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Ingrid WILLEMS, Ria JANVIER, Erik HENDERICKX
Paper to be presented at the EGPA Annual Conference, Ljubljana (Slovenia ), 1-4 September 2004 Study Group 3: Personnel Polici es
Correspondence: Ingrid WILLEMS Department of Political Science – Public Management University of Antwerp Korte Sint Annastraat 6 2000 Antwerp BELGIUM Phone: +32 3 204 10 51 Fax: +32 3 204 10 80 E-mail: Ingrid.firstname.lastname@example.org
The expectations towards public servants have augmented and changed. More and more (human resource) practices that used to belong to the private sector are being introduced in public sector management. customer oriented services has risen. Studies on psychological contracts in the public service have been rather scarce. the traditional employment relationship has made way for a less certain set of arrangements (Guest and Conway. as Hiltrop (1996) describes them. Much of the research on the management of public servants has focused on the concept of public service motivation and the differences in motivation between public servants and private sector workers (Coyle -Shapiro & Kessler. 1996. loyalty and trust. such as pay. In a second part we will briefly explain the method used in this study and introduce the empirical research upon which it is based. competence frameworks. 1998. are central elements (Hiltrop. Guest & Conway. in public and Ingrid WILLEMS. will be set out. Next. the exchange relationship between public sector workers and their employers seems to be shifting. However if public sector management wants to direct employee attitudes and behavio urs in order to cope with the increasing pressure of public service delivery it is necessary to take a look at the factors influencing these behaviours. is largely based on observations in the private sector. This has resulted in numerous initiatives being taken by the public sector in order to improve its performance. In the psychological contract literature some researchers indicate a shift from a relational contract. 2000). 2003). as this has proven to be of great influence on employee behaviour and attitudes (Anderson & Schalk. where the more monetisable aspects of the exchange relationship. employee and manager evaluation. It is therefore worthwhile to take a look at the psychological contract. our paper will explore the unique nature of the psychological contract in the public sector by comparing the various facets of the contract within the framework. this evolution from the ‘old’ psychological contract to the new. First.THE UNIQUE NATURE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL CONTRACTS IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR: AN EXPLORATION INTRODUCTION In recent years the pressure on public sector organisations to deliver high quality. Anderson & Schalk. However. The question that subsequently arises is whether the nature of the psychological contract in the public sector is different from that in the private sector. with emphasis on long-term job security. In other words. Is the exchange relationship between public sector employers and public servants fundamentally dissimilar to the private sector exchange relationship? Do public sector employees hold different expectations compared to private sector employees? Do they experience a psychological contract breach more often than private sector workers? Is there even such a thing as the ‘public sector psychological contract’ or are there different types of contract within the public service? This paper will try to find an answer to these questions by comparing the evidence from several empirical studies on private and public sector psychological contracts. In terms of personnel management this leads to an increased interest in . which serves as the basis for the comparative study. 1998). performance pay. performance management. to a transactional contract. This affects the employment relationship between public sector employers and their employees. Ria JANVIER. 2000). among others. Erik HENDERICKX 2 . which entails the mutual expectations of employer and employee of their exchange relationship. the theoretical framework of the psychological contract.
