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Integrating expectations, experiences, and psychological contract violations: a longitudinal study of new professionals.

When employees commence a new job, they evaluate many of their experiences in relation to what they expected the job would be like and what they thought the job should provide them. For example, employees may enter an organization with the expectation that they will be provided with opportunities for further education. They may also believe that during their recruitment phase, they were promised advanced computer skills training in exchange for satisfactory progress reports. These two kinds of beliefs are conceptually distinct. Beliefs about what the job will be like have been investigated in terms of expectations (Wanous & Collella, 1989). Beliefs about implicit or explicit promises have been investigated in terms of psychological contracts (Anderson & Schalk, 1998).

Psychological contracts develop through an interactive process that often begins during recruitment (Rousseau, 1990) but may be influenced by a number of other human-resource practices such as performance reviews, compensation, training, personnel manuals and benefits (Rousseau & Greller, 1994). The employee brings to the organization, a set of expectations about a possible future relationship (McFarlane Shore, & Tetrick, 1994; Robinson, 1996) that are subject to change through an interactive exchange with the organization's representative. Robinson (1996) argued that only those expectations that are implicitly of explicitly promised by the employer will also form part of the psychological contract. Therefore, unlike pre-entry expectations, psychological contracts are formed through interaction with the employer. Although these two types of beliefs are conceptually distinct, there are also similarities between them.

Similarity between these two types of beliefs has resulted in some confusion about the nature of the constructs, their determinants, and the impact they have on organizational outcomes. Little research has directly tested how the two types of beliefs jointly operate in organizations. The goal of this study is to clarify conceptual distinctions between the key constructs of expectations, experiences and psychological contract violations, and to test their differential impact on the outcome of satisfaction at work.

Expectations and experiences

The term 'pre-entry expectations' is used in this review to refer to newcomer expectations formed prior to organizational entry. We use the term 'post-entry experiences' to describe the experience, or perceptions, of work after a specified period of work in an organization. These terms are preferred to alternative terms used in this research area because they provide a more precise description of the nature of expectations and subsequent experiences. For example, the term 'initial expectations' has been used to describe expectations, particularly in longitudinal analyses (Hom, Griffeth, Palich, & Bracker, 1998). However, this term does not clearly restrict expectations to the period prior to organizational entry or before an employer intervention such as a realistic job preview.

The term 'met expectations' has been widely used to describe a range of perceptions including the experience of work after entry to an organization, post-entry preferences (Bottger, 1990), differences between pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences (Major, Kozlowski, Chao, & Gardner, 1995), and also an interaction between the two (Irving & Meyer, 1994). Porter and Steers (1973) defined met expectations as 'the discrepancy between what a person encounters on the job in the way of positive and negative experiences and what he expected to encounter' (p. 152). In the current study, the term 'met expectations' will be limited to describing the interaction between pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences.

The relationship between pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences has primarily been investigated in relation to realistic job previews (RJPs). Some organizations use RJPs to alter the beliefs and expectations of prospective employees, thereby improving the fit between individuals' expectations and the environment, in order to reduce turnover (Ilgen & Seely, 1974). RJPs are likely to raise the stress levels of potential newcomers as a result of the realistic, and often negative, information they are provided (Wanous & Reichers, 2000). Porter and Steers (1973) claimed that clarification of expectations amongst newcomers was the key to reduction in turnover, citing RJP studies as examples of this process. Wanous (1977) and colleagues (Dean & Wanous, 1984; Premack & Wanous, 1985; Wanous, Poland, Premack, & Davis, 1992) provided a link between the met expectations hypothesis, as identified by Porter and Steers (1973), and the proposed mediating effects of RJPs on the relationship between pre-entry expectations, and satisfaction and turnover. For example, in a direct comparison of the effect of RJPs and met expectations on satisfaction and job survival, Wanous and Premack (in Wanous & Collella, 1989) found that met expectations correlated higher with satisfaction (r = .32) and job survival (r = .18) than the RJP (.05 and .06, respectively). A more recent review (Hom et al., 1998) presented an integrated model which investigated the links between met expectations, RJPs, satisfaction, turnover and commitment; and found met expectations, computed by residual gain scores, to be strongly linked with satisfaction. However, a reanalysis of the data prompted by concerns over the use of residual difference scores (Irving & Meyer, 1999) led the authors to reject the met expectations hypothesis (Hom, Griffeth, Palich, & Bracker, 1999).

