Is More Commitment Always Better? A Study on the Side Effects of Excessive Organizational Commitment on Work–Family Conflict

Published date01 March 2021
Date01 March 2021
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18K2cPGPTOnzMo/input 857799ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X19857799Review of Public Personnel AdministrationLee and Lee
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(1) 25 –56
Is More Commitment
© The Author(s) 2019
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Always Better? A Study on
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X19857799
the Side Effects of Excessive
Organizational Commitment
on Work–Family Conflict
Hayoung Lee1 and Soo-Young Lee1
Despite the growing interest in and efforts for work–family balance, actual improvements
in work–family balance have not been that significant in South Korea (e.g., increase in
karoshi). This study considers an overly organization-oriented perspective as one of the
reasons for this, and focuses on the side effects of excessive organizational commitment
(OC) on work–family conflict (WFC), unlike most previous studies focusing on the positive
effects of OC. Using the Korean Civil Service Survey, we found that OC has a significant
U-shaped relationship with WFC and this U-shaped relationship appeared only in dual-
income families. The results showed that when OC is too high, a negative transfer of
resources from work to family overwhelms a positive transfer, thereby encroaching upon
individuals’ personal lives. Therefore, organizational supports for employees to successfully
perform their roles in the family while maintaining a high level of OC are needed.
organizational behavior/development, family friendly workplace, international public
personnel administration, federal government HRM, workplace environment/culture,
job stress
Work and family are the two most important areas of an individual’s life. In many
societies today, the increase in female economic activities has led to the growth of
dual-income families, which has caused work and family to be considered not as an
1Seoul National University, Korea
Corresponding Author:
Soo-Young Lee, Professor, Graduate School of Public Administration, Seoul National University, 1,
Gwanak-ro, Gwanak-gu, Seoul 08826, Korea.

Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(1)
either-or-not area but as areas that need to be harmonized and coexist (Newman &
Mathews, 1999). As the traditional gender-role boundary has blurred, a number of
employees, regardless of their gender, have thought of both work and family as
important areas of life and have struggled to juggle the competing demands of the
two areas (Byron, 2005, p. 170). In this context, studies on work–family conflict
(WFC) have been steadily increasing (e.g., Fiksenbaum, 2014; Matthews, Winkel, &
Wayne, 2014; Nohe, Meier, Sonntag, & Michel, 2015; Wadsworth & Owens, 2007),
and both the theoretical and practical efforts to balance work and family have been
intensifying globally.
Especially, governments, as an exemplary employer, have actively introduced
many initiatives to improve work–family balance (WFB) and have been leading efforts
to create family friendly workplaces (Newman & Mathews, 1999; Saltzstein, Ting, &
Saltzstein, 2001; Wadsworth & Owens, 2007). However, although the public sector
has been committed to WFB (Persaud, 2001), there are serious questions about the
actual level of WFB in the public sector. Despite many family friendly programs in the
public sector, they are not utilized enough by public employees (Saltzein et al., 2001).
Previous studies suggest that a managerial attitude or an organizational culture that
values workaholic behavior could be one of the major reasons for this underutilization
of WFB policies and little improvement in WFB in the public sector (Newman &
Mathews, 1999).1
In this regard, this study focuses on the organization-oriented perspective of WFB
in the public sector—which tends to regard WFB as a simple management tool for
organizational effectiveness, rather than as a means of improving an individual’s qual-
ity of life (Daley, 1998)—as the possible reason why there has been little improvement
in WFB in the public sector even with the increased efforts. Maxwell and McDougall’s
(2004) case study also found that the main drivers for WFB policies and practices in
the U.K. public sector were to attract, recruit, and retain good employees, which
implies that the WFB initiative in the public sector was based on the organization’s
perspective, not on the individual’s perspective.
The specific location of this study is South Korea where the government has been
actively pursuing policy efforts to improve WFB. South Korea implemented the Equal
Employment Opportunity and Work-Family Balance Assistance Act in 2008, which is
an example of government-level efforts toward WFB. The purpose of this act is to
improve the quality of all the people’s lives by assisting workers in maintaining a
WFB. This act includes protections for parenthood (e.g., maternity and paternity
leave) and assistance for child and family care (e.g., child care leave, family care
leave, subsidies for the living expenses of leaving workers, and provisions for flexible
working hours), and applies to all businesses with employees. Yet, despite such prog-
ress in South Korea’s work–family policy, actual improvements in WFB are actually
not that significant. According to Park, the number of employees who died from over-
working was 205, which was an increase over the number in 2012 (133), despite the
implementation of the Work-Family-Balance Act (Park, 2018). This irony was why we
selected South Korea as the subject of this study.

