RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

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Tan, F. M. (2008). Organisational Support as the Mediator of Career-Related HRM Practices and Affective Commitment: Evidence from Knowledge Workers in Malaysia, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 16(2), 8-24.

Organisational Support as the Mediator of Career-Related HRM Practices and Affective Commitment: Evidence from Knowledge Workers in Malaysia

Foong Ming Tan

Abstract

A growing body of research in the new career theory suggests that the shift of organisational career management to individual responsibility causes diminishing employee commitment to organisations. Whilst there is some evidence that individual employees still rely on careerrelated human resource management practices (HRMP) to develop and foster their careers, the relationship between career-related HRMP and affective organisational commitment (AC), and the mediating role of perceived organisational support (POS) needs further investigation. In this study it is proposed that individual perceptions of career-related HRMP could enhance an employee’s belief in individual career support (perceived organisational support, POS), and thus, increase affective attachment to an organisation. Grouping career development opportunities, internal promotion, supervisory support, and overall pay satisfaction as career-related HRMP, the relationships with POS and with AC were examined. A survey involving 329 Malaysian knowledge workers from four knowledge intensive industries was used for the investigation. Structural equation modelling analysis revealed that career-related HRMP are antecedents of POS, and POS partially and fully mediates career-related HRMP with AC. In particular, POS fully mediates internal promotion and supervisory support with AC. Results suggested that organisations need to play a more supportive role in generating a strategic integration of employee development programmes by providing a career path and supervisory coaching to extend an employee’s employability and career prospects. This new form of career-related HRMP and its implications in terms of HRM policies and practices in contemporary organisations is discussed.

Introduction

In Malaysia, the shift of a production based economy into a knowledge economy in the 1990s has spawned a variety of knowledge driven activities and entailed changes in the demand for intellectual manpower. The Third Outline Perspective Plan, which constitutes the second decade of development for the Malaysian economy, projects a net increase of 230 per cent for engineers and more than 184 per cent for information and communication specialists from year 2001 to 2010 (Economic Planning Unit 2001). Despite this increasing demand, the biggest challenge is to develop and retain more knowledge workers than to hire them (Hong & Hor 2000). In addition, a study conducted by Lim (2001) reported that Malaysian employees in general are willing to stay with their current employers for less than three years. And the finding of another survey (Husna 2005) showed that 74 per cent of the country’s younger employees (less than 35 years of age) said they had changed employers over the past five years, with 39 per cent intending to change employers again within the next two years. Indeed, the loyalty and commitment of knowledge workers is becoming the most critical management problem for knowledge intensive industries (Alvesson 2000), and needless to say, this is essential for a progressive knowledge based economy such as that of Malaysia.

Knowledge workers’ expertise is built through years of education and socialisation with peers and networks, yet employees are likely to have stronger commitment to their professions, career or work teams rather than to their employing organisation (Causer & Jones 1996). In addition, external economic factors also contribute to the diminishing organisational commitment, a point that is expressed in the contemporary management literature where it is noted that drastic organisational changes such as mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, and bankruptcies no longer provide employees with secure employment. Thus, it is more important for individuals to gain ‘marketability’ and ‘employability’ (Ghoshal, Bartlett & Moran 1999, Tin 2006) across professions and industries rather than remain competent in a single organisation. As a result, the definition of contemporary career success transcends moving upward in an organisational hierarchy, to span across functions, industries, and even sectors (Hall 2002). The success in a new career is more individualistic and concerns inner feelings of self actualisation, fulfillment, and satisfaction across work and non work activities (Baruch 2004). Consequently, with the increasing responsibility for individuals to manage their own careers, their commitments could diversify from a single form of organisational commitment into multiple forms including profession, family or even religion (Cohen 2003, Baruch 2004).

Previous research has shown a dual dependent and reciprocal relationship between career-related human resource management practices (HRMP) and organisational commitment. Such observable conditions suggest organisational career practices could be influential to an employee’s attitude and work related behaviour (Sturges, Conway, Guest & Lifefooghe 2005, Zaleska & de Menezes 2007). Then a work related social exchange that is implied in these types of employment relationship research may be linked to career-related HRMP with employee commitment. Arguably, social exchange theory views the exchange of visible and non visible materials for the return of gratification between an organisation and an employee in a social relationship (Blau 1964). This social exchange notion involves unspecified obligations in the belief of reciprocity under a generalised moral norm (Gouldner 1960) while organisational support theory, that extends the underpinning of social exchange and norm of reciprocity, proposes that an organisation receives an employee’s affective commitment if the employee believes his or her needs are being fulfilled (Eisenberger, Huntington, Hutchison & Sowa 1986). Support for this paradigm is given by Allen and Meyer (1990) who contend that an affectively committed employee identifies the current organisation as his or her employer, unifies personal career goals with organisational achievements and is willing to strive for the organisation. Moreover, several studies reported that empirical evidence of several career development practices could be regarded as a form of organisational support (Wayne, Shore & Liden 1997, Rhoades, Eisenberger & Armeli 2001, Tansky & Cohen 2001, Liu 2004). Consequently, it is believed that the organisational support presented in the form of career-related HRMP could enhance a durable exchange relationship between an organisation and employees, such as reducing absenteeism and turnover, and to increase AC and work performance (Rhoades, et al. 2001).

