states such as Queensland that have long relied on the mining sector to drive economic growth. The digital economy will be crucial in achieving this transition (Cully, 2015; Deloittes, 2015), with information and communication (ICT) technologies playing an increasingly pervasive role across all industries and sectors (Deloittes, 2015:1). The advent of cloud computing and data driven management (DDT) strategies are further heightening these trends (Ross, 2011; Ross & Blumenstein, 2013).

Supply side factors in the Australian ICT labour market, however, are not encouraging. These include decreasing ICT degree completion rates (ACS, 2012:17) coupled with increasing international demand for skilled ICT graduates in a sector that is prone to relatively high staff turnover rates (Bullock, 2013; Clicks IT Recruitment, 2015). Industry forecasters have further predicted a shortfall of around 25,000 ICT workers across the Australian economy by 2020 (APESMA, 2011:3). This highlights the need for Australian firms to better attract and develop their own ICT in-house talent, as opposed to current widespread short-term ad hoc approaches to ICT worker recruitment (APESMA, 2011; Bullock, 2013).

Potential ICT labour market skill shortages arguably place a greater onus on Australian firms to reduce ICT worker turnover and improve productivity, factors that have been positively linked to organisational commitment (Reichers, 1985; Somers, 1995). This paper therefore considers an important labour market issue by examining possible antecedents to ICT worker commitment. This includes an analysis of how ICT worker commitment to their profession (see Meyer et al. 2013; Vandenberg & Scarpello, 1994) and their ability to access flexible work practices (see Roehling et al. 2001; Scholarious & Marks, 2004) may impact on their commitment to their organisations.

The paper further builds on Meyer and Parfyonova's (2010) call for a greater focus on normative commitment factors and a re-appraisal of their role in the workplace; a role that became largely overshadowed by affective commitment factors following the advent of the well-known Meyer et al. (2002) three component affective, normative and continuance commitment model. This research therefore provided a greater focus on normative commitment factors by taking a novel approach that included an analysis of the impacts of normative and continuance variables on ICT worker organisational commitment behaviour, without an associated examination of organisation specific affective commitment variables. This allowed the researchers to better explore and ascertain the importance of normative factors in relation to ICT worker commitment.

AUSTRALIAN ICT LABOUR MARKET

The information and communication technology (ICT) sector contributed almost 8 per cent of Australia's GDP in 2012 (ACS, 2012), while approximately 50 per cent of Australian business productivity can further be attributed to the application of ICT (IBSA, 2011). The sector rebounded strongly following a dip in ICT labour market demand during the global financial crisis, with 451,000 Australian workers employed as ICT specialists in 2015, while around 22 per cent of the workforce (around 2.5 million workers) fall under the OECD's broader definition of 'intensive users of ICTs' (Deloittes, 2015:1).

The sector's rapid growth presents challenges in relation to meeting future Australian ICT labour market needs. Despite Gen Y being the most technologically savvy generation to date (Eisner, 2005), ICT university student enrolments across Australian universities have flat-lined in recent years, while domestic student ICT university degree completion rates decreased by 53 per cent between 2002 and 2010 (ACS, 2012:17). While skilled permanent and temporary migration has become an important source for professional ICT workers (Bullock, 2013:43; Deloittes, 2016), increased international demand for skilled ICT graduates limits the ability of Australian firms to supplement local market shortages with overseas ICT workers (see Ross & Ali, 2011). A 2015 survey of Australian ICT professionals further found that more than one in three workers would change their jobs if they were approached with an external offer, while 84 per cent of the workers surveyed were 'open' to the idea of changing jobs (Clicks IT Recruitment, 2015). Improving employee commitment is therefore one strategy for firms seeking to better retain and further develop the skills of their ICT workers.

ORGANISATIONAL COMMITMENT

Employees do not constitute a homogenous mass (Benson, 2007), as the nature of different industries means that organisational commitment factors are likely to differ across jobs and industrial sectors. This section therefore discusses the extant organisational commitment literature, re-appraises the role of normative commitment and develops a number of hypotheses that are then tested in an ICT worker context.