1998) where mutual expectations and the exchange relationship between the two parties – employer and employee – were described as the core of the contract. This definition however.g. Therefore. and others focussing on the bilateral relationship. Last. Therefore. The conceptualisation Rousseau uses is limited. For their large-scale empirical study Guest and Conway (2000: 1) define the psychological contract – more consistent to the conceptualisation of Levinson et al – as ‘the perception of both parties to the employment relationship. Of course. As yet. 1998).1.private sector. THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONTRACT: CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK 1. it entails a norm of reciprocity and the concept is multi-facetted (see Willems et al. 1998). individual e l vel (Anderson & Schalk. This definition places the emphasis on the individual and his or her perceptions of the exchange relationship. Most likely there will be differences between the expectations of the various representatives. some conclusions will be drawn on the unique nature of the psychological contract in the public sector.g. Rousseau goes on to explain that ‘ a psychological contract emerges when one party believes that a promise of future returns has been made (e. of the reciprocal promises and obligations implied in that relationship ’. Rousseau limits the psychological contract to the unilateral. Ria JANVIER. because it doesn’t take into account mutuality. Erik HENDERICKX 3 . organisation and individual. 1998). and suggestions for future research within this field will be made. Also. in Anderson & Schalk. a contribution has been given (e. such as personnel managers. Both conceptualisations still exist in the psychological contract literature and research. some form of exchange). If the Ingrid WILLEMS. 2003b for more information on the characteristics of the psychological contract). The ‘older’ definition focuses on the bilateral relationship between two parties at different levels. usually implicit. both definitions have their advantages and downsides. A violation of the contract can occur when an employee perceives a discrepancy between the promises made by the organisation – about its obligations – and the actual fulfilment of these promises (Anderson & Schalk. it raises difficulties for operationalisation: how can the expectations of the organisation be operationalised? One can look at the expectations of certain representatives of the organisation. the question arises whether the expectations of the organisation even exist. and thus an obligation has been created to provide future benefits’. pay for performance). dynamic. This contrasts to earlier definitions by Schein (1980) and Levinson et al (1962. as Guest (1998: 652) describes it ‘Rousseau’s redefinition may be moving too far away from the concept of a contract. the psychological contract is subjective. although most researchers seem to prefer Rousseau’s conceptualisation. and it is important to bear in mind these conceptual differences when studying the empirical evidence of others. the fulfilment of the expected obligations is the facet of the psychological contract that receives the most research attention. 1. is in its turn problematic because it compares expectations at different levels (organisational and individual) (Anderson & Schalk. there is no real consensus about what the psychological contract is. Next to the content and features of the psychological contract. but these can hardly be considered as a uniform set of expectations. at the heart of which lies a two -way reciprocal agreement’. The psychological contract The psychological contract is most commonly described using Rousseau’s definition (1989): ‘ an individual’s belief regarding the terms and conditions of the reciprocal exchange agreement between the focal person and another party ’. As we state d in a previous paper.
It encompasses both individual and organisational background factors and policy influences as causes for the state of the psychological contracts and also includes attitudinal as well as behavioural consequences. D. The psychological contract is not an isolated. Direct participation can be described as the degree to which employees have decision-making power and autonomy in their job. It is influenced by a whole range of factors. Figure 1 . (2002) This model is not purely theoretical. 1. & Conway. N. along with the influencing factors of the psychological contract. The psychological contract itself also has its effect on a range of attitudes and behaviours. Ria JANVIER. detached concept.2. Guest and Conway’s model of the causes and consequences of the psychological contracts is one of the more inclusive ones (see Figure 1).expectations of the employee – based on perceived promises – are not fulfilled. Causes and consequences of the psychological contract In order to fully comprehend the psychological contract it is important to state the context in which it operates. The consequences of this breach will be discussed in the following part of the paper.Guest and Conway model of causes and consequences of the psychological contract BACKGROUND FACTORS POLICY INFLUENCES STATE OF THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONTRACT OUTCOMES INDIVIDUAL Age Gender Education Union membership Level in organisation Type of work Hours worked Employment contract Marital status Number of children Ethnicity Tenure Income Any disability ORGANISATIONAL Sector Organisation size Establishment size Location ATTITUDINAL CONSEQUENCES Organisational commitment Life satisfaction Work satisfaction Work-life balance Job security Motivation Stress Hr Policy and practice Direct Participation Job alternatives Organisational support Work centrality Surveillance Organisational change Suitably qualified Promises made Fairness Trust The delivery of the deal BEHAVIOURAL CONSEQUENCES Intention to stay/quit Knowledge sharing Source: Guest. Guest and Conway (2000) found that particularly human resource practices and direct participation have a significant influence on the state of the psychological contract. 2002) have found evidence for the influence of a large number of the factors in this model. both individual and organisational. it leads to a breach in the psychological contract. Erik HENDERICKX 4 . Guest and Conway and others (for instance O’Donnell and Shields. Ingrid WILLEMS.
