RELATIONSHIPS WITH OTHER PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSTRUCTS: OLD WINE IN NEW BOTTLES?

Arnold (1996) has argued that if the psychological contract construct is to be of use, at least in its employee-only, idiosyncratic form, then it needs to be systematically differentiated (conceptually and empirically) from closely related constructs such as commitment. Many of the pet constructs researched by organizational psychologists, for example, report alarmingly strong relationships with supposedly conceptually and empirically distinct concepts, for example organizational commitment, job satisfaction, job involvement, and so on. Many conflated relationships are believed to exist due to method covariance and other statistical biases. It is possible however, one one level, to argue that such relationships are also descriptive of the complex and interdependent nature of workplace reactions. It is with these caveats in mind that we can explore the relationships found between the psychological contract and other measures of workplace perception and reaction, thereby attempting to identify or clarify what is distinct about the psychological contract.

Organizational Commitment

It might be argued that the psychological contract as a cognitive-perceptual construct holds little explanatory or predictive significance over and above the concept of organizational commitment (e.g. Somers, 1995). Argyle (1989), citing Etzioni (1961), proposed that commitment can be thought of in two ways: calculative and affective. Calculative commitment corresponds to Etzioni's notion of 'utilitarian exchange', signalling an instrumental attachment to an organization, whilst affective commitment corresponds to Etzioni's notion of 'moral involvement', signalling a non-instrumental 'emotional' attachment to the organization through internalizing its values. This conceptualization of commitment echoes with the idea of a 'transactional' (i.e. calculative) and 'relational' (i.e. affective) organizational orientation.

Likewise, Becker's (1960) 'side-bet' behavioural theory of commitment pictures an individual bound to the organization through instrumental interests (e.g. salary, benefits, seniority/status) (also underpinning the work of McGee & Ford, 1987) indicating, perhaps, a kind of transactional organizational orientation. Similarly, the affective/attitudinal view of commitment parallels the idea of a relational organizational orientation insofar as it is defined as 'the strength of an individual's identification and involvement with an organization' (Porter, Steers, Mowday & Boullian, 1974, p. 12; see also Mowday, Steers & Porter, 1979).1 It might be argued, then, that the psychological contract is merely another way of operationalizing organizational commitment: the transactional orientation is similar to the calculative type of commitment proposed by Etzioni (1961) with the relational orientation corresponding to Etzioni's idea of an affective/attitudinal type of commitment.

Unlike the psychological contract, however, organizational commitment is construed to comprise employee attitudes towards an entire organization, rather than specific aspects or facets of that organization. As such, the commitment construct is believed to be less influenced by daily events (Angle & Perry, 1981; Dipboye, Smith & Howell, 1994), and to be more indicative of a relatively stable employee attribute (Porter et at., 1974; Koch & Steers, 1978). However, the conceptual and empirical overlap between the two models is difficult to ascertain from the existing literature. The concept of organizational commitment used by contemporary researchers is anchored one-sidedly in the affective/attitudinal tradition of Porter et al. (1974).

As pointed out by Rousseau (1995), the concept of the psychological contract is most definitely tied to that of organizational commitment; however, it does not address beliefs about reciprocity and obligation. Together, findings show that, even as a cognitive-perceptual employee-only construct, the psychological contract (operationalized in transactional and relational terms) explains substantially more variance than either organizational or job commitment, in organizational behaviour including extra-role activity, intention to stay or leave, and absenteeism (Millward & Hopkins, 1998; Millward & Brewerton, 1999; Coyle-Shapiro & Kessler, 1998). The added value of the psychological contract construct as an explanatory tool is also illustrated by evidence (to be described below in the section on the links with organized culture) demonstrating its fundamentally two-way, as opposed to one-way, character. Whereas organizational commitment pertains to the degree of emotional investment in, and identification with, an organization and its goals, the psychological contract can be said to operate in a more multifaceted and dynamic fashion. Organizational commitment can thus be said to denote an 'input', whereas the psychological contract distinctly denotes a 'relationship of exchange' (Millward & Hopkins, 1998; Millward & Herriot, 1999).

 
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