Organisational commitment has been viewed as a 'key' HRM outcome that supersedes mere compliance with organisational rules and regulations by creating a higher level 'voluntary' commitment from the worker to the firm (Benson, 2007:122; Shepherd & Mathews, 2000:555). This has been linked to positive employee and organisational outcomes, including increased job satisfaction, improved worker performance and reduced labour turnover (Meyer et al. 2002; Popper & Lipshitz, 1992; Reicher, 1985; Weiner, 1982). Bagraim (2004) discusses this greater perceived voluntary commitment to the job on the part of a prospective employee in terms of increased commitment propensity.

Despite a relatively large and increasing amount of literature on the topic, defining organisational commitment has been the subject of some debate. Vandenberg and Scarpello (1994:536) link organisational commitment to a worker's acceptance, or otherwise, of their employer's goals and values. Marchant (2001:47) discusses commitment in terms of a positive emotional relationship between the parties, including an increased dedication on the part of workers to their firms. Other researchers, in contrast, suggest that long-term employee 'commitment' simply reflects employee 'sunk' costs, such as seniority and firm-specific skills, that cannot be easily transferred to other organisations (Iverson & Buttigieg, 1999; Ross, 2002; Somers, 1995).

Coughlan therefore differentiates between employee 'loyalty' and employee 'commitment' by suggesting that the former has a more moral basis, with loyal workers more likely to do the 'right thing' by their employer (Coughlan, 2005). Rousseau similarly distinguishes between transactional and relational employer/employee relationships, with the former based on worker performance targets and specific economic returns, while the latter is linked to a longer-term emotional relationship that leads to improved non-explicit worker behaviour and commitment (Rousseau in Donohue et al. 2007:74).

Organisational commitment therefore comprises multiple components, including emotional and practical considerations (Marchant, 2001:47; Somers, 1995:49). Weiner (1982) discusses these considerations in terms of a normative/instrumental dichotomy, with normative pressures inducing employees to do the right thing, without reference to their own personal benefit, because they think it is the 'right' thing to do (Weiner, 1982:421). Normative motivational processes are therefore linked to 'personal moral standards' (Weiner 1982:418). Instrumental values in contrast are linked to material gains and advantages that are associated with an employee's behaviour (Popper & Lipshitz, 1992:3) and are governed by reward and punishment scenarios (Weiner, 1982:420-21). Interestingly, researchers suggest that strong internalised normative pressures and values may have the capacity to 'override instrumental considerations' in some individuals (Popper & Lipshitz, 1992:2).

Researchers have therefore identified the multifaceted nature of organisational commitment. Meyers and Allen (1991) expanded on former organisational commitment models by developing their well-known three component framework that includes Affective, Normative and Continuance commitment measures. These, in turn, reflect whether workers want to, ought to or need to remain with the organisation (Meyer in Iverson & Buttigieg, 1999:307). In this regard affective commitment measures an employee's emotional attachment to an organisation, including their involvement and identification with the organisation's goals and values (Meyers et al. 2002:21; Mowday Steers & Porter, 1979:226). Normative commitment reflects pressure on an employee to remain with an organisation because of a perceived duty towards the firm (Marchant, 2001:50), while continuance commitment considers the costs associated with an employee leaving an organisation, such as the ease of getting another job (Meyers & Allen, 1997).

NORMATIVE COMMITMENT: A RE-APPRAISAL?

The Meyer and Allen (1991) three component model has been widely used by researchers in the organisational commitment field since its inception to the point that it has almost become the default testing framework for much of this research. This has led to concerns that the affective commitment component of many of these research findings has overshadowed the impact of normative commitment, to the extent that some researchers have questioned the validity of the latter as a separate component (Meyer & Parfyonova, 2010). This is despite the importance of normative commitment, in relation to employee behaviour, being well established in the literature prior to the advent of the three component model (Wiener & Vardi, 1980; Weiner, 1982).

Bagraim (2004:287) further sees normative commitment as being distinctly different from affective commitment, in that it reflects a commitment propensity or an 'inclination to become committed' (see also Angle & Lawson, 1994). He therefore puts forward the interesting proposition that normative commitment may in fact be an antecedent of affective and continuance commitment (Bagraim, 2004:287). Normative commitment has further been found to have a positive impact on organisational citizenship behaviour (OCB), whereby employees go beyond their normal duties and engage in helping behaviours that assist the overall organisation (Bakhshi et al. 2011:79-80). Such 'extra role' behaviours have been linked to innovation and creativity (Angle & Lawson, 1994:1540); factors that may be vital for ICT firm competitiveness.