The task of knowledge workers involves innovation, creativity and problem solving, and so, their commitment and contribution has the potential to seriously impact the long term development of a firm. To better understand what contributes to the commitment of contemporary Malaysian knowledge workers, this study presented and tested a model that explains the psychological mechanism of knowledge workers. Based on the nature of the social exchange, this study investigated a paradigm that career-related HRMP serves as the antecedents of perceived organisational support (POS) and AC. From a review of the relevant knowledge worker literature, it appears that research exploring career-related HRMP with AC in newer career settings has yet to be reported. A further aim of this study is to examine the mediating relationship of POS between career-related HRMP and AC. In fact the study will assess the proposition that an employee who believes an organisation takes an active role in developing their career is likely to feel indebted and obliged to repay this with increased affective attachment. Such a notion suggests that POS could fill the gap in enhancing organisational commitment and loyalty with career management activities.

Using knowledge workers from four different industries, namely finance, information technology (IT), manufacturing, and educational institutions, this paper examines three hypotheses in explaining the relationship between career-related HRMP, POS and AC. The first section of the paper provides an overview of the relevant literature that links the concept of career-related HRMP with AC in the contemporary career setting and how POS fits into the relationship. The second section describes the study methodology, the procedure, the measures and the analysis. The third section features a number of Tables and Figures, and is followed by a discussion and conclusion to elucidate the salient implications and consequences of the findings for researchers and practitioners.

Theory and Hypotheses

Career-Related Human Resource Management Practices

A career is defined as a lifelong process made up of sequential activities with relevant attitudes and behaviours that take place throughout an individual’s work life (Hall 1986). A more recent definition presents the notion of a career as a process of the development of an individual employee with job attachments and experiences in one or more organisations (Baruch 2004). There is an increasing body of research that suggests the responsibility of one’s career has shifted from organisational to individual such as the boundaryless and protean career (DeFillippi & Arthur 1994, Hall 1996). On the one hand a boundaryless career emphasises career competency and that a career transcends the boundary of an organisation (DeFillippi & Arthur 1994). On the other hand a protean career addresses career adaptability whereby an individual adapts mental models of career success (Hall 1996). These two broad concepts imply that an individual should take a more proactive role in career management so as to be no longer bound by the organisational hierarchy, but in fact to be liberated from occupational areas, functions, and sectors (Sturges, et al. 2005, Lips-Wiersma & Hall 2007, Zaleska & de Menezes 2007). In these more expansive frameworks, individuals are able to generate a broader sense of self development to gain marketable and employable qualities in the labour market (Ghoshal, et al. 1999, Tin 2006). But today individuals have multiple forms of commitments including occupation and profession, peer support, family, and religion (Cohen 2003, Baruch 2004), and these new social norms imply that contemporary careers are becoming less proximal to career-related HRMP thus, causing a diminishing commitment and loyalty to organisations.

This study contends that career-related HRMP delivers progressive career support and development to employees. A central theme of the manuscript is that career-related HRMP is classified as programmes that provide directions and sequential steps for employees to attain specific career goals such as skills, interests and values to establish career plans within an organisation (Hall 1986, Nadler & Nadler 1989). In particular, moving up the hierarchy, obtaining high earnings, providing a secured position with an organisation, giving adequate supervision, and ensuring career mentoring are somewhat organisational responsibilities which are yet to be learned. Underpinning to this perspective is given by Gutteridge, Leibowitz and Shore (1993), who reported that career-related HRMP is likely to enhance employee retention, increase employees’ skills, build morale, and encourage empowerment. The development of these strategies leads to an improvement of strategic outcomes for the organisation.

Current evidence contends that many employees are still reliant on career-related HRMP. Pringle and Mallon (2003) comment that the new career concept needs space for an explanatory expansion. A study by Zaleska and de Menezes (2007), using employees from six organisations in the United Kingdom between the year 1997 and 2000, enabled the researchers to postulate that the new career model will cause a reduction of organisational commitment in comparison to the traditional career model. However, their research findings showed that although a new career pattern may exist, the traditional career model is still prevalent in most organisations. This evidence suggests that organisations remain involved in career planning, and consequently, the succession of individual workers. Nevertheless, traditional top down career management systems are less appropriate in today’s fast changing business environments. A substantial challenge for organisations of modernity is to adapt to the changing needs of their current employees and the environment by applying a more adaptive approach to support, coach, foster and motivate their employees. And there is some evidence to suggest that the collaborative effort in career-related HRMP benefits both parties. Some support for this contention was provided by Lips-Wiersma and Hall (2007), who found that organisations and individuals were involved in a ‘highly interactive mutual influence process’ in the management of career development for managers and employees. Additional support is presented by Sturges, et al. (2005), who found that career-related HRMP was linked to the increase in organisational commitment through consolidating a psychological contract between an organisation and an employee. The study by Zaleska and de Mendes (2007) led to a suggestion that organisational commitment is associated with traditional career-related HRMP, which reinforces a viewpoint that career-related HRMP has the potential to promote organisational commitment.