the psychological contract framework also allows for an active individual. In general. Research has indicated that psychological contract breach can lead to – among others – decreased trust (Robinson & Rousseau. this causes reduced satisfaction. Therefore. 2002). 2003) and reduced employee satisfaction (Robinson & Rousseau. 2000). 1999.3. less organisational citizenship behaviour (Coyle-Shapiro & Kessler.e. it also allows the contextual factors to shape individual attitudes and behaviour. Individual and background factors are also possible influences for the psychological contract. Organisational change can also have a detrimental effect on the state of the psychological contract. lower stress at work and increased work motivation (Guest & Conway.Our own study also found a direct positive link between participation and the fulfilment of the psychological contract (Willems et al. union role and organisational climate. 1999). Ria JANVIER. declined performance (Lester & Kickul. although the psychological contract contains the expectations and concerns of the individual employee. as Turnley and Feldman (1998) found in their survey of employees in organisations undergoing restructuring or reorganisations. One of the other reasons for the heightened interest in the study of the psychological contract is the common belief that the traditional employment relationship – based on job security for instance – has been replaced by arrangements that are much less certain (Guest & Conway. 2003a). We will discuss these in the third section. Both parties in the employment relationship – employer and employee – have their own views on the mutual obligations. 2000). 1999). 1994). 2001). The psychological contract therefore provides a useful and interesting framework for understanding these attitudes and behavio urs. Firstly. These contextual factors include company policy. when employees believe the organisation is not delivering what it has promised. and can lead to them leaving the organisation. Erik HENDERICKX 5 . Ingrid WILLEMS. 1994). 1. increased exit and neglect (Turnley & Feldman. On the other hand. the psychological contract is worth taking seriously because of the possible detrimental effects of a breach in the contract on employee behaviour and attitudes. the need develops to study these deals in order to get a grip on them. the psychological contract is valuable because it recognises the individualisation of the employment relationship. neglecting their work and so on (Turnley & Feldman. reduced commitment to the organisation (Turnley & Feldman. Furthermore. one can state that human resource practices influence employee attitudes and performance largely through the psychological contract (Guest & Conway. his/her attitudes and behaviour) when his or her expectations are not being met. As stated in the previous section. higher organisational commitment. who can change the deal (i. Secondly. The psychological contract is about subjective perceptions. A breach in the psychological contract – taking place when the employer does not deliver the deal – has a significant effect on employee attitudes and behaviour. Coyle -Shapiro & Kessler. A positive psychological contract on the other hand leads to higher satisfaction with work and with the work-life balance and life as a whole. Importance of (the study of) the psychological contract Guest and Conway (2000) put forward two advantages to the study of the psychological contract. 2003).
‘just as I expect’. M ETHOD In order to find an answer to the research questions stated above. We will refer mainly to the results of the 2000 and 2001 study. whose representative sample of the Flemish working force also includes both sectors. to some extent or not kept. 2 Janssens et al (2003) is based on the same study as Van den Brande (2002). but the concept of promise was not made explicit in the main survey question. we will look at several empirical studies of the psychological contract in both private and public sector. did not use the term ‘promises’ but saw the psychological contract as a set of expectations. kept to a large extent. ‘less than I expect’. It’s about what the employee / employer expects of the employer / employee and what he expects to offer in return. 1 Public sector employees in this study include central government. and our own survey. It is important to note and bear in mind that the definition and operationalisation of the psychological contract used in these studies is not identical. The Guest and Conway study looks into the psychological contract by asking respondents whether they believe their organisation has made promises – implicit or explicit . The results of the public sector in these two studies will be compared with our own research results derived from a psychological contract survey of Belgian federal public sector workers. not what they think he will do. 2002: 4 -5).2. Our study used the following. These expectations are based upon perceived promises between employee and employer regardin g their exchange relationship. we will in this paper mainly refer to Janssens et al. because these allow for more thorough comparisons between private and public sector (compared to 2002 and other years ) because of the design of the sample. These expectations are still based upon what the employee believes the employer has promised him or her. Ria JANVIER. The survey of Van den Brande. whose sample includes both private and public sector 1 employees in the UK and the study of Van den Brande (2002) 2 . local government and health sector workers. It