RJP literature provides a significant body of work that supports a link between met expectations and job satisfaction. However, a number of conceptual problems remain (Irving & Moyer, 1994). Porter and Steers (1973) argued that unmet expectations lead to dissatisfaction that then leads to turnover. While there have been relatively few direct tests of met expectations as an antecedent to job satisfaction, a number of papers have supported the met expectations hypothesis without directly testing it (Collarelli, 1984; Meglino, Denisi, Youngblood, & Williams, 1988; Suszko & Breaugh, 1986). For example, pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences were inferred by Meglino et al. (1988), based on substantive measures of expected and actual satisfaction. It has been argued that such reliance on proxy measures has resulted in an overstatement of the met expectations, and self-selection accounts for the influence of realistic job previews (Saks, Wiesner, & Summers, 1994).

Psychological contracts and met expectations

The notion of psychological contracts was first discussed in the 1960s and 1970s with somewhat different conceptualizations (see, for example, Argyris, 1960; Levinson, 1962; Schein, 1965). Although many of the dimensions of the psychological contract are yet to be agreed upon (Thomas & Anderson, 1998), contemporary research has largely adopted the definitional framework outlined by Rousseau (see, for example, Guzzo & Noonan, 1994). Rousseau and Greller (1994) defined the psychological contract as an individual's beliefs regarding the terms and conditions of an exchange agreement between that person and another party.

The psychological contract has a number of defining features. It is inherently subjective (McFarlane Shore & Tetrick, 1994) and perceptual (Robinson, 1996); it is reciprocal and promissory (Rousseau, 1990); it has both transactional and relational elements (Guzzo & Noonan, 1994); and it will change over time (McFarlane Shore & Tetrick, 1994). Even in the presence of formal contracts, psychological contracts are formed to reduce uncertainty, direct employee behaviour without surveillance, and to give employees a sense of control and predictability (McFarlane Shore & Tetrick, 1994).

When one party to a psychological contract believes that the perceived promissory obligations have not been met, a psychological contract violation is said to have occurred (Robinson & Rousseau, 1994). Such violations may relate to training and development, compensation, promotion, the nature of the job, job security, feedback, management of change, responsibility, coworkers (Robinson & Rousseau, 1994) and benefits (Lucero & Allen, 1994). Psychological contract violation occurs because continuous renegotiation is not the norm (Dunahee & Wangler, 1974) and because constant change of the contract provides increased opportunities for misunderstandings and therefore contract violation (Robinson, 1996). Reneging and incongruence have been discussed as two root causes for the perception of a psychological contract breach (Morrison & Robinson, 1997; Robinson & Morrison, 2000). The first, reneging, is said to occur when the organization, through its representative, knowingly fails to meet an obligation. The second, incongruence, relates more to a gap in the shared understanding between an employee and the organization's representative, as to whether an obligation exists. Either of these two root causes may result in the perception of a psychological contract violation. Morrison and Robinson (1997) argued that the cognitive perception of a breach in a psychological contract will not necessarily result in the intense emotional reaction associated with the term psychological contract violation, and that explanations of the root causes of breach of contract may reduce the intensity of the emotional response.

Violations may result in employee withdrawal or engagement in anti-role behaviours such as negativism, theft, harassment, sabotage and vandalism (McLean Parks & Kidder, 1994). In the absence of a legal remedy, an individual who perceives a breach of their psychological contract withdraws or withholds from the relationship in an attempt to enforce the contract (Spindler, 1994). Robinson and Rousseau (1994) argued that breach of a promise or trust, in the form of a psychological contract violation, will produce feelings of betrayal, and employees will therefore experience a greater intensity of reaction than if expectations are not met. The intensity of the reaction is attributed to general beliefs about respect, codes of conduct and other relationship-associated behaviours (Rousseau in Robinson & Rousseau, 1994).

