Gender and Emotions at Work: A Reconceptualisation of Work Commitment

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Fulop, Liz

Boyle, Maree

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This thesis provides a different lens through which work commitment can be viewed, with a particular focus on how such commitment is gendered and emotionalised. The study is a qualitative investigation into how work commitment is gendered and emotionalised within a university-based workplace, highlighting the long-standing conceptual and methodological inadequacies of work commitment research. In addition, it also recognises the gendered and emotionalised nature of work commitment, through the development of a grounded theory of work commitment. The grounded theory of work commitment provides a significant addition to the current literature, and enables a depth of insight not yet achieved in previous theorising and conceptualisation of work commitment. This study uses gender and emotion as a lens through which to study work commitment for several reasons. First, the theorising and conceptualising of work commitment to date has not fully considered the impact of gender and emotions upon how organisations and individuals describe and measure work commitment. Only a few studies have argued that commitment is a gendered construct with women ascribing different meaning to work commitment than men. Work commitment research has also not adequately addressed the importance of emotions as part of commitment, with emotional aspects of commitment being regarded as the efforts of organisational members to retain membership or embrace organisational goals and values. It is this lack of attention to the importance of the relationships between gender and emotions and their impact on work commitment, and how this relationship is understood from the perspective of organisational members, that underpins the need for research in this area Therefore, this study investigates and addresses the question: How is work commitment gendered and emotionalised? This thesis utilises a specific methodological and theoretical approach to the study of work commitment. In comparison to the extensive work commitment literature, which has been primarily functionalist in nature, utilising a dualistic ontology and positivistic epistemology, the study upon which this thesis is based uses a grounded theory approach. A focus on understanding from the perspective of people in the workplace, rather than a focus on measurement of a number of commitment related constructs, has allowed the researcher to delve deeper into important issues relating to commitment that have either been previously overlooked or only partly understood. For example, previous research has mainly regarded gender and emotions as independent, objective constructs, with no regard given to the intertwining relationships within which these constructs exist. In contrast, this research reconceptualises work commitment through accounts of the workers themselves. A grounded theory methodology and method is used to build a substantive theory of work commitment. Grounded theory provides an appropriate methodology and method to understand how commitment is gendered and emotionalised by building a theory based on the interpretations of workers of commitment in their workplace. This research concludes that the work commitment of university academic staff is a gendered construct. Women are often faced with the competing demands of the greedy institutions of home and the workplace (Coser, 1974; Franzway, 2000). Maintaining an effective work/life balance has important implications for work commitment, with women being affected to a greater degree than men. In addition, the career building work activities of male staff, such as a focus on research, also impact unfairly upon women, for this activity is often at the expense of teaching and service to the university. This study also found that emotions are central in the construction of work commitment, not only in relation to the display of emotions but also in relation to the ways in which emotions are considered indicators of work commitment. Women tend to display emotions like caring, passion and excitement while men tend to show anger at perceived poor management and decision making. This study makes an important contribution to the work commitment literature through illustrating how gender and emotions impact upon organisational, career and professional commitment, issues which have been neglected in previous research. The construction of a theory of work commitment, through the utilisation of a grounded theory approach, enables a theory of commitment to be built based on the lived interpretative experiences of organisational members. The construction of a grounded theory of work commitment allows for illustration of commitment to organisation, profession and career as the common threads that link the sub-categories of the theory. As a result of the tendency of men to concentrate on research as a commitment to career, work that is less well regarded by decision makers, such as teaching and service, falls to women. Organisational commitment is weak amongst both women and men, with commitment at the departmental or school unit level not being reflected at the organisational level. Professional commitment is strong, and clearly gendered, with women associating teaching with the notion of profession. Career commitment for women is mainly centred on giving, learning and helping. For men, career commitment involves a focus on research and a commitment based on reciprocity. The grounded theory produced by this research is a substantive theory which focuses on behavioural phenomena involved in work commitment in the setting for the study. As a substantive grounded theory its findings may not be generalisable beyond the setting of the study.

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Thesis (PhD Doctorate)

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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Department of Management

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work commitment

emotions at work

university-based workplace

grounded theory

university academic staff

work/life balance



organisational commitment

professional commitment

career commitment

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