Four career-related HRMP variables were evaluated in this study. These four constructs are: 1) career development opportunities, 2) internal promotion, 3) supervisory support, and 4) overall pay satisfaction. Organisational career management practices that contribute to the investment and support to an employee’s career (i.e., career development) demonstrate that the organisation is seeking to establish a social exchange relationship with employees. The provision of career development opportunities could expand one’s capability, and offer guidance and support for employees to achieve long-term career development and competency at work (Paré & Trembley 2000, Liu 2004). The second variable that was examined, promotion, is a formal acknowledgement of one’s performance to be appreciated via moving up the organisational hierarchy. And social exchange theory (Blau 1964) postulates that a promoted employee who feels valued by the organisation is likely to repay the organisation with dedication to achieve organisational goals while supervisory support refers to positive evaluation and instruction of one’s performance and job direction, career mentoring and the expansion of one’s career network. The provision of such support is one of the important components to develop, motivate and retain knowledge workers (Weiss 1983, Lee 2004, Bigliardi, Petroni & Dormio 2005). Finally, overall pay satisfaction reflects how employees are appreciated via attractive monetary rewards. Compared to professionals in other occupations, knowledge workers are found to have a strong need for personal growth and career development (Allen & Katz 1995, Paré & Trembley 2000, Gordon & Bal 2001). Given the nature of knowledge workers, this study explores their perceptions on career-related HRMP in relation to AC.

Surprisingly, there is limited empirical research between career-related HRMP and AC on Asian knowledge workers. Paré and Trembley (2000) found that job recognition and empowerment were positively related to AC for Canadian IT workers. Research on Australian finance and telecommunication organisations revealed that the opportunity to be able to extend one’s specialisation, promotional opportunities and participation in decision making are more preferred to increase AC (Tam, Korczynski & Frenkel 2002). A more recent study found that career development, performance appraisal, compensation and comprehensive training are effective in improving AC for Indian IT workers (Paul & Anantharaman 2004), leaving more room in the research of other Asian knowledge workers in relation to organisational career management activities. Despite being more proactive in managing their own career, employees continue to associate their personal career development and affective attachment with organisations in the contemporary career setting. These imperatives, which have been established through previous research, provide the conjecture for hypothesis one.

H1: Career-related human resource management practices are positively related to affective organisational commitment.

Antecedents of POS

Perceived organisational support (POS) is assumed to be a global belief that employees develop concerning the extent to which the organisation values their contributions and cares about their well being (Eisenberger, et al. 1986). The act of showing an investment in or recognition of employee contribution with discretion, in the sense that the organisation is not obliged to offer the practice to everyone, shows positive valuation to employees (Eisenberger, et al. 1986). Moreover, the act that caters to the socio emotional needs for esteem, approval, and affiliation is contended to enhance POS (Rhoades, et al. 2001). As such, a long history of supportive human resource management policies and procedures (Wayne, et al. 1997), the receipt of favourable resources and treatment (Tansky & Cohen 2001), and interaction with agents (management and supervisors) of the organisation (Rhoades, et al. 2001) could distil positive organisational orientations to the employee. Consequently, researchers theoretically (Blau 1964) and empirically (Stinglhamber, De Cremer & Mercken 2006) suggested that POS provides the basis for an employee to trust the organisation. These favourable treatments to employees could put forward their interpretations of an organisation’s genuine respect for them.

POS is likely to be heightened when employees believe they may benefit from favourable supportive work conditions in relation to individual career progress. This is especially important and helpful to knowledge workers who are constantly facing the need for personal development with updated skills and knowledge to ‘keep up with’ the demand of the knowledge work (Gordon & Bal 2001, Lee 2004, Bigliardi, et al. 2005). The promotion of career-related HRMP indicates that an organisation is offering a working environment conducive to self learning and development, showing willingness to invest in employees and providing appreciation of performing employees. Accordingly, the provision of discretionary career development, monetary rewards, and clear career paths could raise the indebtedness to an organisation. The social exchange mechanism invokes employees who receive positive career treatment and feel the obligation to repay the treatment by extending a personal effort to achieve organisational goals.

Extending organisational support theory, this study proposes the provision of a comprehensive career development programme including career development opportunities, internal promotion, and supervisory support could be visibly showing an organisational investment and appreciation to the employees. Apart from career development there is also some suggestion that monetary rewards could be a visible form of organisational recognition (such as actual salary or salary increases) that relate to an increase of POS. For instance, Liu (2004) reported a weak relationship between the satisfaction of current salary with POS, leaving a question that the overall salary package could generate more visible support and appreciation. Thus, this study considers that overall pay satisfaction could be added to the career-related HRMP as the antecedent of POS. As such, a discretionary career-related HRMP that fits into employees’ needs provides the foundation for the second hypothesis.