In addition to the root cause of psychological contract violation, the nature of the obligations perceived to have been unfulfilled has been found to result in different outcomes. Bunderson (2001) argued that professional employees are more likely to respond to breaches of administrative role obligations, with feelings of dissatisfaction, turnover intention and actual turnover, whereas breaches in professional role obligations are more likely to result in lowered organizational commitment and job performance.

Although much of the research on psychological contracts has focused on the phase of organizational entry or creation of psychological contracts (Rousseau, 1990), writers in the area clearly acknowledge (Robinson & Rousseau, 1994) that psychological contracts continue to be formed and revised over the full course of employment. Thomas and Anderson (1998) have postulated that organizational newcomers have only rudimentary psychological contracts to which perceptions of obligations will be added during the period of socialisation. The met expectations hypothesis, however, involves a comparison between expectations formed prior to organizational entry and perceptions at some point post-entry. Although it can be argued that perceptions are also continuously being formed, the power of met expectations is generally regarded to fail as newcomers become socialized into the organization.

Few studies in the field of psychological contract research have positioned their findings in a general explanatory model of attitudes and behaviours in an organizational setting. Empirical findings that support a distinction between met expectations and psychological contracts (Robinson, Kraatz, & Rousseau, 1994) are few. An opportunity exists to explore an integrated model that incorporates both met expectations and psychological contracts. This model should test the relative explanatory power of both constructs as they relate to job satisfaction.

Model development and hypotheses

The above review suggests there are both similarities and differences between expectations and psychological contracts. Both constructs describe individual beliefs or perceptions about the nature of the workplace (Robinson et al., 1994). However, there are key differences in the way the constructs are conceptualized. Pre-entry expectations have no restrictions in content, they are formed prior to entry, they are based on pre-job experience, and there is only one party to the understanding. In contrast, compared with unmet expectations, psychological contracts consist only of promissory obligations, are formed post-organizational exchange and have the employer and the employee as parties to the agreement.

As noted by Guzzo and Noonan (1994), psychological contracts have more often been theorized about rather than empirically investigated. To help clarify the relationships among the three core constructs of pre-entry expectations, post-entry experiences and psychological contract violations, Fig. 1 provides a summary of potential relationships based on the review above.


The model indicates a number of hypothesized relationships that will be tested in the study. The first four hypotheses deal with main effects linking the constructs. Hypotheses 5 and 6 relate to interaction effects. As noted in the introduction above, the current study defines the met expectations variable as an interaction between pre-entry expectations (of job characteristics, pay and supervision) and post-entry experiences (of job characteristics, pay and supervision). The model includes both direct and interaction effects to derive a more complex and better-fitting model to explain relationships amongst the predictors of expectations, experiences and psychological contract violations, and to test their differential impact on the outcome variable, satisfaction at work (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996, p. 576). The key hypotheses derived from the model are outlined below.

Expectations relate to beliefs about anticipated, future job conditions, which mayor may not be desirable (Edwards, 1990), and thus pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences should be viewed as separate constructs. The model, therefore, depicts the three pre-entry expectation factors, relating to job characteristics, pay, and supervision, on the left-hand side of the model prior to organizational entry. The three post-entry expectations, measured by commensurate measures of these same factors, and psychological contract violations, both relate to experiences or perceptions of work formed after a specified period of work in an organization, and thus appear on the right-hand side of the model.

Although pre-entry expectations, post-entry experiences and value attainment have been found to be interrelated (Greenhaus, Seidel, & Marinis, 1983) the impact of personal experiences and attributes on work attitudes and behaviours remains poorly understood (Pearson, 1995). In the current sample, final-year occupational-therapy students were surveyed regarding their pre-entry expectations immediately prior to graduation. Unlike students who complete business degrees, for example, Australian occupational-therapy students are not recruited prior to their graduation and thus are most unlikely to form pre-entry expectations based on interaction with their future employers. We first hypothesize the link between pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences.

Hypothesis 1: Pre-entry expectations will be positively related to their commensurate measures of post-entry experiences.

The literatures on met expectations and psychological contract violation are not well connected. There is little empirical evidence for psychological contract theory, and met-expectations research has been plagued by methodological problems. Previously, comparisons have been made between psychological contracts and met expectations, rather than considering the components of the met expectations interaction. In the current study, pre-entry experiences (and post-entry expectations) are considered separately to the notion of met expectations. First, Hypothesis 1 will determine whether or not pre-entry expectations and the commensurate measures of post-entry experience are related.