was made clear that ‘expect’ is used in the sense of what respondents think their employer should do. In the Willems et al study (2003a) respondents answered to the question ‘to what extent does the organisation meet up to your expectations concerning…’ by indicating ‘far less than I expect’.or commitments on a range of issues. Guest and Conway (2000: 2) operationalised what they call ‘the state of the psychological contract’ as ‘the extent to which workers believe that promises and commitments made to them by the organisation have been delivered. Erik HENDERICKX 6 . similar definition: ‘The psychological contract is the individual perception of a set of compelling. The empirical data will be derived mainly from the longitudinal study of Guest and Conway. ’ The main survey questions on the psychological contract– in both Belgian studies – were: ‘what do you expect of your employer?’ and ‘what can your employer expect from you’. mutual expectations. the level of fairness of treatment associated with promises and the degree of trust in management to continue to deliver promises in the future ’. In the survey. seeing as this is in English. respondents were asked if indicated promises made by the organisation were fully kept. Ingrid WILLEMS. The psychological contract in the Van den Brande study was defined as ‘the idiosyncratic set of reciprocal expectations held by employees concerning their obligations (what they will do for the employer) and their entitlements (what they expect to receive in return)’ (Janssens et al. ‘more than I expect’ or ‘far more than I expect’. Although the research is actually that of Van den Brande (doctoral dissertation).
which cover employees’ expected entitlements and their expected obligations towards their employer4 . When the features of the contract are measured. However. through cluster analysis of the answers of employees in both private and public sector. Further analys is in this study showed. flexibility. 2000). The strong psychological contract cluster had the highest mean scores on all but one of ten dimensions of the contract. 2003b). particularly compared to the private sector. where significantly less promises have been made. they most often had a strong or a loyal psychological contract. personal treatment. tangibility.3. however. significantly more promises are believed to have been made compared to other sectors. 4 See also Janssens et al (2003). 3. personal investment. flexibility and so on. the research on this third facet in a public and private sector comparative perspective is very limited. The psychological contract was measured by using ten dimensions 3 . RESULTS : THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CONTRACT IN THE PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SECTOR COMPARED The study of the psychological contract usually focuses on two aspects: the employee expectations and the fulfilment of the contract. employees with a strong psychological contract have very high expectations of their employer. according to respondents’ views (Guest & Conway. Erik HENDERICKX 7 . For more information on these dimensions. In other words. 2002: 28). The content of the contract includes the concrete terms. The typical profile for respondents in this cluster is that of an older civil servant with a middle management job and a high salary. The number of human resources practices is the key factor influencing the number of promises made (Guest & Conway. For six of the ten dimensions this cluster had significantly higher scores than all other clusters (Janssens et al. open attitude. dimensions such as loyalty. carefulness regarding arrangements. see Janssens et al (2002) or Willems et al (2003b). The study then looked at the profiles of respondents in the six clusters. The results of the survey of Guest and Conway (2000: 21) seem also to coincide with the concept of the strong psychological contract found in the study of Janssens et al. but are also prepared to offer a lot in return. The expected obligations of the employee form the third aspect of the psychological contract studies can focus on. respect for authority. Direct participation in decision making and a friendly climate also have a positive influence on the perceived amount of promises made by the employer. Central government employees report significantly more human resource practices than employees in o ther sectors do. equal treatment and (2) for obligations: loyalty. Ingrid WILLEMS. Employees in the health sector and local government report a friendlier climate than those in 3 These dimensions were (1) for entitlements: long-term involvement. of which the measurement leads to a descriptive list of expectations on for example pay. Sector in its turn influences the organisational climate. Employee expectations and employee expected obligations In the large-scale study of Janssens et al (2002) six different types of psychological contracts were found. These findings concur with those of our study of central government workers: we also found that expectations were very high. that the sector itself is only indirectly linked to the amount of promises believed to have been made. as was the willingness to offer the employer a lot in return (Willems et al 2003b).1. The employee expectations and the expected obligations can be studied by measuring the content or the features of the expectations. Although civil servants were found in all psychological contract clusters. are used (Willems et al. career opportunities and so on. Ria JANVIER. In central government. 2000: 21).