Meyer and Parfyonova (2010:284) further discuss the potential dual nature of normative commitment, which can manifest itself as either a moral duty or a sense of indebtedness to the organisation. This dual nature may have quite different implications for employee work behaviour. The former, for example, may be influenced by an employee's personal ethics, along with their degree of socialisation within the organisation (Meyers et al. 2002:21-22). The latter, in contrast, may include former long-term unemployed workers who may feel indebted to the firm that eventually employs them.

Meyer and Parfyonova (2010) therefore consider that a re-appraisal of the model is necessary, including the need for future research that better reinforces the potential role of normative commitment, which they believe is 'understudied to date, but could be of considerable benefit to organisations' (Meyer, 2010:283). As outlined above, this research therefore aimed to re-appraise the role of normative commitment by shifting it out from the Meyers and Allen (1991) affective commitment partner shadow. This included a novel approach that analysed the impacts of normative and continuance variables on ICT worker organisational commitment behaviour, without an associated examination of organisation specific affective commitment variables. This allowed the researchers to better focus on the importance of normative factors in relation to employee commitment to their organisations.

The following sections outline a number of hypotheses that were developed to test the relationship between normative commitment and other commitment factors, including possible normative commitment antecedents, in the Queensland ICT labour market.

CONTINUANCE AND NORMATIVE COMMITMENT

As outlined above, employees may not remain within an organisation because of some assumed positive emotional and/or normative attachment to the firm. Rather, employees may be risk averse and/or concerned about the potential negative costs of leaving the organisation, such as the challenges of finding alternative employment and/or adequate compensation elsewhere. Continuance commitment is therefore likely to play a greater role in worker retention rates when jobs are scarce (Hunt & Rasmussen, 2007). Tight labour markets (ie when demand for specific worker skills outstrips supply) in contrast, are linked to higher labour turnover.

Continuance commitment may further be linked to the size and composition of the sector. Silicon Valley, for example, is a hub of innovation with a mix of large firms and SMEs working in close proximity (Benner, 2002). With such a range of ICT projects happening at any one time, it is common for ICT workers to leave firms to work on other projects in other organisations once their current fixed-term job is completed (Benner, 2002). The ICT sector in South-East Queensland (SEQ) in contrast, is dominated by SMEs and is not concentrated around any particular hub. The sector therefore does not have the 'economies of scale', including the range of alternative employment options and/or ICT worker skill sets, found in places like Silicon Valley.

Low turnover rates in these situations therefore may not equate with any perceived employee emotional attachment and/or loyalty to an organisation (O'Reilly & Chatman, 1986). Rather, Drizan (in Pittman 2002:19) suggests that the 'Behaviours of employees that are loyal to a company versus ones who are feeling trapped are like night and day... Employees who feel trapped compose neither a strong nor effective workforce. They don't go the extra mile'. Research further supports the premise that a neutral or negative relationship exists between continuance commitment measures and worker behaviour (Meyer et al. 2002). This is in contrast to normative commitment which has been linked to improved worker behaviour (Angle & Lawson, 1994; Bagraim, 2004; Weiner, 1982; Wiener & Vardi, 1980). Our first hypothesis therefore states:
Hypothesis 1: There will be a neutral or negative relationship between
continuance commitment to the organisation (CCO) and normative
commitment to the organisation (NCO) amongst ICT workers.


PROFESSIONAL, NORMATIVE AND CONTINUANCE COMMITMENT

Ross and Ali (2011) found that ICT workers often engage in extensive external networking with fellow ICT colleagues, which in turn fosters professional commitment. In this regard, while much of the literature focuses on the commitment of employees to their organisations, research suggests that ICT workers may be more committed to their profession than their firm (Benner, 2002; Hyde, 2003; Ross & Ali, 2011). Given that all of the respondents to our ICT worker survey (outlined in further detail below) were members of a professional ICT association, the Australian Computer Society (ACS), it was pertinent to consider the relationship between the respondents' commitment to their profession and their normative commitment to their organisation.

