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  • Series: New Horizons in Management series x
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Neil Conway and Claire Pekcan

The authors provide a critical introduction to the psychological contract by reviewing important challenges researchers have raised previously against the psychological contract, and outline gaps in understanding that can guide future research. They focus on nine key challenges and for each consider why the challenge is important and the extent to which it has been addressed. What emerges from their review is that, while there have been several major critiques of the psychological contract, the challenges raised by these critiques in terms of addressing fundamental aspects of the psychological contract—such as its implicitness, the nature of the exchange, the interaction of the two parties, and how it should be managed—have been largely unaddressed. The authors believe that the best way to advance understanding of psychological contracts is to revisit the challenges, along with the associated issues of designing empirical research to investigate complex implicit, multiparty, intersubjective phenomena.

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René Schalk and Melanie De Ruiter

The applicability and relevance of the terms ‘mutuality’ and ‘reciprocity’ for psychological contract research have been debated. While the terms are widely referred to in studies on psychological contracts, there seems to be no clear consensus on their definitions. Moreover, most existing research has used reciprocity as a theoretical underpinning to help explain the negative relationship between psychological contract breach and employee outcomes. However, considering the conceptualization of reciprocity, such research seems not to have been able to adequately capture reciprocity. The aim of this chapter is to further our understanding of mutuality and reciprocity and assess how these concepts have been defined and operationalized in existing research. A systematic review of empirical studies in which reciprocity and mutuality were examined was conducted. Based on this review, the authors offer proposals for clear definitions and assessments of mutuality and reciprocity. The chapter concludes with several recommendations for future research.

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Samantha D. Hansen

Construct clarity refers to the precision of a construct’s conceptual definition and the extent to which that definition is consistently adopted in the literature. Construct ambiguity makes it difficult to understand how particular findings fit relative to others in the literature, impeding the ability to understand fully the phenomenon in question. This has negative implications both for scholarly advancement and for practice. In this chapter, the author identifies and addresses problems of construct ambiguity in the study of psychological contracts. The author’s assessment suggests that construct ambiguity has interfered with the coherence of this literature. For example, the term ‘psychological contract’ has represented distinct constructs (i.e., the jingle fallacy), and different terms (e.g., ‘breach’, ‘violation’) have represented the same concept (i.e., jangle fallacy). The author discusses recent efforts to strengthen construct clarity in the study of psychological contracts and suggests next steps to further build a coherent literature.

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Tina Kiefer and Anne Antoni

The psychological contract literature has long acknowledged the role of emotions, especially regarding the consequences of the experience of breach and violation. The authors argue here that the field could benefit from a better integration of knowledge on the nature of emotions by drawing on the field of psychology of emotion. They first present the different components of emotion to critically examine the role of emotions in psychological contract literature. They develop an emotion-centred view of psychological contracts with four core suggestions: focusing on emotional events, including seemingly mundane events, rather than on general evaluative judgements about the organization; emphasizing fulfilment as a phenomenon in its own right; exploring the social influence of emotional psychological contract events; and shifting methods to capture an emotion-centred approach. Linking research on emotion and research on psychological contracts opens up new avenues for a richer understanding of the role of emotions for the psychological contract phenomenon.

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Johannes M. Kraak and Barend J. Linde

Psychological contract research has grown exponentially in the last three decades. Although these writings have pushed the field of psychological contract research forward from a purely academic standpoint, they never critically reflect upon the perceptions of the academics doing the research. Discussions on the usefulness of the psychological contract are frequently heard at conferences but remain very scarce in the literature. For this chapter the authors decided to explore the perceptions of the actors involved in psychological contract research: 64 researchers from 30 countries. The results indicate that participants feel that the concept is useful as a developing theoretical framework that helps us to explain organizational behaviour in the workplace. However, participants suggested solving long-standing conceptual issues as well as focusing more on topics such as the dynamics and the context of the psychological contract. This chapter presents and discusses their suggestions on how to advance this particular field of research.

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Pam Kappelides and Samantha K. Jones

In this chapter the authors explore the ideological components of psychological contracts for volunteer and employment research. In particular, they highlight the role ideology and the psychological contract has played in progressing our understanding of social exchange relationships in the workplace and propose critical questions to aid in furthering the integration of the ideological components of psychological contracts into the broader psychological contract framework. They also explore the understanding of how values and ideology may serve as a basis for these social exchange relationships, which are essential for building on management and organizational behaviour research and understanding the impact the changing nature of employment (in both the voluntary and the paid sector) has for employee and organizational outcomes.

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P. Matthijs Bal and Severin Hornung

This chapter discusses the links between psychological contracts and idiosyncratic deals. While both concepts have been theoretically developed by the same scholar, they are also indicative of emerging societal trends that influence the topics under study by researchers in the field of organizational behaviour and human resource management. This chapter discusses how individualization as a broader societal process has influenced the study of psychological contracts, as well as the subsequent shift towards the phenomenon of idiosyncratic deals. Key similarities and differences between the two concepts are discussed. The chapter finishes with recommendations for further research.

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Jos Akkermans, Simon de Jong, Jeroen de Jong and P. Matthijs Bal

The literature on psychological contract formation and evaluation is extremely rich, yet the role of social context has been under-researched. Studying the role of social context, however, is important, as psychological contract formation, fulfilment, and breach are likely to be influenced by social contextual factors such as supervisors, colleagues, and team members. In this chapter, the authors bring together the available literature on the role of social context in the psychological contract, thereby distinguishing between three main approaches: individual-level, direct consensus, and referent shift. Following from these three approaches, the authors argue that single-level research has a rich foundation, yet multi-level research is still relatively new and unexplored. Further, they distinguish between idiosyncratic and shared psychological contracts, thereby arguing that the latter especially is in need of more theorizing and empirical work. In all, the authors hope that this chapter inspires researchers to explore the role of social context in psychological contract processes.