H2: Career-related human resource management practices are antecedents of perceived organisational support.

POS as Mediator

Organisational support theory highlights two elements in the exchange relationship. The first element emphasises the importance of discretionary organisational treatment to employees, and the second element emphasises the indebtedness that causes employees to feel obliged to repay their organisation. Employers offer discretionary practices that lead employees to interpret such actions as important to their future career (Wayne, et al. 1997). Employees who perceive that they might receive a high level of organisational support are likely to feel indebted when such practices are discretionary, relevant and not readily offered by other organisations. As the exchange resource moves towards more of the fulfillment of impersonal or socio emotional needs, the trust between both parties gets strengthened (Blau 1964). Such indebtedness is likely to be repaid with favourable organisational returns such as loyalty and attachment, which are also needed by organisations. Career development programmes and organisational rewards that are specially designed for knowledge workers could fulfill their needs in extending their specialisation and career prospects, and thus, generate a stronger magnitude of obligation for them to balance the indebtedness by remaining in and striving for the organisation. The extent of this phenomenon of mutual gratification reciprocity is likely to generate stronger trust and a bond in the employee-employer relationship (Blau 1964, Eisenberger, et al. 1986).

Recent findings suggest that career management in today’s organisations is a complex human resource management function. Moreover, the newer career development framework requires a convergence of the efforts of an organisation and its employees (Lips-Wiersma & Hall 2007). Most importantly, these career management practices are related to the psychological confidence of employees that could form a stronger attachment with the organisation. In an earlier study career researchers empirically reported that an individual’s career experiences and perceptions of HRMP are associated with psychological commitment (Gaertner & Nollen 1989). Their findings imply that there may be an intermediate link in explaining the relationship between career-related HRMP and AC through psychological mechanisms in the light of organisational support theory. A later study (Tansky & Cohen 2001) found the relationship between career development satisfaction and organisational commitment was mediated by POS. In the same year Rhoades, et al. (2001) reported that POS mediated the relationship between rewards and supervisory support with AC through diverse occupations with US employees. The underlying psychological and exchange approaches enhance the possibility of placing POS as the mediator in this research. To more fully explore the mediating role of POS with other career-related HRMP in the Malaysian context, the third hypothesis is advanced.

H3: Perceived organisational support mediates the relationship between career-related human resource management practices and affective organisational commitment.

Methodology

Sample and Site

In an endeavour to ensure participants were reasonably qualified, this study adopts the definition of knowledge workers as creative, innovative, educated and skilled workers (Economic Planning Unit 2001). Using such a definition, the sample is limited to workers who are professionally, academically or vocationally trained, and able to utilise their knowledge to achieve goals for their department and organisation. Respondents were strictly categorised by work experience, education background, and job position. Respondents had an average of 8.1 years working experience (SD = 6.4). A total of 46 per cent had graduated with a bachelor degree, 41 per cent had professional or vocational qualifications, whilst 13 per cent had completed a post graduate programme, with an average of 31 years of age (SD = 6.8), and an average organisational tenure of 4.2 years (SD = 4.8). The respondents ranged from junior to senior executives (the term ‘executive’ commonly used in Malaysian organisations for non managerial employees). Some 60 per cent of the employees were single, and 58 per cent were female. Overall, the participants in this study were comprised of 68.7 per cent Chinese, 17.5 per cent Malays, 10.3 per cent Indians, 2.1 per cent expatriates, and 1.5 per cent from other ethnicities.

Through personal contact, consent was given to the researcher to access the database of a professional Malaysia HR publishing company. Forty organisations from various knowledge intensive industries were selected and approached. Four HR managers from the finance, IT, manufacturing, and education firms responded. The participating organisations are local, with cadres ranging from 300 to 500 employees, and are considered to be medium sized enterprises. The financial company provided the list with 28 per cent of the total respondents, next was IT with 25 per cent, which was marginally more than both manufacturing (which contributed 24) per cent and the educational institution, which presented 23 per cent of the data.

Procedure

A survey questionnaire was administered from September to early December 2006. Using the national mail system a cover letter, attached with the survey forms, was delivered to a total of 1021 employees. As English is an accepted medium used in the public and private sector in Malaysia, and this language was used in previous studies (Westwood & Everett 1995, Lim 2001, Lim & Itakura 2003), the letter and questionnaire were presented in the English language. The respondents were asked to return the survey directly to the researcher in the postage paid envelope that was attached to the questionnaire, in order to remain confidentiality and anonymity. A follow up mailing with the same questionnaire attached took place three weeks later after the initial mailing to remind respondents to ‘fill in’ and return the questionnaires. A total of 329 out of 367 received surveys were found usable for analysis. Thus, a response rate of 32 per cent, which is considered acceptable, as Malaysians are not renown for completing work related questionnaires (Westwood & Everett 1995), was obtained.

Measures

Questions were designed to measure the employees’ feelings at an individual level. All the measures were assessed using a seven point Likert scale (1 = strongly dissatisfied/disagree to 7 = strongly satisfied/agree).