Can workers therefore exhibit dual commitments to both their organization and their profession? Research into this potential conundrum is mixed. Meyer et al. (2013:193) advise that dual commitment may occur when the goals and values of the organisation and the profession overlap. Some researchers further suggest that professional development, including prior tertiary studies, may help to inculcate desired professional values into employees that may then support enhanced organisational employee commitment in any organisation (Vandenberg & Scarpello, 1994:536; Meyer et al. 2013:192).

Benson and Brown (2007) in contrast, suggest that professional commitment may have a different impact on knowledge workers in comparison to routine workers. They argue that the very nature of knowledge work means that such employees tend to occupy a separate strata within firms and, as such, their occupational values and goals may differ from the goals and values of both their employer and other routine workers (Benson & Brown, 2007:193). For example, a knowledge worker employed in an ICT support section within a firm may have little in common with their senior managers or fellow employees. Benson and Brown (2007) suggest that this causes knowledge workers to exhibit relatively low levels of organisational commitment, in comparison to other workers, as they become more loyal to their profession than to their organisations. Vandenberg and Scarpello (1994) concur that continued membership of relevant professional organisation(s) increases workers' professional commitment to the detriment of their organisational commitment. Our hypothesis 2a therefore states:
Hypothesis 2a: There will be a negative relationship between ICT worker
affective commitment to their profession (ACP) and normative commitment
to their organisation (NCO).


In previous research, we found that professional networking activities assisted Malaysian ICT workers to find alternative job opportunities and therefore reduced their dependency on their current employer for a job (Ross & Ali, 2011). This research therefore also tested the relationship between ICT worker affective commitment to their profession (ACP) and continuous commitment to their organisation (CCO). Much of the earlier research suggests a negative or neutral correlation between affective and continuance commitment factors (Meyer et al. 2002; Meyer & Parfyonova 2010), while Chang (1999) further found no correlation between professional career commitment and continuance commitment (1999:1270). Our hypothesis 2b therefore states:
Hypothesis 2b: There will be a negative or neutral relationship between
ICT worker affective commitment to their profession (ACP) and
continuance commitment to their organisation (CCO).


FLEXIBLE WORK PRACTICES, NORMATIVE AND CONTINUANCE COMMITMENT

A well-developed discourse has arisen around the perceived benefits of work-life balance and flexible work practices (Caproni, 1997; Eaton, 2003; Roehling et al., 2001; Rothausen, 1994; Scholarious & Marks, 2004). Meyer and Allen (in Eaton 2003:147), for example, state that 'family friendly policies... can reduce absenteeism and labour turnover', while Roehling (2001:142) goes so far as to state that perceived increases in employee loyalty are the primary reason for employers introducing work-friendly practices. Work-life balance and flexible work practices have therefore been linked to improved employee loyalty and organisational commitment (Roehling et al. 2001; Eaton 2003). Normative commitment characteristics such as 'indebted obligation' (Meyer, 2010:284) may further be positively linked to the availability of flexible work practices and improved work/life balance.

As could be expected, women with school age children place a relatively high value on flexible working arrangements (Roehling et al., 2001:164). Researchers further suggest that younger workers, such as Gen Y, place a high value on work-life balance, including an expectation of flexibility in their working hours (Kelly Services, 2013:4). Research by Roehling et al. (2001:163) further found that flexible working arrangements were associated with increased employee loyalty across all life course stages. This led them to advise that there was 'an almost universal employee loyalty pay-off in terms of different employee cohorts.

The above literature and qualitative research suggests that flexible work practices should have a positive influence on normative commitment, including higher trust levels and increased employee appreciation and/or gratitude to the organisation (Meyer & Parfyonova, 2010:284). Employees who felt that they were unlikely to get these non-wage benefits elsewhere could further be expected to have an increased continuance commitment to their organisations.

Our hypotheses 3a and 3b therefore state:
Hypothesis 3a: There will be a positive relationship between flexible
employment practices (FEP) and normative commitment to the organisation
(NCO).

Hypothesis 3b: There will be a positive relationship between flexible
employment practices (FEP) and continuance commitment to the
organisation (CCO).


