The Mediating Role of Psychological Contract Violation between Psychological Contract Breach and Nurses' Organizational Attitudes

By Trybou, Jeroen; Maaike, D'haenens et al. | Nursing Economics, November/December 2016 | Go to article overview

The Mediating Role of Psychological Contract Violation between Psychological Contract Breach and Nurses' Organizational Attitudes


Trybou, Jeroen, Maaike, D'haenens, Elke, D'hulst, Gemmel, Paul, Nursing Economics


The nursing shortage is a global challenge. Retaining nurses has become a major concern for many health care organizations and is considered a global research priority (Van den Heede & Aiken, 2013) and a major challenge for nurse managers (Armstrong-Stassen, Cameron, Rajacich, & Freeman, 2014). Not surprisingly, unsatisfying workplaces are related to nurse turnover (Trybou, De Pourcq, Paeshuyse, & Gemmel, 2014). More precisely, previous studies indicated nurses practicing in supportive work environments are more satisfied with their job (Kwak, Chung, Xu, & Eun-Jung, 2010), are more engaged (Trinchero, Brunetto, & Borgonovi, 2013), are more committed (Rodwell & Guylas, 2013), have less intensions to quit (Shacklock, Brunetto, Teo, & Farr-Wharton, 2014), and supportive work environments ultimately results in better nurse (Mahony, 2014) and patient outcomes (Spence Laschinger & Fida, 2015).

In this study, the authors drew on the concepts of psychological contract theory to increase insight into the relationships between nurses' perceptions of the working relationship and their organizational attitudes. More precisely, the psychological contract refers to the terms of the exchange between individuals and their organizations (Rousseau, 1989; 1995). The psychological contract is best understood by examining what happens when such a contract is not fulfilled (Trybou et al., 2014). More precisely, two vital components of psychological contract theory have been developed: the concepts of psychological contract breach (PCB) and psychological contract violation (PCV). While the former is described as the cognition that one's organization has failed to meet obligations in one's psychological contract in proportion to one's contributions, the latter refers to emotional distress and feelings of betrayal and anger that arise when one's organization does not fulfill promises. Between the cognitive state (PCB) and the emotional state (PCV), an interpretative process takes place, whereby employees engage in sensemaking to interpret and derive meaning from the cognitive breach (Morrison & Robinson, 1997).

While psychological contract theory has been used frequently to develop our understanding of organizational attitudes and behavior (Sherman & Morley, 2015), there have been few studies that investigated the concepts of the psychological contract in a nursing setting. The aim of the present study is to examine the extent to which perceptions of psychological contract breach have an impact on the job satisfaction of nurses, their affective organizational commitment, and their intent to leave. In addition, this study aims to determine whether psychological contract violation has a mediating role on the relation between breach and the key organizational attitudes.

Theoretical Background

This study draws on psychological contract theory, which received a lot of attention in the fields of psychology and management research. The concept of the psychological contract is rooted in social exchange theory, according to which individuals reciprocate detrimental treatment by the organization with negative attitudes and behaviors (Blau, 1964; Gouldner, 1960). Empirical studies found evidence of the reciprocity principle (Sherman & Morley, 2015) demonstrating individuals expect a balanced and fair exchange relationship within the workplace.

Scholars have developed several different types of exchangebased constructs in attempting to study employee attitudes and behaviors. In this article, authors turn to the concept of the psychological contract. In the domain of organizational psychology, psychological contract theory is one of the dominant frameworks for understanding the ubiquitous employeeorganization relationship (Trybou et al., 2014). The psychological contract refers to an individual's beliefs about the terms of a reciprocal exchange with the organization at which he or she practices. …

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