Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

How Does Psychological Contract Explain the Efficacy of Coaching?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

How Does Psychological Contract Explain the Efficacy of Coaching?

Article excerpt


There is little in workplace coaching literature to explain its efficacy. Psychological contract is a construct which could explain it, but it is yet to be introduced to the body of knowledge. This paper examines the data collected from an exploratory case study to explain the perceived lack of results reported by participants of a workplace coaching program. Using psychological contract theory as a frame of reference, it explains the lack of results as a function of expectation mismatches identified in the case. It is inferred that certain conditions might need to exist for coaching to be effective as a workplace intervention.


The workplace coaching body of knowledge contains little qualitatively oriented research to describe and explain coaching. The case study research described in this case was an attempt to correct some of these deficiencies. Although one of the conclusions of the Xyz case study was that coaching was effective as an organisational development tool, the findings of the Xyz case study report suggest that there were conflicting reports made by participants concerning coaching's efficacy. Most notably, Xyz management do not consider coaching as a strategic lever for the organisation despite evidence that it resulted in a number of positive strategic outcomes including: increased retention; expedited development of individual leaders; successful transition of coachee's into more challenging roles; and in some cases dramatically improved role performance of leaders. Psychological contract theory is used as a frame for explaining the differences in perceived and/or actual results reported by these participants. It is hypothesised that these differences can be explained by the 'unworkability' of psychological contract expectations held by various coaching participants. Specific instances of the case are described to illustrate this. The paper begins with a review of the relevant literatures to contextualise this study i.e. coaching and psychological contract, and then the case is described. There is a brief outline of the methodology, before the research question is explored. Using an inferential approach, the paper concludes by conceptualising the 'conditions of a workable coaching psychological contract as abase for further research.

Workplace Coaching

Coaching is defined as a tailored form of one-to-one learning, which is focused on solutions and outcomes, and is suitable for non-clinical populations in that it is focused on optimising human functioning rather than remedial issues (Sussman and Finnegan, 1998; Grant, 2001b; Ellinger and Keller, 2003; Linely and Harrington, 2005; Plamer and Whybrow, 2005). This is not to say that coaching does not involve remedial work, but that the remediation is specific to the workplace, and to those without significant psychological dysfunction.

As an academic discipline, workplace coaching is an undeveloped area lacking in empirical research (Ellinger and Keller, 2003; Grant and Cavanagh, 2004). A recent literature review reveals that there is little research about coaching in a management context, i.e. little to explain or validate the claimed efficacy of coaching, frameworks for evaluating coaching outcomes, or understanding of the mediating factors that determine its efficacy. Specifically, the notion of psychological contract and how it applies to the workplace is one which has yet to be introduced or explored in coaching research.

Psychological Contract

Psychological contract has been understood as an approach to organisational effectiveness (Schein, 1980) resulting in increased job satisfaction, productivity, reduced staff turnover (Kotter 1973; Sturges, Conway, Guest and Liefooghe, 2005). It also may explain the nature of the employment relationship (Shore and Tetrick 1994), worker commitment (Janssens, SeIs and Van Den Brande. 2003), organisational citizenship behaviour (Hui, Lee and Rousseau, 2004), employee performance (Tekleab and Taylor, 2003) and absenteeism (Deery, Iverson and Walsh, 2006). …

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