RESEARCH METHODS

Research on ICT worker-specific commitment issues is relatively scarce (Ross & Ali, 2009; Ross, 2011; Ross & Ali, 2011). This study, therefore, used a mixed-method triangulation research approach to better reflect the industry context and elicit ICT worker-specific culture and commitment issues. This included an initial exploratory qualitative phase of the research which included an analysis of past conceptual and empirical works in the field and the findings of an initial exploratory qualitative study.

The exploratory qualitative study included interviews with managers at 21 ICT firms in South East Queensland and representatives of four ICT industry groups between 2010 and 2012. The former included nine software sales and development firms, five web design and development firms, four larger broad-based ICT solutions firms, one bank ICT support section, one software as a service (SaaS) firm and one ICT worker recruitment agency. Thirteen of these firms had 50 employees or less (reflecting the number of SMEs in the Australian ICT sector), five firms had 100 employees or more, and three firms declined to provide this information on confidentiality grounds. Interviewees included both general managers and human resource (HR) managers. Industry association representatives included members of the Australian Information Industry Association (ANA), Australian Interactive Media Association (AIMIA), Australian Computer Society (ACS) and IT Queensland. University confidentiality guarantees meant that interviewee names and their organisations could not be listed in this paper.

The findings of the qualitative phase provided useful insights on ICT work practices and supported the development of the above hypothesised relationships which were then tested in the quantitative phase of the research via a survey of Queensland based Australian Computer Society (ACS) members, using a self-administered questionnaire developed for this study. The measurement scales used in the questionnaire were developed from the organisational commitment and flexible work literature (Meyer & Allen, 1991; 1997; Rothausen, 1994), prior research into the ICT sector (Ross & Ali, 2009; 2011) and inputs from the qualitative research phase of the study. The survey utilised an online survey tool where ACS members were invited by email to participate in the online survey. An initial email invitation followed by two reminder emails resulted in 202 usable responses, which did not miss values on important variables. Since ACS membership is based on individual professional ICT worker subscriptions rather than firm-based membership, the results of this survey were less likely to be impacted by management perceptions and bias than surveys of firm owners or senior management.

The survey examined four constructs measured by 21 item scales. These included five items on employee affective commitment to their profession (ACP) (as outlined above, items measuring ICT worker affective commitment to their organisation were not tested), six items on employee normative commitment to their organisation (NCO) and six items on employee continuance commitment to their organisation (CCO), which were adapted from validated scales first developed by Fields (2002) and Meyers and Allen (1997). A four item scale that measured employee satisfaction with flexible employment practices (FEP), including the ability to re-schedule work, balance work and family responsibilities and gain access to part-time or flexi-timework, was developed from Rothausen (1994) and contemporary writings on Gen Y workers and work-life balance (Eisner, 2005; Murphy et al., 2010). The following section analyses the qualitative and quantitative research findings and contrasts and compares these results with the findings and predictions outlined in the above hypotheses.

RESEARCH FINDINGS

As presented in Table 1, an exploratory factor analysis (EFA) using principal component analytic methods retained all items in their respective factors that exhibited acceptable factor loadings (Hair et al., 2006). Cronbach's Alpha values ranging from 0.70 to 0.88 (see Table 1) indicated acceptable to high levels of internal consistency of the items in each construct (Cronbach, 1978). Arithmetic average of the items was used as composite score for each construct for the purpose of testing the hypothesised relationships between the constructs.

Pearson bivariate correlation coefficients were used to test the hypotheses of this study (see Table 2). While the bivariate correlation coefficient for NCO and CCO was negative (-.079), the correlation was too small to be statistically significant. This meant that the relationship did not differ from zero and supported our first hypothesis, which predicted that a relatively neutral relationship would exist between NCO and CCO amongst ICT workers. Continuance commitment factors therefore appeared to have little impact on ICT worker normative commitment to their organisations. This accords with earlier research that found similar neutral or negative relationships between NCO and CCO (Meyer et al., 2002; Meyer & Parfyonova, 2010) and suggested no apparent ICT worker exceptionalism in this regard.