Career Development Opportunities

Career development opportunities were measured with four items adapted from a PhD thesis developed by Liu (2004) to measure long-term career development and the pursuit of personal career goals with the employing organisation. Examples are ‘In the long run, my organisation will facilitate me accomplishing my goals’ and ‘My organisation takes steps to insure that I maximise my career potential’. The alpha reliability of career development opportunities scale was .94.

Internal Promotion

Internal promotion was assessed with three items that were employed by Gaertner and Nollen (1989) with adaptation to measure the promotional practices in an organisation. Questions included ‘Preferences to promote within’ and ‘Placing people to new jobs rather than hiring from outside’. The alpha reliability score of the instruments was .78.

Supervisory Support

Supervisory support was measured with eight items reworded from the work of London (1993). These items measured five perspectives of supervisory support to employees including the aspect of empowerment, trust, respect, career and performance feedback given by their immediate supervisors. Questions such as ‘Your supervisor jointly sets performance objectives with you’, ‘Your supervisor helps you develop career plans’, and ‘Your supervisor gives you the authority you need to do the job’ were used to examine the level of supervision, mentoring and treatment. The alpha reliability of this scale was .94.

Overall Pay Satisfaction

Overall pay satisfaction was assessed with a six item scale. This instrument was adapted from the instrument that was developed by Heneman and Schwab (1985). Overall pay satisfaction evaluated the extent an employee was satisfied with current pay conditions with the employing organisation. This study included four elements of pay including pay level, pay benefits, pay raise, and pay structure/ administration to measure the satisfaction with pay. The alpha reliability of this scale was .89.

Perceived Organisational Support (POS)

POS was measured with a 10 item scale developed in the study of Eisenberger, et al. (1986) to assess respondents’ perceptions about organisational support in terms of contribution and well being. Previous studies have surveyed different occupations and organisations to provide high reliability and uni-dimensionality in the survey of POS (Eisenberger, et al. 1986, Rhoades & Eisenberger 2002). The measures with the highest loadings in POS scales were selected equally in regards of the two sections (employees’ well being and contribution). An example of contributions was, ‘Even if I did the best job possible, the organisation would fail to notice’ (reverse scored). A further example of a well being item was, ‘The organisation really cares about my well-being’. The alpha reliability of this scale was .85.

Affective Organisational Commitment (AC)

The measure of AC was assessed with a five item scale developed by Allen and Meyer (1990) to learn employees’ affective condition with their employers. Statements such as ‘I would be very happy to spend the rest of my career with this organisation’, ‘I do not feel emotionally attached to this organisation’ (reverse scored) and ‘I really feel as if this organisation’s problems are my own’ were included in the survey. The alpha reliability of this scale was .79.

Control Variables

Demographic variables such as sex and marital status which would affect AC were added as control variables. Following the study by Rhoades and colleagues (2001), this study also controlled tenure in years for both POS and AC in the structural equation.

Analysis

A two step procedure involving confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and structural equation modelling (SEM) by AMOS software (Anderson & Gerbing 1988) was applied to test the hypotheses. In Step 1 CFA was conducted to examine the distinctiveness of the six variables used in this study. In Step 2, the researcher used a model comparison procedure to evaluate the structural models with mediating effect. To limit the number of estimated parameters, each factor was measured by three indicators with the highest score. POS was constituted by six indicators with an equal distribution of measures for support for well being and recognition of contribution. The score for each indicator was computed as the mean of the score on the items that constituted each indicator.

In conducting CFA, all variables were tested via a sequence of nested models by comparing 6-factor model, 3-factor model, 2-factor model, and a 1-factor model. The model fit was compared to find the best model that explains the distinctiveness of the factors. All six variables were loaded as six factors in a 6-factor model. In the 3-factor model, career-related HRMP, POS and AC were loaded on a single factor. In the 2-factor model, career-related HRMP was loaded as one factor, and POS and AC were loaded as another. All six variables were loaded on one factor on the 1-factor model. A chi-square difference test was used to compare the nested models with the hypothesised 6-factor model.

In testing the mediation effect, this study applied techniques recommended by Baron and Kenny (1986). Four conditions need to be met in testing the mediator: (a) the independent variable is significantly related to the dependent variable; (b) the independent variable is significantly related to the mediator; (c) the mediator is significantly related to the dependent variable; and (d) the independent variable has no significant effect on the dependent variable when the mediator is held constant (full mediation) or the significant level should become smaller (partial mediation). The mediated model was tested with one path from career-related HRMP added to AC, and the fifth mediated model was measured with all four paths from career-related HRMP added to AC. These five models were compared to the hypothesised full mediated model to examine the fourth condition of mediation and assess the best fitting model.

