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Psychological contract fulfilment and breach during socialization: the importance of timing

Woodrow, C. and Guest, D. E. (2016) Psychological contract fulfilment and breach during socialization: the importance of timing. In: EAWOP small group meeting on time in psychological contract processes, 2nd -4th November 2016, London, U.K..

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Purpose/contribution: The socialization process during the first year in a new job is particularly significant for the psychological contract, influencing the promises that make up the deal (Rousseau, 1995: 2001) and early experience of fulfilment or breach (Morrison and Robinson, 1997). However little is known about how fulfilment and breach manifest themselves at different times within the socialization process, or the stability of these experiences. With this in mind, this study examines fulfilment and breach across the first year of employment, based on three hypotheses: 1. Breach will be experienced more often during early socialization due to non-fulfilment of initial promises and expectations and uncertainty about the content of the promises. 2. Early breach will be less damaging to attitudes and behaviour than later breach due to familiarization with the environment and uncertainty reduction with respect to what constitute serious promises and when they should be fulfilled. 3. As socialization proceeds, fulfilment and breach experiences will change, reflecting the dynamic nature of the psychological contract during socialization. Design/methodology: The study utilizes a longitudinal qualitative methodology to track perceptions of organizational newcomers across the first year in a new job in the healthcare sector. Twenty-eight individuals were interviewed on their first day with the organization and then four further times during the subsequent year. A modified critical incident technique was used to elicit data on specific examples of fulfilment and breach alongside related attitudes. Results: Supporting the first hypothesis, breach was more likely to be reported in the early stages of socialization. Supporting the second hypothesis, later breaches had more damaging effects on employee attitudes. Supporting the third hypothesis, there was evidence that breached promises were subsequently fulfilled and vice versa. Early breach could be attributed to poor internal communication of promises allied to newcomer uncertainty about the status of promises. The later damaging effects were attributed to better knowledge of context allied to the additive effect of breaches exceeding individuals’ tolerance. Changes to perceptions over time could be attributed to late delivery of promises or withdrawal of initial promises. Implications/limitations: A key implication is that timing is central to an understanding of what is a dynamic process of fulfilment and breach of the psychological contract. Collecting data over several time periods build around a number of specific issues and helps to explain how this dynamic unfolds and impacts upon attitudes and behaviour. The finding that some early breaches were subsequently remedied highlights the importance of collecting data over time and around specific promises. It also illustrates how accumulated breaches can reach a tipping point while fulfilment of salient promises can lead to a ‘settled connection’. However it should be noted that these findings are based on a small sample in a single sector and will benefit from further research in other sectors using complementary methods. Originality/value: This study provides a unique examination of time in the analysis of the psychological contract during socialization, using a distinctive longitudinal methodology. We argue that this approach offers novel understanding of the process of socialization and psychological contract formation.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions:Henley Business School > Leadership, Organisations and Behaviour
ID Code:67464

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