Expectations held by potential employees are seen as influencing the development of the psychological contract. However, organizational goals, conditions and the nature of the interaction with potential employers serve to make the exchange unique. While expectations refer to what the employee expects to find, the psychological contract refers to the mutual obligations that describe the relationship (Robinson & Rousseau, 1994). As newcomers become socialized into the organization, and experiences replace expectations, the power of pre-entry expectations is hypothesized to reduce. According to Robinson and Rousseau (1994), psychological contracts are clearly based on expectations, but not all expectations are included in a psychological contract. We propose three exploratory hypotheses that link pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences with psychological contract violation.

Hypothesis 2a: Pre-entry expectations will not be related to contract violations.

This hypothesis tests the contention that the psychological contract is developed through employee/employer interaction and not as a result of pre-existing expectations which mayor may not be reinforced by the contract.

Hypothesis 2b: Post-entry experiences will be negatively related to psychological contract violation.

Robinson (1996) stated that if the sole underlying mechanism of psychological contract violation was unmet expectations, there would be little value in psychological contract violation literature. However, the current study places the focus of comparison on psychological contract violation and post-entry experiences, one of two interaction terms forming met expectations. This enables the consideration of a more complex model and the testing of main effects as outlined in the following hypothesis.

Hypothesis 3: Post-entry experiences and psychological contract violations will contribute independently to job satisfaction.

In addition to job dissatisfaction, failure to uphold a psychological contract may result in employee withdrawal or engagement in anti-role behaviours such as negativism, sabotage and vandalism (McLean Parks & Kidder, 1994). The relationships postulated in Hypotheses 2 and 3 are based on the work by Irving and Myer (1994). They sought to determine the relative effect of met expectations against two competing explanations of job satisfaction: the moderation of post-entry experiences by pre-entry expectations, and main effects of pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences. In relation to job satisfaction, they found the strongest support for the experience main-effect model. This hypothesis will test both these assertions.

Hypothesis 4: Job satisfaction will mediate the link between post-entry experiences and turnover intentions, and between contract violations and intentions.

Although met expectations and psychological contracts are related constructs, this paper clearly distinguishes between them. Met expectations and psychological contracts are both explanatory mechanisms for the link between individual responses, and individual and organizational characteristics (Rousseau, 1978). Recent research (Guest, 1998; Turnley & Feldman, 2000) has seen a shift from the exclusion of the met expectations hypothesis from psychological contract theory, to its partial inclusion. Robinson (1996) argued that met expectations and a loss of trust mediate the relationship between psychological contract violation and employee contributions, namely performance, organizational citizenship behaviour and intention to remain. Hypothesis 5 will test the nature of the relationship between the two constructs.

Hypothesis 5: Pre-entry expectations relating to job characteristics, pay and supervision will interact with their commensurate measures of post-entry experiences to predict psychological contract violation.

Investigation of psychological contracts has flourished because of the construct's capacity to combine a number of important situational, and more recently dispositional, variables that are relevant to understanding the employee/employer relationship (see, for example, Coyle-Shapiro & Kessler, 2000a). Many previous tests of the met expectations hypothesis are limited by their failure to address methodological issues, such as those associated with difference scores and direct measures (Edwards, 1991). In particular, the contingent relationship between expectations and experiences has not been tested appropriately using difference scores. While constructs are being more clearly defined, the opportunity exists to clarify the relationship between met expectations and psychological contracts within the employee/employer relationship. An understanding of the role of met expectations and psychological contract violation for the organizational newcomer would enable employers to target issues of recruitment and retention for the benefit of employees, consumers and the organization as a whole.

Greenhaus and colleagues (1983) argued that the relationship between met expectations and job satisfaction is an assumed, not a tested, one. Much of the realistic job preview literature both assumes and supports a link between met expectations and job satisfaction (Hom et al., 1998; Premack & Wanous, 1985). Based on the work of Edwards (1991, 1994), we use the interaction term comprising pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences as a general test of the contingent relationship implied by the concept of met expectations. The following hypothesis will directly test the relationship between job satisfaction and met expectations.