In SEM a comparison of a hypothesised model and the estimated path model serve as a test of the importance of the estimated parameters (Bentler & Bonett 1980). The chi-square differences and goodness-of-fit indices were compared. The significant in chi-square differences suggests that the added path compared to the hypothesised model is meaningful (Anderson & Gerbing 1988). Goodnessof- fit indices used for examination were those such as: the Tucker Lewis Index (TLI) (Tucker & Lewis 1973), the comparative fit index (CFI) (Bentler 1990), and the Root Mean Squared Error of Approximation (RMSEA) (Steigner 1990). Recommended score of TLI that is greater than or equal to .96, CFI that is greater than or equal to .96, and RMSEA is less than or equal to .06 (Hu & Bentler 1999) show the parsimony adjusted fit indices for the overall model fit.

Results

Table 1 presents the CFA results. The significant difference in chi-squares and the goodness-of-fit indices within a satisfactory level suggested that the 6-factor model was an acceptable model [χ2(227)=474.10, p<.001; TLI=.95; CFI=.96; RMSEA=.06]. All factors examined in this study are distinctively assessed.

Table 1
Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA)
Models χ2 df δχ2 δdf p TLI CFI RMSEA
6-Factor Model 474.10** 227 0.95 0.96 0.06
3-Factor Model 1,455.66** 237 981.56 10 ** 0.77 0.80 0.12
2-Factor Model 661.15** 238 187.05 11 ** 0.92 0.93 0.07
1-Factor Model 1,936.42** 240 1,462.33 13 ** 0.68 0.72 0.14

Notes:
a. Number of respondents = 329, **p < 0.001
b. χ2 = chi-square, df = degrees of freedom
c. δχ2 = chi-square difference, δdf = degrees of freedom difference
d. TLI = Tucker-Lewis Index, CFI = Comparative Fit Index and RMSEA = Root Mean Square error of Approximation
e. CD = Career Development Opportunities, IP = Internal Promotion, SS = Supervisory Support, PS = Pay Satisfaction, POS = Perceived Organisational Support, and AFC = Affective Organisational Commitment
f. 6-Factor Model: CD, IP, SS, PS, POS, AC as one single factor
g. 3-Factor Model: Load CD, IP, SS, PS as one factor, POS as single factor, AC as single facor
h. 2-Factor Model: Load CD, IP, SS, PS as one factor, POS and AC as one facor
i. 1-Factor Model: All CD, IP, SS, PS, POS, AC as one single facor

Table 2 shows means, standard deviations, Cronbach’s alphas and correlations for all the variables. All the reliability scores were above .70, indicating a satisfactory consistency across items.

Table 2
Descriptive Statistics, Cronbach’s Coefficient Alpha and Zero-Order Correlations
Models M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6
1 Career development opportunities 4.02 1.33 0.94
2 Internal promotion 4.02 1.15 0.61 0.78
3 Supervisory support 4.42 1.23 0.61 0.55 0.94
4 Pay satisfaction 3.83 1.23 0.48 0.53 0.42 0.89
5 Perceived organisational support 4.30 0.84 0.64 0.54 0.61 0.44 0.85
6 Affective organisational commitment 4.03 1.08 0.56 0.43 0.42 0.45 0.55 0.79

Notes:
a. All correlations are significant at the 0.01 level.
b. N = 329
c. Bold values on the diagonal are alpha reliabilities.
d. M = Mean, SD = Standard deviation

Results for Hypothesis 1 are shown in Figure 1 using multiple regression analysis with AMOS. All the career-related HRMP are positively related to AC, confirming that career-related HRMP could elevate a knowledge worker’s affectionate attachment to an organisation as proposed in Hypothesis 1.

Figure 1
Regression Results of Career-related HRMP on AC
Regression Results of Career-related HRMP on AC
Note: p < 0.001

Analyses for Hypothesis 2 and 3 were performed using maximum likelihood parameter estimates with AMOS. Figure 2 presents the best fit model of Model 6 in Table 3. The results showed that all the career-related HRMP were positively related to POS, providing support for hypothesis 2.

Table 3
Models χ2 df δχ2 δdf TLI CFI RMSEA
Model 1 (hypothesized fully mediated model) 73.04** 21 49.02** 4 0.90 0.94 0.09
Model 2 (Partially mediated for CD) 36.17** 20 12.15** 3 0.97 0.98 0.05
Model 2 (Partially mediated for IP) 61.79** 20 37.77** 3 0.91 0.95 0.08
Model 2 (Partially mediated for SS) 68.52** 20 44.50** 3 0.90 0.94 0.09
Model 2 (Partially mediated for PS) 49.57** 20 25.55** 3 0.94 0.97 0.07
Model 2 (Partially mediated model) 24.02 17 0.98 0.99 0.04

Notes:
a. N = 329, *p < 0.05, and **p < 0.001
b. χ2 = chi-square, df = degrees of freedom
c. δχ2 = chi-square difference, δdf = degrees of freedom difference
d. TLI = Tucker-Lewis Index, CFI = Comparative Fit Index and RMSEA = Root Mean Square Error of Approximation
e. CD = Career Development Opportunities, IP = Internal Promotion, SS = Supervisory Support, PS = Pay Satisfaction, POS = Perceived Organisational Support, and AFC = Affective Organisational Commitment
f. Model 1: Paths from CD, IP, SS, PS to POS, POS to AC
g. Model 2: Add path from CD to AC
h. Model 3: Add path from IP to AC
i. Model 4: Add path from SS to AC
j. Model 5: Add path from PS to AC
k. Model 6: Add paths from HRMPs to AC