In contrast, the research revealed a significantly positive correlation (.309 significant at p=.001) between ACP and NCO, which rejected our hypothesis 2a. In other words, rather than placing their commitment to their profession above their organisation (Benson & Brown, 2007:193), ACP complemented NCO. This was an interesting finding as it was contrary to much of the interview feedback from ICT firm managers during the course of this research who saw the networking activities of their ICT workers at professional functions as being negatively linked to organisational loyalty and commitment, because they believed that their workers routinely used these opportunities to explore and exchange information on job opportunities in competitor firms (see also Ross & Ali, 2011). These concerns would seem to be misplaced, with the surveyed ICT workers exhibiting dual commitments to both their organisations and their profession. In this regard, the goals and values of the profession appeared to reinforce, rather than reduce, the ICT workers' sense of duty to their firms (Meyer 2013:193).

Possible explanations for this result include earlier research which found that professional training and networking may inculcate professional values that support employee commitment within and across organisations (Meyer et al., 2013:192; Vandenberg & Scarpello, 1994:536). Professional values that are learned prior to a worker being engaged by a firm may therefore be an antecedent of employee NCO. Membership of professional ICT organisations may further play a positive reinforcing role in the development of NCO.

Other possible explanations include the more strategic role now being played by ICT workers as the ICT function becomes increasingly professionalised and better linked to organisational strategies (Ross & Blumenstein, 2013). In contrast to Benson and Brown's (2007) scenario of ICT departments operating in relatively separate sections, cloud computing and big data strategies are increasingly bringing ICT professional workers 'in from the cold', as their role assumes a less technical and more central role in organisational planning (Ross, 2011; Ross & Blumenstein, 2013). This then better aligns ICT worker professional skills and knowledge to the operations and goals of the firm.

There was also a significantly negative correlation between ACP and CCO (-.139 at p= 0.05), which accords with our hypothesis 2b. This supports earlier research that showed a neutral or negative relationship between affective and continuance commitment variables (Meyer et al., 2002). The interesting finding here is that this negative relationship still holds, even in the absence of affective commitment to individual organisation variable (as outlined above, only ACP constructs were tested in this study). It further contrasts with research by Chang (1999) that found a relatively neutral rather than negative relationship between professional career commitment and CCO. The results, therefore, suggest that the surveyed ICT workers were not staying within their firms because of a lack of perceived employment opportunities elsewhere. Rather, they were remaining within their organisations for other reasons, including the normative commitment correlation outlined above. It further suggests that the ICT workers felt confident that they could get alternative employment elsewhere. Intuitively this result makes sense, as a high degree of commitment to a vocation, including a desire to build a long-term career within a particular profession, could be expected to translate to a belief in being able to find another job within the sector and continue a career elsewhere (Meyers et al., 2002:21; Mowday, Steers & Porter, 1979:226). It is also a hallmark of tight labour markets.

The findings further showed that the surveyed ICT workers placed a relatively high value on flexible employment opportunities, with Table 2 revealing a significantly positive relationship between FEP and NCO (.294 significance at p=.005). This accorded with hypothesis 3a. The relationship between FEP and CCO, in contrast, was not significant and did not support hypothesis 3b. The results therefore implied that access to flexible work practices was an antecedent of normative rather than continuance commitment factors. This was another interesting result, as it suggested that the value to employers in offering their workers access to better FEP arrangements was linked to improved employee behaviour, with workers feeling a greater sense of moral duty and/or indebtedness to their organisation, as opposed to simply staying on for purely instrumental reasons, such as the inability to gain similar working conditions elsewhere.

Anecdotal evidence collected during the qualitative stage of this research suggested that this positive link between FEP and NCO was in part linked to feelings of greater trust between the parties, with employees feeling that their employer trusted them to work from home and not shirk their tasks when they were away from the office. This has implications for the Australian ICT sector, which tends to be dominated by SMEs that often lack the resources to compete head-to-head with larger firms for ICT skills on wages alone. The provision of non-wage benefits, such as FEPs, in contrast, provides a relatively low-cost employment relations strategy for SMEs seeking to attract and retain talent (Eaton, 2003; Ross & Ali, 2011). Non-wage benefits, therefore, do not necessarily need to be expensive in order to be effective. Further, FEPs are a particularly attractive non-wage benefit for women workers and the Gen Y cohort (Eisner, 2005; Murphy et al., 2010; Oliver, 2006). During this research, for example, one manager advised that when they directed an ICT graduate employee to finish a project before they went home, the employee replied, 'what you need to understand is that I have a life outside of work!' Other interviewees cited similar anecdotes.