As stated above. Erik HENDERICKX 8 . The profile of employees with a weak contract is not very pronounced. poorly educated blue-collar worker or civil servant. Employees in the industrial sector most often have an instrumental psychological contract. Employees with an unattached psychological contract have low expectations of long-term involvement and are only to a small extent prepared to be loyal to their employer. Central and local government employees seem to work in a less dynamic climate than those in other sectors. although they also often possess loyal and strong contracts. strong and loyal – with that of employees in the private sector. 2002). finishing work at home)’. Their employer can expect a high degree of loyalty in return. The score is slightly higher than that of private sector employees. the strong contract is found with public servants in central. 2002). It appears expectations within central government are not consistent. regional and local government. Ingrid WILLEMS. but are not prepared to offer the same effort in return (especially concerning personal investment and flexibility). But although the sample was limited to central government. Although in the research of Janssens et al.g. Their job is generally operational and low-paid (Janssens et al.the private sector. particularly on long-term involvement. Cluster analysis in the Janssens et al study also indicated the existence of investing and weak psychological contracts. They are usually highly educated white-collar or executive employees with high salaries (Janssens et al. this is not the case in Guest and Conway.e. In Guest and Conway (2000) also. Long-term involvement was the feature with the highest score out of central government workers expectations and loyalty was what civil servants were most willing to offer out of all the features of expected entitlements. but these employees are not so willing to offer personal investment5 . a high percentage of public sector respondents reported that the employer promised to provide a reasonably secure job. whose sample design allows for a more thorough investigation into the cross-sector differences than the study of Janssens et al. They expect quite a lot from their employer. which is the opposite of a loyal psychological contract. And the public sector as a whole has a more bureaucratic climate than the private sector. These results correspond with the findings in our own study. Ria JANVIER. with few opportunities on the labour market and who is a member of a trade union. the second type of contract civil servants in the Janssens et al (2002) study had – more often than other employees – was the loyal psychological contract. private sector scores on this item were not lower than those of the public sector. An instrumental contract implies that employees have reasonably high expectations of the employer but perceive themselves as having low obligations. Employees with a loyal psychological contract have high expectations towards their employer. The typical profile of respondents with a loyal psychological contract is that of a very loyal. In 2001 however. The results of the Janssens et al study allow us to compare the typical contracts of the public servant – i. These results also indicate that the ‘strong contract of the public sector’ could be valid only for central government. 5 The dimension ‘personal investment’ was described as ‘the degree in which the employer can expect employees to personally invest into the organisation rather than to see the organisation as an economic resource (e. Employees in commercial services (as opposed to the industrial sector and the public sector) often have an unattached psychological contract. we found a small but significant difference between the expectation concerning long-term involvement of public servants in different departments.