To examine the fourth condition for mediation, Table 3 shows the result for a hypothesised model and five nested models. Models 2 to 5 tested the partial mediating effect for overall pay satisfaction, internal promotion, supervisory support and career development opportunities. Model 6 was tested by adding four paths from career-related HRMP to AC. Hypothesised Model 1 reported merely acceptable scores at [χ2(21)=73.04, p<.001; TLI=.90; CFI=.94; RMSEA=.09]. The model comparison was performed until a best fit model was found to be better than the hypothesised model. Model 6 [χ2(17)=24.02, p>.05] with non significant chi-square value, suggested an initially better model fit. To assess whether Model 6 was the best depiction of the data, a chi-square difference test procedure was carried out with other alternative models. The reported chi-square differences of the hypothesised model and other four alternative models are significant, suggesting that the four added paths in Model 6 are better. The goodness-of-fit indices were also within acceptable goodness-of-fit measures, suggesting a strong fit for Model 6 [TLI=.98; CFI=.99; RMSEA=.04], indicating that Model 6 should be retained. Standardised parameters for each path in Model 6 are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Best Fit Model 6 and Results of Parameters Results for Hypothesis 2 and 3
Best Fit Model 6 and Results of Parameters Results for Hypothesis 2 and 3
Note: p < 0.001

The results of Model 6 showed that POS fully mediates internal promotion and supervisory support and partially mediates pay satisfaction and career development opportunities with AC. Hypothesis 3 is partially supported.

Discussion

This study explores the relationship between knowledge workers’ perception of career-related HRMP with POS and with AC, and the psychological mechanisms with POS as a mediator in the contemporary career environment. Based on organisational support theory with an underpinning of social exchange mechanisms and the norm of reciprocity, the findings provide some supports for links in the new career setting as advanced in the hypotheses.

The results showed that knowledge workers see career-related HRMP as a form of important development practices that lead them to associate their future careers with their employers. The study confirms, through the lens of Malaysian workers, that career-oriented organisational practices help increase an employee’s commitment to an organisation. Overall, career development opportunities bring the most affective effects to an organisation. It reinforces findings of a study by Zaleska and de Mendes (2007), which found the traditional form of career-related HRMP relates to a knowledge workers’ affective attachment with their employing organisation, despite observation that these professions possess personal career attentions. Organisations that take steps in supporting an employee’s long term career goals and maximising career potential might demonstrate to employees the organisational effort and investment required in assisting employees to expand their skills for employability. Alternatively, individuals who seek a career in an organisation might fit well with the organisational career management programmes. A good remuneration package, internal promotion, and career support from supervisors are work related features that can have a relatively similar effect on AC, indicating these practices could be essential in extending career networks and gaining satisfaction from rewards and performance appraisals.

Corroborating the global conception of POS (Eisenberger, et al. 1986), career-related HRMP serve as positive antecedents of POS, suggesting that organisational career practices generate a supportive work environment for Malaysian knowledge workers. Despite Western POS literature that emphasises rewards as a prominent resource in the exchange relationship, the study reported a weak relationship between overall pay satisfaction and POS. The weak marginal relation on overall pay satisfaction towards POS (b=.09, p<.10) is consistent with Liu’s (2004) findings on IT workers, suggesting that Malaysian knowledge workers are unlikely to consider pay as a token of appreciation and recognition by their employers. While remuneration reflects a visible form of organisational rewards and an appreciation of their contribution, knowledge workers might consider that the importance of capability and employability goes beyond monetary rewards especially in the early stages of a career. Knowledge workers engage in long working hours to solve complicated work tasks (Alvesson 2000). As such, their efforts and productivity could hardly be assessed and ‘paid off’ by an equivalent monetary reward. The provision of organisational development could be more essential in the preparation stages of increasing one’s employability and specialisation. Another explanation could be that knowledge workers are usually well paid compared to other professions. As such, pay is viewed as a lower level of support that fulfils only the physiological needs compared to a higher and broader form of career pursuits (Liu 2004).

Compared to other antecedents of POS, the results showed that supervisory support and career development opportunities are more instrumental in adding value to one’s specialty and marketability. Career development opportunities expand one’s career horizon, while supervisors play an important role in providing informal career advice, extending career networks, and recommending appropriate training or promotional opportunities. The results also form an interpretation that a good relationship with immediate supervisors is considered important for Malaysian workers. A supervisor’s positive influence together with organisational decisions reveal a more personal, discretionary form of decision making to support and evaluate employees, and in return, this garners employees to have stronger reciprocal attachments and identification with an organisation. Thus, a contingent career development programme with a distinctive career path in an organisation and supervisory assistance could be more attractive to knowledge workers.

