The changing contours of the employment relationship
: a case study of the psychological contract

  • Judy Pate

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


In recent years organisations have been faced with increasing challenges which have resulted in tensions between innovation and cost effective strategies. Such environmental pressures have resulted in the emergence of a new employment relationship or psychological contract. In the face of this new situation two questions become apparent: ‘how can the new psychological contract be managed effectively?’ and ‘what are the organisational consequences of an ineffectively managed psychological contract?’ This thesis evaluates two key research questions: ‘what factors shape psychological contracts?’ , and ‘what are the implications of breaking such a contract?’ In order to address these questions academic literature was reviewed in Chapter 2, and it is argued that the concepts of context, trust and fairness are key variables that shape psychological contracts. Two new models of psychological contract breach and violation are presented using both processual and variance methodologies. This thesis adopts a postpositivist methodological standpoint, as highlighted in Chapter 3, and draws on both quantitative and qualitative approaches from a longitudinal case study of an industrial textile organisation described in Chapter 4. The findings of research question 1 were presented in Chapter 5, and these suggest that psychological contracts are complex and dynamic, and therefore context is crucial to understanding the nature of the relationship. Furthermore it was found that the notion of fairness impinges on the psychological contract and perceptions of injustice had negative affects on employee attitudes. It was evident that trust was crucial in understanding the psychological contract, however, it was found that personal trust or shared norms between employee and employer were not essential for a positive psychological contract - issues expanded upon in Chapter 6. Research question 2 was addressed through the evaluation of two new models of psychological contract breach and violation, using both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. These results were discussed in Chapter 8, and the qualitative data on balance concurred with the processual model. It was evident through the evaluation of the variance model that triggers of psychological contract breach affected attitudes rather than engendering behavioural changes.
Date of AwardJun 2001
Original languageEnglish
SponsorsThe Carnegie Trust
SupervisorHarry J. Staines (Supervisor)

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