The Role of Perceived Violation in Determining Employees' Reactions to Psychological Contract Breach

By Suazo, Mark M.; Turnley, William H. et al. | Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

The Role of Perceived Violation in Determining Employees' Reactions to Psychological Contract Breach


Suazo, Mark M., Turnley, William H., Mai-Dalton, Renate R., Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies


Using a racially diverse sample of 234 professional employees, this research investigated the impact of psychological contract breach and psychological contract violation on several work outcomes. Specifically, this research examined psychological contract violation as the key intervening (mediating) variable between psychological contract breach and various employee attitudes and behaviors. The results suggest that psychological contract breach is positively related to intent to quit, negatively related to professional commitment, and negatively related to employees' in-role and extra-role work performance. Moreover, psychological contract violation fully mediated the relationship between psychological contract breach and intent to quit and professional commitment.

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Psychological contracts help to define the relationship between employees and their organizations (Argyris, 1960; Rousseau, 1989). In particular, psychological contracts specify what employees believe they owe their organizations and what they believe they are owed in return (Rousseau, 1995). Most prior research has conceptualized the psychological contract as one aspect of the social exchange relationship that exists between individuals and their organizations (e.g., Robinson & Morrison, 1995). Social exchange relationships (Blau, 1964; Homans, 1961) are comprised of the voluntary actions that each party engages in with the expectation that the other party will reciprocate those actions in one way or another. Although the exact nature of the exchange relationship is not fully specified in advance, a general expectation of reciprocity guides its development.

A central element in the psychological contract is the employee's belief that the organization will live up to its promises and commitments. When an employee perceives that the organization has failed to fulfill its promises or obligations, then the employee experiences psychological contract breach (Rousseau, 1995). That is, psychological contract breach is defined as the employee's cognition that he/she has received less than was promised (Morrison & Robinson, 1997). As such, psychological contract breach typically creates the perception of an imbalance in the social exchange relationship.

Psychological contract violation is related to, but conceptually distinct from, psychological contract breach. Specifically, psychological contract violation is defined as the emotional or affective state that may (but does not always) result from the perception of psychological contract breach (Morrison & Robinson, 1997). Thus, psychological contract violation has been described as the feelings of anger, injustice, resentment, and distrust that arise from the realization that the organization has not honored the psychological contract (Raja, Johns, & Ntalianis, 2004).

Most prior research on psychological contracts has focused on examining the outcomes of psychological contract breach. This research has consistently demonstrated that psychological contract breach is related to a wide range of undesirable employee attitudes and behaviors such as reduced trust (Robinson, 1996), lower job satisfaction (Tekleab, Takeuchi, & Taylor, 2005; Turnley & Feldman, 1998), poorer moods (Conway & Briner, 2002), less organizational commitment (Guzzo, Noonan, & Elron, 1994), increased turnover (Turnley & Feldman, 1999), and decreased performance of in-role and extra-role work behaviors (Robinson & Morrison, 1995; Turnley, Bolino, Lester, & Bloodgood, 2003).

While the direct outcomes of psychological contract breach have been widely studied, relatively less attention has been paid to the processes through which psychological contract breach is related to the outcomes identified above. Indeed, only one empirical study (Raja et al., 2004) has examined whether the relationship between psychological contract breach and work-related outcomes might be mediated by the employees' experience of psychological contract violation. …

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