Overall. 2000: 20). For the promise of quality of treatment the public sector scores were respectively 90%. as was the case with other promises. Also. employees in the public sector report to a large extent that they are promised fair treatment and quality of treatment. even though they report more practices with regard to fair treatment and employee well being (Guest & Conway. In our own study. Employees with a lower job level had higher expectations than others (Willems et al. Also. Fulfilment of the psychological contract The CIPD 2000 survey showed that employees in central government have a poorer psychological contract than employees in the private sector. 2001). personal treatment –which included the item ‘help with personal problems’ – and information about decisions affecting employees were respectively seventh and first on the list of twenty-three employee expectations (Willems et al. 93% of central government workers.3. fair treatment. there are quite some differences within the public sector. Other promises that are made more often in private than in the public sector – according to respondents – are the promise to help deal with problems outside work and to keep employees fully informed about changes (Guest & Conway: 2000. A higher number of promises by management are not being met in central government. 2002). we can conclude that long-term involvement. However. In Willems et al Ingrid WILLEMS. 2000). 2003b).that of employees with an investing psychological contract is that of a highly educated executive employee. However. quality of treatment. personal treatment and information about changes or decisions affecting employees are expectations – based on promises of employers – more often held by employees in the public sector than in the private sector. Guest and Conway believe this may be due to pay being linked to performance as central government workers report far more often than others that performance influences their pay. Although psychological contracts in the public sector seem to have common characteristics. These promises occur more often than in the private sector. this does not mean that ‘the public sector psychological contract’ exists. Erik HENDERICKX 9 . 2001). In 2001 the gap between private and public sector on these items narrows. the health sector and local government. 2003a). In the Guest and Conway study (2000: 20). as opposed to 76% in the private sector. but remains. within different public servant groups different psychological contracts can be found. and especially those in central government. Ria JANVIER. The expectations of public sector workers. Next to long-term involvement and job-security. are least being met in the area of pay and promotion (Guest & Conway. Coyle-Shapiro and Kessler (1998) also found a wide gap between county council employees’ expectations on pay and what was received. there are significant differences within the public sector. Public sector employees with a permanent contract status report more promises being made by their employers than contingent employees (Coyle-Shapiro & Kessler. the psychological contract in the public sector can be described as strong and loyal. 88% of local government employees and 85% of health sector workers indicated their employer promised them fair treatment. usually in a small company. In our own study we also found large and significant differences between central government workers of different job levels. 91% and 86% as opposed to 77% of the private sector employees who believed they were made the promise of quality of treatment (Guest & Conway. Particularly in central government these two promises are made more often (Guest & Conway. 2000). 3.
In other words. 2001) indicated. Overall. Overall. 32% in local government and 37% in the health sector .as opposed to 63% in the private sector – reported the organisation fully kept its promise to involve and consult them about changes affecting them (Guest & Conway.the tighter frameworks of performance and the recent difficulty of identifying a distinct public service ethos. The levels of trust. they do suggest the low willingness of central government employees – in comparison to other sectors . the reasons motivating employees to choose a job in the central government may currently not be valued (Guest & Conway. Erik HENDERICKX 10 . this proved also to be a plausible explanation for the high degree of psychological contract breach reported: the survey was after all. Not the attitude towards direct management. In 2001 only 26% of the respondents in central government. Employees in central government feel less fairly treated. working in central government has a significant negative influence on the state of the psychological contract. Ria JANVIER.(2003b) we also found that in the area of pay and promotion a psychological contract breach occurs most often. Perhaps there is a lack of ‘tailoring’ of promises to the needs of different types of employees. they believe more often that the (perceived) promises made to them are not being met. Particularly noteworthy is the great gap between public and private sector on the delivery of promises concerning involvement and consultation on changes affecting the employee. but towards the organisation as a whole is considered problematic (Guest & Conway. The Guest and Conway study also highlighted that people working in central government departments and agencies consistently display more negative attitudes than those in other sectors. conducted during a period where central government was initiating a large scale reform (Willems et al. In the 2001 survey Guest and Conway offer another possible explanation: employees in the public sector –and central government particula rly – are confronted with a lot of organisational change and this can have a negative effect on attitudes. the trend of declining satisfaction is more marked in the public than in the private sector. 2001: 24). In our study of the psychological contract of central government workers. Another explanation could be that the promises made in central government are – more so than in other sectors – made for a very diverse group of employees. 2003a). Guest and Conway suggest this dissatisfaction could be due to – amongst other factors . The research results of Coyle-Shapiro and Kessler (1998) in Surrey County Council (UK) are comparable. Also. This explanation seems more convincing. However. no evidence is presented for these explanations. here the problem is situated more around the dissatisfaction with pay progression rather than with pay linked to performance. They found a wide gap between employee expectations on involvement and what was actually received. 2000). commitment and satisfaction are lower. Unfortunately . 2000). employees indicate lower levels of fairness – with respect to the effort-reward deal and fair pay in particular – than in all other groups. However. Central government workers trust their management less and have a less positive work-life balance. Particularly odd about the finding that central government workers display the most negative attitudes concerning their psychological contract is that in the Guest and Conway study they report – to a higher Ingrid WILLEMS.to trust senior management to look after their best interests might be a causal factor. as regression analyses in the Guest and Conway study (2000. Guest and Conway (2000) do not offer a conclusive explanation for the finding that central government workers experience more breaches in their contract than employees in other sectors. in central government. In the private industry these levels are higher than in central government and the health sector (the scores for local government are somewhere in between).