Despite the above potential benefits in terms of increased employee loyalty and commitment, anecdotal evidence elicited during the qualitative stage of this research suggested that formalised flexible work practices were not widespread across the South-East Queensland ICT sector. Rather, flexible work practices were usually decided on an informal or ad hoc basis, if they were offered at all. A problem with such informal approaches is that any perceived gains for employees may be offset by inconsistences in the approach of different managers to requests for time off and the potential for bias towards different employees (Eaton, 2003:50-151).

The apparent lack of formal flexible working arrangements in the sector was also somewhat surprising given the current plethora of relatively low cost technologies that could allow many ICT employees to potentially work from home. Flexible work practices may also be highly suited to ICT workers because the very nature of their work means that the separation of their private and working lives 'is substantially more blurred than in more traditional occupations' (Scholarios & Marks, 2004:54).

Anecdotal evidence suggested that a lack of trust between employers and their employees was a major impediment to their introduction. One manager, for example, advised that flexible work practices such as telework could only work where the firm could trust the employee to be at home and work in an autonomous manner. They further advised that flexible working arrangements didn't work for everyone as it required 'real give and take'. In contrast, the firms that had introduced more formal flexible work practices reported positive results. One ICT firm manager, for example, advised that their worker turnover fell following the introduction of more formal flexible working arrangements, including telework from home. Another manager from a relatively large ICT firm advised that offering flexible working arrangements gave them a competitive advantage in the labour marketplace. This included having 10 per cent of their workers operating from home as teleworkers, who communicated with head office via Windows messenger or Skype. Telework had been of particular benefit to this firm when their female workers took maternity leave, as the firm had been able to retain the services and skills of these employees. The firm further offered other flexible leave options to better suit family circumstances. For example, they allowed one of their overseas born ICT workers to return to their home country for eight weeks every year. While this was twice the normal four week holiday period, the employee teleworked from their home country for four weeks of this time. Such innovative strategies are likely to become more prevalent in an increasingly diverse technologically linked society.

CONCLUSIONS

This research examined commitment factors amongst ICT workers, a labour market sector that provides critical support for 21st century economies. Its findings have both theoretical and practical implications. From a theoretical perspective, the paper built on calls for a greater re-examination of the impact and role of employee normative commitment, by focusing on the important role that normative factors may play in supporting and promoting positive ICT worker commitment in terms of their sense of duty and/or obligation to their organisations. The findings in turn provided some interesting grounds for conjecture.

The positive relationship between ACP and NCO, for example, was in contrast to earlier research on professional knowledge workers (Bagraim, 2004; Benson & Brown, 2007:193). This result suggested that professional values linked to ACP in fact may be an antecedent of NCO. This further suggests that in regard to Queensland-based ICT professional workers at least, employer concerns over the potential negative impacts of professional memberships and networking events, in terms of alternative job seeking opportunities, may be outweighed by the positive benefits of increased associated normative commitment from ICT workers to their firms. New technologies, such as cloud computing and big data, are also changing ICT worker roles and skills and are arguably better linking professional ICT worker knowledge to overall organisational goals and strategies (Ross, 2011; Ross & Blumenstein, 2013). Further research in this area is therefore required to see whether the results of this research, in terms of ACP and NCO, are related to some form of ICT worker exceptionalism or are more generalisable across other knowledge workers and/or professional groups.

FEP was also strongly linked to increased ICT worker normative commitment to the firm. This result showed the potential positive benefits that firms may gain when they offer flexible employment opportunities to their ICT workers. Further, because the survey was of ICT professional workers and not ICT firms per se, this result is more likely to be generalisable across organisations in a range of sectors, rather than ICT firms alone. From a practical perspective, these results suggest that while SMEs cannot generally compete with larger firms on wages alone, they can potentially use FEP as an effective relatively low-cost strategy to attract, retain and develop high quality ICT staff. This is of particular importance to the Queensland ICT sector, which is largely comprised of SMEs. The wide array of relatively cheap ICT-supported workplace communication tools, which are making the geographical location of workers less important (Ross & Blumenstein, 2013), further supports such FEP strategies.