Hypothesis 6: Pre-entry expectations and their commensurate measures of post-entry experiences will interact to predict job satisfaction.



The current project focused on the experience of new professionals with less than one year's work experience (Freda, 1992). Robinson et al. (1994) found that employee perception of mutual obligations changes to a greater extent in the first years in an organization. The sample was drawn from five of the seven Australian university occupational therapy departments with a graduating year in 1997. The population from which the sample was drawn consists of 394 students from the Australian 1997 graduating year and 75 students from the 1998 graduating year. The sample comprised 411 students. At time 1 (T1), students were surveyed towards the end of their final year of study, with 295 completed surveys received, yielding a response rate of 72%. At time 2 (T2), 14 months after the administration of the first survey, 248 participants completed the follow-up questionnaire, yielding a response rate of 84%. Of these, 235 surveys were usable. The remaining 13 surveys were returned from respondents who had never worked in their trained profession due to travel, lack of employment opportunities, parenting responsibilities, financial reasons and other occupational choices. At time 2, respondents had been working for a mean period of 9 months.


A longitudinal design using commensurate measures of pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences was employed to address a number of methodological limitations identified in the literature (Edwards, 1991; Edwards & Cooper, 1990; Irving & Meyer, 1994; Wanous et al., 1992). Data were collected using two self-report questionnaires. Structured interviews, with newly graduated occupational therapists and therapists with one year's work experience, were conducted to provide foundation for the design of the two questionnaires. The questionnaires were pre-tested in a pilot study with final year students and new graduates.

Respondents were surveyed towards the end of their final-year of study. Final-year students were addressed at each university site in person by the principal researcher, provided with an information sheet and invited to participate in the study. A questionnaire was administered, and parental/relative contact details for follow-up surveys were collected from those respondents who completed the consent form. All respondents were aged 20 years of over at the time of the first survey (M = 23.2, SD = 3.84). Questionnaires were coded to allow matching with responses from the follow-up survey. High response rates were promoted by the method of data collection in a population that is known to be geographically mobile.

Respondents were posted a follow-up questionnaire, approximately 14 months after administration of the first survey. A reply-paid, stamped, self-addressed envelope was enclosed. Two weeks after the second survey was mailed, a reminder letter was sent out to those respondents who had not yet returned the second survey. A phone follow-up was conducted 4 weeks after the second survey was posted.


Pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences

Items for commensurate measures of pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences were based on three of four broad categories of 'important' expectations proposed by Porter and Steers (1973): immediate work environment factors, organizational factors and job content factors. The three broad categories comprised expectations about the following aspects of work: (1) supervisory style, receipt of recognition and feedback, supervisory experience, work unit size and peer group interaction (immediate work environment); (2) pay, promotion, policies and organization size (organizational factors); and (3) overall reaction to job content, task repetitiveness, job autonomy and responsibility, and role clarity (job content). Forty items were developed to assess each aspect of the three broad categories and were based on initial interviews and a review of occupational therapy, job satisfaction and turnover literature. The fourth category, termed 'personal factors' (Porter & Steers), was not included in the study as it was less relevant to the current sample (Caligiuri, Phillips, Lazarova, Tarique, & Burgi, 2001), which differed little in terms of age, educational background and professional goals. All respondents were educated within Australian university occupational therapy departments and were surveyed immediately prior to their graduation and their first professional appointment as an occupational therapist.

Pre-entry expectations were assessed by asking participants to respond to items about their individual beliefs about what a future job would be like. Post-entry experiences at T2 were measured using the same 40 questions, from the first study, the same scale and anchors, with questions being reworded to reflect experiences rather than expectations (e.g., 'In my current job, I am able to approach my supervisor easily', rather than 'In my first job, I expect that I will be able to approach my supervisor easily').

An exploratory factor analysis of the items was conducted to reduce the item pool and to assess the proposed factor structure of the items. The initial factor analysis was performed on post-entry experiences (T2), as it was anticipated that post-entry experiences were more likely to predict job satisfaction than pre-entry expectations (T1), and more likely to be stable. Principal axis factoring with direct oblimin rotation was performed (n = 235). The results supported a five-factor structure of 18 items, explaining 64% of the variance in post-entry experiences.

