Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Characteristics of the Supervisor-Subordinate Relationship as Predictors of Psychological Contract Breach

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

Characteristics of the Supervisor-Subordinate Relationship as Predictors of Psychological Contract Breach

Article excerpt

Researchers have described the psychological contract as an individual's beliefs regarding the terms and conditions of the reciprocal exchange agreement between that employee and the employing organization (Rousseau, 1989). One key issue in the psychological contract is the employee's expectation that the organization will live up to its promises. When an employee believes that the organization has not kept its promises, then the employee perceives psychological contract breach (Morrison and Robinson, 1997; Rousseau, 1995). Prior research has primarily focused on the outcomes of psychological contract breach. This previous research has consistently found that psychological contract breach (PCB) has a negative effect on a wide range of employee attitudes and behaviors, such as job satisfaction (Turnley and Feldman, 1998), organizational commitment (Guzzo et al., 1994), trust in the organization (Deery et al., 2006; Robinson, 1996), and in-role and extra-role job performance (Robinson and Morrison, 1995; Turnley et al., 2003).

However, while the outcomes of PCB have been widely documented, very little research has examined possible antecedents of PCB (O'Neill et al., 2007). In the limited empirical research to date, Robinson (1996) found that an employee's initial trust in his/her employer was negatively related to the perception of PCB, Robinson and Morrison (2000) suggested that reneging and incongruence are the two main sources of PCB, and Raja, Johns, and Ntalianis (2004) examined individual personality traits as predictors of PCB.

One potentially important issue that has not received much attention is the influence that the relationship between the supervisor and subordinate has on the perception of PCB. While the psychological contract is conceptualized as an implicit agreement between the individual and his/ her employing organization, prior research suggests that supervisors (as the most important organizational representative in the employment relationship) play an especially meaningful role in the development and maintenance of the psychological contract (Rousseau, 1995). As such, one relevant question is whether certain types of similarity between a supervisor and subordinate are associated with perceptions of PCB. This issue is important because prior research suggests that similarities accentuate the positive characteristics and dissimilarities accentuate the negative characteristics of a dyadic relationship (Tsui et al., 2002). Therefore, although there appears to be no previous empirical research on this particular topic, it is reasonable to believe that supervisor-subordinate similarity might be an important antecedent of perceived PCB.

More specifically, this study examines two types of supervisor-subordinate similarity: perceived similarity (in terms of cognitive styles) and actual similarity (in terms of gender or race). These two types of similarity can be described as non-observable (perceived similarity) and observable (actual similarity) characteristics of diversity in the workplace (Kochan et al., 2003). Both types of similarity have been found to play significant roles in workplace attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs (e.g., Martins and Parsons, 2007; McKay et al., 2007). Given the increasing diversity within contemporary organizations (especially within the United States), the influence of perceived and actual similarity on various aspects of the employment relationship seems to be a particularly relevant research issue (Chrobot-Mason and Ruderman, 2004; Holvino et al., 2004). In particular, as organizations become increasingly diverse, it becomes more important to examine the role that diversity in the supervisor-subordinate dyad plays in determining whether individuals perceive that their psychological contracts have been fulfilled or breached. Thus, while most prior research has examined the psychological contracts of White-Americans, this research utilized two samples that were selected because they contained significant numbers of African-American and Hispanic-American employees. …

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