Lee and Lee
In the case of South Korea where collectivist culture is strong, unlike Western
countries where individualism is high, it is taken for granted that people will tend to
prioritize groups over individuals. Thus, the dark side of an organization-oriented per-
spective on individuals’ WFB can be especially evident in South Korea. Therefore, we
chose to analyze the Korean public sector, which has an organization-oriented per-
spective based on a collectivist culture and has shown little improvement in actual
WFB despite the symbolic improvement (e.g., passage of the Act). This makes it a
useful context to examine how an organization-oriented perspective impedes individu-
als’ WFB. In this study, we see organizational commitment (OC) as an attitudinal vari-
able that strongly reflects an organization-oriented perspective, and we examine the
relationship between OC and WFC.
The organization-oriented perspective has also been reflected in previous research
trends of WFC. Given the growing concern about WFC, much attention has been paid
to work-related outcomes of WFC (Fiksenbaum, 2014, p. 654): job satisfaction (e.g.,
Facer & Wadsworth, 2008; Kossek & Ozeki, 1998), OC (e.g., E. G.Lambert, Pasupuleti,
Cluse-Tolar, Jennings, & Baker, 2006), burnout (e.g., Boles, Johnston, & Hair, 1997),
organizational citizenship behavior (OCB; e.g., Bragger, Rodriguez-Srednicki,
Kutcher, Indovino, & Rosner, 2005), absenteeism (e.g., Hammer, Bauer, & Grandey,
2003), turnover (e.g., Greenhaus, Collins, Singh, & Parasuraman, 1997), and work
performance (e.g., Witt & Carlson, 2006). In addition, previous studies investigating
antecedents of WFC have been actively conducted, many of which were aimed toward
providing practical implications for improving organizational management tools from
an organization-oriented perspective (e.g., Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2006;
Michel, Kotrba, Mitchelson, Clark, & Baltes, 2011).
Given that a more individual-oriented perspective is required to improve the collec-
tive understanding of WFC and substantially reduce WFC, this study focuses on side
effects of excessive OC, which were partly derived from the dominance of the organi-
zation-oriented perspective. Most previous studies have emphasized the positive
effects (e.g., increase in job satisfaction, OCB, job performance; and decrease in
absenteeism, turnover) of OC, thus they have been criticized for favoring the organiza-
tion’s perspective (Meyer, Stanley, Herscovitch, & Topolnytsky, 2002, p. 22). Also,
some researchers have raised concerns about side effects of excessive OC on individu-
als such as WFC, stress, and poor health (e.g., Reilly, 1994). Yet, little research has
been conducted to address these concerns.
This study aims to broaden the horizons of OC research by considering side effects
of excessive OC on WFC. The main research questions of this study are the following:
(1) How does OC affect WFC? (2) How is the relationship between OC and WFC dif-
ferent across the family types (single-income or dual-income family)? To answer these
questions, the present study attempts to explain the relationship between OC and WFC
through the concept of resources transfer between work and family based on the
Conservation of Resources (COR) theory (Hobfoll, 1989). This study highlights the
possibility that the undue emphasis on OC from an organization’s perspective can
make the negative transfer overwhelm the positive transfer between work and family,
which leads to an increase in WFC of individuals.

Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(1)
The “Theoretical Backgrounds and Hypotheses” section elaborates on the possibil-
ity of both negative and positive relationships between OC and WFC from the per-
spective of resources transfer. Subsequently, we suggest two main hypotheses,
proposing a curvilinear or U-shaped relationship between OC and...

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