Same Words, Different Worlds: Exploring Differences in Researcher and Participant Understandings of Promise and Obligation in the Psychological Contract

Guoxin Ma, John Blenkinsopp, Steve Armstrong

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Abstract

This paper addresses longstanding questions about how promise and obligation, two of the key conceptual building blocks for psychological contract research, are conceptualized and operationalized (see Conway & Briner, 2005; Rousseau, 2011; Bankins, 2014): How do employees understand these concepts? Would their understandings be congruent with the researchers’ and how would this knowledge inform future psychological contract research? Drawing on interviews with 61 Chinese workers from diverse backgrounds, our results suggest the concepts have distinct meanings for participants in terms of three criteria (defining characteristics, key features, and manifestations in employment). We argue that promise and obligation are likely to serve different functions in employment relationship, and have different meanings for researchers versus participants, and accordingly we highlight the challenges of using them to conceptualize and operationalize psychological contracts in China and beyond.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-109
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Management and Organization
Volume26
Issue number1
Early online date20 Dec 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020

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