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Assessing the Contents of the Psychological Contracts: A Cross - Sectional Survey of the Academics at an Australian University

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper addresses the content of psychological contracts within academia and provides some empirical evidence from an Australian University. Using exploratory factor analysis of the data collected from the cross-sectional survey this research classified the academics' obligations to the University as meeting academic expectations, commitment; and 'above and beyond'. With regard to the University's obligations as perceived by the academics the research identified the following eight underlying factors: fair treatment in promotion; staff development and support; good management and leadership; academic life; fairness and equity; appropriate remuneration; rewarding performance; and, good workplace relations. The initial cluster analysis allowed for some unpacking of the effects of such characteristics as gender, age, position level, union membership, and length of employment upon the content of the psychological contract. What emerged from the analysis is that each of these dimensions is an important factor with regard to psychological contract content and effects. It is critical for the University and the academics to be sensitive to possible differences in expectations, since unrealised expectations may result in demotivation, decreased commitment, increased turnover, and loss of trust in the organisation. These contracts motivate employees to fulfil commitments made to employers when they are confident that employers will reciprocate and fulfil their side of the contracts.

Introduction

Australian universities have become increasingly commercial as organisations, and are increasingly competitive with each other in their pursuit of funds and students. Australian academics now work within universities that have been characterised as increasingly managerialist (Marginson and Considine, 2000), universities where traditional academic freedoms and autonomy have declined, and performance expectations have sharply increased (Winter and Sarros, 2000). Ongoing change has become the norm, and we have seen the practice and language of business come to dominate the practice and language of university leaders and managers (Curtis and Matthewman, 2005). In many universities, staff/student ratios have reached new highs, and value conflict between principles and practices associated with managerialism and commercialisation and those traditionally associated with a commitment to teaching, learning and scholarship has become a widely recognised problem (Winter and Sarros, 2000; Marginson and Considine, 2000; Jarvis, 2001). Further complicating the landscape is the fact that the long-established Australian universities1 with their stronger financial and research resources appear to be better positioned to operate and prosper in this context, while others, such as the university that was the site of our empirical research2, face more complex and challenging futures.

It is in this context of ongoing change in university practices, structures and processes that our research into the content of the psychological contracts of academics from an Australian university business faculty has been undertaken. We hold that the psychological contract is a relevant and powerful construct to explain, and even manage, contemporary academic workplace relations, especially in times of considerable workplace change. We argue that understanding the formation and content of academics' psychological contracts is crucial to understanding and managing the work performance of academics.Further, we argue that understanding and effectively managing the psychological contracts that academic employees develop can assist universities to meet their performance goals. The remainder of this paper is divided into two sections: the first briefly addresses some key features of the psychological contract, and discusses past empirical research conducted on psychological contracts within academia; and, the second presents the results of our empirical research. …