and particularly in central government. quality of treatment and information on changes affecting employees are also promised more often in the public sector. 2002). Also. possibility to vary their hours) (Guest & Conway. indicates that the psychological contract of the public sector worker does not seem to exist. low level job. Ria JANVIER. is that these conditions themselves raise employees’ expectations to the degree where they may appear to promise more than the organisation can deliver. Our study also discovered significant effects of type of job and department on the fulfilment of the psychological contract (Willems et al. support with childcare and flexible work patterns (working part time. Fair and personal treatment. it is limited due to the nature of the data gathering (telephone interviews with limited time and consequently a limited amount of questions). the current study is explorative. working from home. As stated in the beginning of this paper. Thus. there is a common pattern to be found in the whole of the public sector. There are significant differences in expectations and in the perceived fulfilment of the contract between various sub-sectors within the public sector – central government.extent than workers in other sectors – a wide range of progressive human resource practices in their organisation relating to equal opportunities. contingent. the results of our study were precisely the opposite. placing emphasis on long-term involvement. 2001). They also often have a loyal psychological contract. local government. Employees with non-management jobs reported more often than managers that their expectations regarding their job were not being met. It seems that management cannot deliver what they have promised. Preferably a large scale study should be conducted. 2000. which Ingrid WILLEMS. public sector workers experience more often a breach in their psychological contract. 4. especially if they are highly educated. 2000: 6). However. which differs from that of the private sector. Further research is needed to confirm the preliminary results presented here. CONCLUSION The empirical evidence. The evaluation that public servants employed by statute (permanent job) gave of their psychological contract was more negative than those of other employees. which makes some of the results indicative rather than conclusive (Guest & Conway. high level vs. Erik HENDERICKX 11 . Oddly enough. We looked at the research of others to explore the unique nature – if it exists – of the psychological contract of the public sector employee. Guest and Conway believe the only possible explanation for the lack of employee satisfaction in this sector despite progressive employment conditions. 2003a). Although the Guest and Conway study is large scale. Continuous and large scale change efforts and accompanying big promises by management have led – particularly in central government – to (too) high expectations in the minds of employees. health sector (Guest & Conway. full-time. expectations concerning pay and promotion of employees with part-time jobs were being met less than those of full-time employees. Public servants seem to have higher expectations than workers in other sectors – they often have a strong psychological contract. 2001) – between departments in one subsector (Willems et al. Compared to the private sector. Public sector employees with a permanent contract status report more often than employees with a contingent contract that their employers deliver what they promise (Coyle-Shapiro & Kessler. 2003a) and between different groups of public servants – with permanent contract vs. as shown above. sometimes only a single question per topic could be asked. Within different public servant groups a different degree of psychological contract fulfilment can be found. part-time vs.
Also. It would be interesting to link the results of the current study to the research on public sector motivation. Ingrid WILLEMS. the readiness to deliver beyond literal contractual obligations. The framework of the psychological contract is an interesting one for the study of the public sector working relationship and the identity of the public servant. i.e. Coyle-Shapiro and Kessler found that particularly the fulfilment of the relational contract elements – such as ‘interesting work’. Erik HENDERICKX 12 .includes both private and public sector and which holds a large range of items on the content and fulfilment of the psychological contract. a lot of theoretical work and empirical research needs to be done to come to a better understanding of the unique features of psychological contracts in the public sector. Ria JANVIER. Secondly. this study focussed merely on the framework of the psychological contract. public service motivation may influence the type of contract individuals look for with the organisation and how they respond to contract fulfilment. However. As Coyle-Shapiro and Kessler (2003) suggest. job security and involvement in decision making – has a positive influence on employees’ organisational citizenship behaviour.
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