University of Western Ontario - Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Location of Thesis Examination

Room 9420 Social Science Centre

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Program

Psychology

Supervisor

Dr. John Meyer

Abstract

Employee perceptions of psychological contracts were explored in a mixed methods design project. Although psychological contract research has been popular since its inception over 50 years ago, the field makes a number of assumptions about how employees truly experience psychological contracts (Conway & Briner, 2009). The primary goal of the present research was to identify how psychological contracts should be measured and theorized to reflect the natural experiences and language of employees. In Study 1, I examined a number of the theory’s assumptions by asking employees in interviews about their psychological contract experiences. A descriptive phenomenological approach allowed me to best capture the real life contexts through the eyes of the employees. The interviews involved discussions about employees’ perceived legal contract perceptions, the existence of psychological contracts, and the nature of their psychological contract experiences, if one existed. Interview findings revealed that while some psychological contract theory assumptions were supported (e.g., psychological contracts are perceived to evolve), others were not (e.g., universality of psychological contracts). The interview findings also identified the natural terminology used by employees, thus informing how psychological contracts should be measured.

In Study 2, I used Study 1 findings to develop and test a revised feature-based measure of psychological contracts. I also further expanded Study 1 findings by quantifying the prevalence of and preference for psychological contracts, and their implications on organizational commitment, employee engagement, and turnover intentions. As predicted, those who did perceive a psychological contract were more likely to score high on commitment and engagement ratings, compared to those who did not. Contrary to predictions, there were no significant group differences for turnover intentions and contract preference did not play a moderating role on these relations. A revised measure is also presented in Study 2 which supported existing psychological contract theory typology (Relational and Transactional contract types). The contract type factors significantly predicted commitment, engagement, and turnover intention, mostly as hypothesized. The general discussion reviews how the two studies sequentially contribute to psychological contract measurement and theory. Guidelines are also presented to provide recommendations for both management and employees in how best to manage their psychological contracts.