Date of Award

May 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Management Science

First Advisor

Belle Rose Ragins

Committee Members

Mark Mone, Janice Miller, Sarah Freeman, Margaret Shaffer


Commitment, Engagement, Fit, Interpersonal Relationships, Job Attitudes, Relationship


For most of us, work is an inherently social experience. We depend on our relationships to accomplish our work tasks. Emerging theory also suggests that work relationships play a role in meeting our social and developmental needs, and in so doing, affect our attitudes toward our jobs and organizations. Specifically, relational systems theory holds that employees have five different `relational needs,' and are more likely to become committed to their organization and engaged in their work when they are embedded in a set of workplace relationships that meet these needs. According to the theory, employees' experiences of need fulfillment create a state of `psychological attachment to others at work', which subsequently affects their organizational commitment and work engagement (Kahn, 2007).

Drawing on relational systems theory, I develop and test a model that explains how employees' full array of work relationships shape their organizational commitment and work engagement. To more precisely capture employees' appraisal of need fulfillment, I also extend relational systems theory by integrating a person-environment fit perspective (Edwards, 1992). This perspective suggests that need fulfillment is best evaluated by examining `needs/supplies fit,' that is, the congruence between individual preferences and environmental inputs. The model was tested using primary data from 538 employees by means of a multi-wave, web-based survey. I also developed and validated a measure of psychological attachment to others at work using a separate sample of 327 individuals.

Results provided overarching support for the theoretical model. Supporting relational systems theory, individuals' experiences of need fulfillment across the five relational need dimensions predicted their organizational commitment and work engagement, and these effects were mediated by their psychological attachment to others at work. Psychological attachment to others at work also explained significant variance in organizational commitment and work engagement beyond the influence of perceived organizational support and supplementary person-organization fit. These relationships were further robust to individual differences in employees' relational-interdependent self-construal. Finally, supporting PE fit perspectives, results revealed that experiencing relational needs as `over-met' versus `under-met' can have different consequences for predicting individuals' psychological attachment to others at work. Implications for theory, research, and practice are discussed.