To conclude, this research aimed to provide evidence of the importance of NCO in relation to ICT worker behaviour. While its exploratory nature and limited sample population limits the generalisability of the findings, the research did elicit some interesting outcomes in relation to professional commitment and flexible working practices as outlined above. The findings further suggest the need for researchers to take a more critical approach to the three factor Meyer and Allen (1991) model and consider different approaches that may better elicit and differentiate underlying worker commitment factors and variables (Meyer & Parfyonova, 2010). It further points to the need for further research on the antecedents of organisational commitment amongst ICT workers to see if the outcomes obtained through this analysis of the Queensland ICT sector translate to the broader professional knowledge worker population. The findings should therefore be considered as exploratory until revalidated in a broader and/or different country context.

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ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

The authors would like to thank the Queensland branch of the Australian Computer Society (ACS) for their support during this research.

Peter Ross

Griffith University

Yunus Ali

Monash University Malaysia
Table 1: Exploratory Factor Analysis

Constructs with Measurement Items              Factor Loadings
Affective Commitment to Profession
(Cronbach's Alpha .78)

* Do not feel emotionally attached
  to my profession (R)                         .792
* Become attached to another profession
  as I am to my current                        .698
  profession
* My profession has a great deal of
  personal meaning to me                       .698
* Spend the rest of my career in
  ICT related work                             .685
* Do not feel a strong sense of
  belonging to my profession (R)               .683
Normative Commitment (Cronbach's
Alpha .85)
* Even if it were to my advantage,
  I do not feel it would be right to           .793
  leave my organisation
* I would not leave my organisation
  right now because I have a sense             .786
  of obligation to the people in it
* I would feel guilty if I left my
  organisation now                             .756
* I do not feel any obligation to
  remain with my current employer              .752
* My organisation deserves my loyalty          .689
* I owe a great deal to my organisation        .644
Continuance Commitment (Cronbach's Alpha .81)
* I feel that I have too few options
  to consider leaving this organisation        .755
* Now staying with my organisation
  is a matter of necessity as much as          .751
 desire
* Very hard for me to leave my
  organisation, even if I wanted to            .727
* One of the few serious consequences
  of leaving this organisation is              .692
  scarcity of available alternatives
* Too much of my life would be
  disrupted if decided to leave my             .676
  organisation
* Reason continue to work in this
  organisation is that leaving would           .661
  require considerable personal sacrifice
  Flexible Employment (Cronbach's Alpha .88)
* Allows flexibility in managing work
  schedule to accommodate family               .884
  and/or personal needs without
  consequences
* Easy to get time off for family
  and/or personal requirements as              .880
  needed
* I have a great deal of flexibility
  in how I schedule my work                    .855
* Gives me the opportunity to do
  part-time or flexible time work              .742
  without being penalised

Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis. KMO Measure of Sample
Adequacy: .795
Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser Normalization. Percent of Variance
Explained: 60.22%
R = Negatively worded item scores were reversed to check for
consistency in connotation.

Table 2: Pearson Correlation Matrix

                      Affective      Normative      Continuance
Constructs            Commitment to  Commitment to  Commitment to
                      Profession     Organisation   Organisation
                      (ACP)          (NCO)          (CCO)

* Affective
  Commitment to       1
  Profession (ACP)
* Normative
  Commitment to       .309 (**)       1
  organisation (NCO)
* Continuance
  Commitment to       -.139 (*)       -.079          1
  Organisation (CCO)
* Flexible
  Employment          .104             .294 (**)     -.015
  Practices (FEP)

                      Flexible
Constructs            Employment
                      Practices
                      (FEP)
* Affective
  Commitment to
  Profession (ACP)
* Normative
  Commitment to
  organisation (NCO)
* Continuance
  Commitment to
  Organisation (CCO)
* Flexible
  Employment          1
  Practices (FEP)

Correlations are significant at: (**) 0.01 level and (*) 0.05
(2-tailed).
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Author:Ross, Peter; Ali, Yunus
Publication:International Journal of Employment Studies
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Date:Apr 1, 2017
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