To address the role of a mediator, POS fully mediates internal promotion and supervisory support, and partially mediates overall career development opportunities and pay satisfaction with AC. This finding shows that employees who are looking for a career in an organisation are likely to feel affectively attached to the organisation when there is a provision of a career path and supervision. Since the respondents are relatively young (average 31 years age) and single (60 per cent), supervisory advice, guidance, and promotion within an organisation are somewhat essential to their career pursuits. Although contemporary career theory suggests that career success is not confined to moving upward within an organisation, promotion somehow reflects one’s ability and potential to grow beyond one’s current responsibilities. Similarly, supervisors provide more direct personal advice, instructions, access to career networks and other potential career opportunities to knowledge workers. Supervisors who effectively carry out a career mentor responsibility display a personified organisational support to employees. Organisations that offer career development, coaching and directions to knowledge workers are showing interest in providing a career path to employees and upgrading their skills inhouse. The social exchange mechanism invokes employees to express their gratitude to their organisation. In the case that organisational career management and an employees’ career goals are aligned, employees see it as worth putting in extra effort and involvement to achieve organisational success. This mutual effort could assist knowledge intensive organisations to concentrate on developing a competitive advantage with a loyal workforce.

The findings reveal that the reducing organisational commitment of employees in knowledge intensive organisations could be due to lack of organisational support catering to the career needs of knowledge workers. By enforcing integrative organisational supportive policies and practices, this paper demonstrates the association between an organisational level of career practices and individual attitudes at work via POS. The observation suggests that career-related HRMP and individual career success are dependent and appear to be mutually supported. The competition of knowledge firms in getting capable human capital mainly depends on how supportive they are in fitting in with an employee’s career needs, which is also built on ongoing job training and work experience. If both parties are contributing to the mutual needs, such exchange sustains a durable employment relationship.

Conclusion

This study raises several issues for future research. First, the current findings suggested that careerrelated HRMPs are important elements of organisational support, and the perception of organisational support enhances employees’ affective attachment to their organisations. Future endeavours using longitudinal methods could provide confirmation to the present inferences on the psychological mechanisms. Second, this study does not measure social exchange and the norm of reciprocity in examining the psychological mechanisms in this study. Future studies should seek to include these measures to confirm validation of the underlying social exchange and norm of reciprocity assumptions in explaining the employee-organisational exchange relationship. Other work outcomes such as employee performance and turnover records could also be included in the understanding of the relationship. Finally, qualitative methods such as interviewing employees and managers could complement an in-depth understanding to the empirical findings provided in the contemporary career theory (Tam, et al. 2002, Lips-Wiersma & Hall 2007).

The increasing job insecurity caused by external economic pressure has driven the needs of individuals to gain capital worth and gain employability (Tin 2006). Also, individuals are often confronted with new kinds of tasks and challenges, which are different from traditional repetitive, routine and structured forms of work along organisational hierarchies. Thus, this rising group of intellectual workers is different from traditional disposable or exchangeable operation entities. They are valuable human capital that utilises their specialties and skills to help knowledge intensive organisations to gain a competitive advantage. The present study provides significant findings to HR practitioners of the type of career support knowledge workers are looking for and suggests that HR practitioners can play key roles in providing career support activities as important motivation and retention strategies. Indeed, HR managers may be able to generate a specific corporate strategy to target ambitious employees who want a career within the organisation. In agreement with Paré and Trembley (2000), the findings of this study have implications for HR practitioners to implement comprehensive career management strategies for knowledge workers. This finding is especially dominant for the provision of career development, supervision and an attractive monetary package, which are workplace features that indicate the effort in appreciating and nurturing valuable work force teams. Supervisors are influential in directing a clear career vision to employees, thus enhancing the dependence on organisational career management. The relationship with supervisors is more emphasised in Asian countries (Pearson & Chong 1997, Yoon & Lim 1999, Lee 2004) when it comes to building a harmonious, relationship based work environment. The encouragement of a more interactive and coaching approach via supervisors would facilitate the development of trust and confidence from employees. With this enhanced trust and confidence within an organisation, employees are more willing to strive for organisational goals in return.

This study also raises concerns about the implications of POS. The results showed that Malaysian knowledge workers are seeking distinctive career development and supervisory coaching that benefits their career. If employees do not perceive sufficient support in enhancing their employability, then a search for a better alternative that fits into their career plans could be the next consequence. In return for organisational support policies, employees become affectively committed to their organisations. In the contemporary employment relationship where loyalty is replaced with individual employability, HR policies and practices that encourage personal growth and motivate the workforce could secure a durable employment relationship via a social exchange process. A cadre of human capital is essential in extending organisational visions and remaining competent in a tumultuous business environment.

Author

Foong Ming Tan is a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of Economics, Nagoya University, Japan. In her masters thesis, she researched the motivational and behavioural aspects of knowledge workers. In her PhD program, she has focused primarily on individual career pursuits, employee perceptions of support within organisations, and employee identification with organisations, especially on knowledge workers. Her current research interests include organisational career management and individual career development, employment relationships, and cultural comparison of behavioural responses in dealing with HRM issues.

Email: k030154m@yahoo.co.uk

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