A factor analysis for the 18 items was then run for T1 and T2 data. Items with loadings less than .30 were deleted. Variables with eigenvalues less than 1 were not included in the factor structure. When the items were reduced to those with loadings above .30 (Tabachnick & Fidell, 1996), there were no longer any cross-loadings.

A test of reliability for the new five-factor solution was performed, yielding acceptable [alpha] coefficients for all factors for T2 data: supervision (7 items, [alpha] = .86), overall job content (5 items, [alpha] = .77), pay (2 items, [alpha] = .86), peer support (2 items, [alpha] = .73), and task variety (2 items, [alpha] = .69). The reliability coefficients for T1 data were acceptable for the first three variables only: supervision (.78), overall job content (.73), pay (.65), peer support (.49) and task variety (.57). The two factors with low reliabilities, peer support and task variety, were excluded from subsequent regression analyses, thereby creating three factors. The items selected for inclusion in the three-factor solution are listed in Table 1, along with the factor loadings for pre-entry expectation items and the commensurate post-entry experience items.

Psychological contract violation

There are several limitations in the psychological contract literature. First, it remains largely theoretical rather than empirical. Second, a number of methodological issues are of concern. The bulk of the research is cross-sectional, rather than longitudinal. Direct single-item global measures have often been used in addition to a restricted range of contractual terms. Third, the bulk of research has relied on samples that are likely to place considerable emphasis on transactional rather than relational contracts, such as management graduates (Bunderson, 2001).

Investigation of occupational therapy graduates entering their first year of work provides the opportunity to test the psychological contract theory within a largely not-for-profit, public sector industry, where it is anticipated that the relational component of psychological contracts, reflecting the emphasis placed on intrinsic rewards by this population, may be of greater importance (Bunderson, 2001). Recent investigations of a sample of professional health-care workers has supported the contention that 'professional and administrative ideologies shape the psychological contracts of professional employees by suggesting an a priori (sic) set of roles, rights, and obligations' (Bunderson, 2001, p.735).

In addition to the use of a dichotomous measure, psychological contract violation was also measured using 5-point Likert scales adapted from scales used by Robinson and Rousseau (1994) in their investigation of MBA graduates. Individual scales were adapted for use with the human service profession of occupational therapy and pre-tested in a pilot study with final-year students and new graduates.

Eight items measured the extent to which employees perceived that employer obligations had been met, with anchors ranging from 1 (very poorly fulfilled) to 5 (very well fulfilled). A mean of these items was computed to give an overall continuous measure of psychological contract violation. Employer obligations related to promotion and advancement opportunities, input into management of change, power and responsibility, training and development opportunities, long-term job security, supervision and feedback, experience with a specific caseload and a specific type of work environment. When commonly accepted definitions of met expectations and psychological contracts are not employed, interpretation of results is difficult. However, it is not necessarily possible or even desirable to align a measure of expectations/ experiences with a measure of psychological contract violations. Rousseau and Tijoriwala (1998) argued that 'measures of "expectations" are not direct operationalizations (of reciprocal obligations) because they are contaminated by content unrelated to promissory interpretations' (p.681).

Job satisfaction

The short form of the Minnesota Satisfaction Questionnaire (MSQ) (Weiss, Dawis, England, 8: Lofquist, 1967) was used to measure overall job satisfaction.

Intention to turnover

Six 5-point Likert scale items, based on the original work by Mobley (1977), were used to measure intention to turnover. The current study measures intention to turnover as the immediate precursor to actual turnover (Bluedorn, 1982; Lee & Mowday, 1987; Michaels & Spector, 1982). Three items, with the anchors ranging from 1 (rarely or never) to 5 (very often), asked participants to indicate how often they thought about leaving their jobs (e.g., 'Over the past month, how often have you seriously thought about seeking another job?'). Intention to turnover was measured by a further three items, with anchors from 1 (definitely not) to 5 (definitely yes).


Pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences

The means, standard deviations, reliabilities and correlations among the measures, using T1 and T2 data, are displayed in Table 2. In contrast to earlier findings on the incidence of psychological contract violation (Coyle-Shapiro & Kessler, 2000b; Robinson & Rousseau, 1994), the majority of respondents (68%) did not report psychological contract violation. This is not consistent with an earlier finding that employees are more likely to perceive psychological contract breach when they have had little interaction with organizational members prior to being hired (Robinson & Morrison, 2000).

The dichotomous and continuous measures of psychological contract violation were moderately correlated (r = .47, p < .001). The continuous measure yielded a mean score of 2.39 (SD = .69), providing further evidence that the current sample experienced low levels of contract violation.

An examination of the relationships among the T1 expectation and commensurate T2 experience measures indicates that pre-entry expectations regarding overall job content, r = .33, p < .001, and pay, r = .24, p < .01, at T1, were positively related to the respective post-entry experiences of these factors at T2. Expectations regarding supervision were not significantly correlated with subsequent supervision experiences. Therefore, Hypothesis 1 was partially supported. Individuals with higher expectations for pay and job content were more likely to experience these factors as more positive when they were in the job compared with individuals with lower expectations.

Pre-entry expectations, post-entry experiences and psychological contract violation

The correlation table indicates, that with the exception of a weak relationship with supervision, r = -.15, p < .05, pre-entry expectations (T1) were not related to subsequent perceptions of contract violation. Therefore, individuals with higher expectations for supervision were more likely to experience psychological contract violations after they commenced the job. Expectations regarding overall job content and expectations regarding pay were not related to contract violations. This provides only partial support for Hypothesis 2a. To evaluate the remaining part of Hypothesis 2 and Hypotheses 3 and 4, we estimated a structural equation model using the scale scores as single indicator variables. The hypothetical model that was tested is presented in Figure 1.


We tested a hypothetical mediational model in which the three pre-entry expectations predicted their commensurate post-entry experiences. The three post-entry experiences were all unique predictors of contract violations and job satisfaction. Turnover intentions were predicted only by job satisfaction. In addition to the paths depicted in the figure, we also specified correlations among the three pre-entry expectations and among the three post-entry experiences. We did not estimate the reliability of the measures so that the results could be compared directly with results obtained for regression procedures used for the Hypotheses 5 and 6 below.

The hypothetical model provided a good fit to the data, [chi square] (20) = 24.14, p > .05, GFI = .98, CFI = .99, NNFI = .98. The fit indices suggest that additional paths, such as direct paths from the post-entry experiences to turnover, were not necessary to explain the correlations among the measures. Therefore, we used the results from the hypothetical model to evaluate the hypotheses. Figure 2 depicts the significant path values from the hypothetical model.


Only post-entry experience of supervision was a unique predictor of contract violation, partially supporting Hypothesis 2b. There were no direct paths from the pre-entry experiences to contract violations, although the path from supervision expectations was significant at the .08 probability level. The predictors of contract violations produce an interesting pattern of results. The post-entry experience of supervision was the only predictor of contract violation, yet this was the only experience that was not predicted by pre-entry expectations. Therefore, supervision plays a particularly important role in contract violation that could not be predicted from individual expectations.

Job satisfaction was significantly and positively predicted by all three post-entry experiences and also negatively predicted by contract violations. This result supports Hypothesis 3, that contract violations and post-entry experiences would contribute independently to job satisfaction. The result provides support for the independence of contraction violations and post-entry experiences, even though there are significant relationships between the constructs. Contract violations only partially mediated the link between post-entry experiences and satisfaction, and this partial mediation applied only to the experience of supervision.

The results of the structural model supported Hypothesis 4, that the relationships of both post-entry experiences and contract violations, and contract violations and turnover intentions, would be mediated by job satisfaction. Job satisfaction was strongly negatively related to turnover intentions. There were no significant direct paths between the other measures and turnover intentions.

Met expectations

Finally, we evaluated the role of met expectations by including an interaction term computed by multiplying each pre-entry expectation with its respective post-entry experience. The three variables were centred to reduce problems with multi-collinearity and aid the interpretations of results. None of the interaction terms contributed to the prediction of contract violation, job satisfaction of turnover intentions. Therefore, Hypotheses 5 and 6, concerning the role of met expectations with psychological contract violation and job satisfaction, were not supported.


Pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences

This study provides a number of insights into the role of expectations in the early careers of the professionals in this sample. First, identification of the three distinct types of expectations provided the opportunity to explore how these different types of expectations were related to subsequent experiences at work. Pre-entry expectations (T1) regarding overall job content and pay were predictive of post-entry experiences (T2) regarding overall job content and pay, respectively. Those respondents who held positive expectations (T1) about the day-to-day content of their work and the pay they would receive were more likely to experience these aspects of work positively (T2). However, pre-entry expectations of supervision did not predict post-entry supervision experiences.

There area number of explanations for the absence of a relationship between supervision expectations and experiences. First, the process of supervision involves an interpersonal dimension between two individuals that is not present in the other two factors. Second, new professionals in this discipline are required to participate in a management activity for which they may be ill-prepared or have previously seen as less relevant than therapeutic activities. Student expectations regarding supervision may be based on student supervision during fieldwork that is fundamentally different to their experience of supervision in their first year of work. In contrast, expectations about overall job content and pay are more likely to be based on information that mirrors subsequent experiences at work. Third, a number of aspects of supervision may reduce its predictability, including the random distribution of effective and ineffective supervisors.

Contract violations

Although we must speculate about some of the reasons for the links between expectations and subsequent experiences, we can conclude that the new professionals in this sample were not very accurate in their expectations of supervision. That is, they were unable to predict what supervision would be like when they commenced work in their profession. This result should then be considered in light of the finding that only experiences of supervision were predictive of contract violations. These new professionals commenced work to experience supervision in a way they did not expect and in a way that was strongly related to their perception of contract violation. The perception of supervision and psychological contract violation both rely on interpersonal interactions between the employee and a superior, in the form of either a supervisor of organizational representative. Those employees with positive supervision experiences were less likely to perceive a contract breach. This is consistent with the finding that communication between the employee and organizational agents will reduce the perception of contract breach due to incongruence (Morrison & Robinson, 1997).

Overall, the results clearly show that post-entry experiences, and not met expectations of pre-entry expectations, are related to psychological contract violation. Post-entry experiences constitute one of two interaction terms which form the met-expectations variable, and relate specifically to an individual's experience or perception of work after entry into an organization. Of the three post-entry experience factors, supervision demonstrated the strongest relationship with psychological contract violation. This may be because issues of supervision are less likely to be explicitly negotiated as part of the psychological contract compared with pay and overall job content, reflecting the inexperience of newcomers with the work force. This is exacerbated in the current sample because the majority of respondents were employed in the public sector where supervision may be more variable than conditions of pay and overall job content. This finding is consistent with existing psychological contract theory, which proposes that contract violations are dependent on a contract formed under specific conditions (Robinson & Rousseau, 1994). These conditions occur within a context of ongoing interaction between the employee and organizational representatives. For those employees who are known to have experienced contract breach in the past, for example as a result of downsizing, the need for employers to monitor and guide their perception of agreed upon organizational obligations and the extent to which they have been fulfilled may be of particular importance (Robinson & Morrison, 2000). In contrast, pre-entry expectations are concerned with a much broader domain of work characteristics and are limited only by the timing of their formation.

Job satisfaction

A second major finding of the study concerned the joint role of post-entry experiences and psychological contract violations in their influence on job satisfaction. Results of the current study have demonstrated that pre-entry expectations, post-entry experiences and psychological contract violation independently explain a significant percent of variance in job satisfaction, living and Meyer (1994) similarly found a relationship between post-entry experiences and job satisfaction but without controlling for the impact of psychological contract violations. Results indicate that breach of a promise or trust, through psychological contract violation, will produce a greater intensity of reaction than if expectations are not met (Robinson & Rousseau, 1994). However, no matter how well a psychological contract is perceived to be upheld, the working conditions experienced will continue to influence job satisfaction. The results also support job satisfaction playing a key mediating role between both experiences and contract violations and the intention to turnover. We conclude that psychological contract models should employ and report on separate measures of pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences.

Met expectations

Having argued that investigation of the antecedents of job satisfaction should focus on pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences rather than met expectations, the question of the value of met expectations remains. The value of met expectations as an explanatory variable for job satisfaction has been compromised because of definitional problems, measurement issues and a lack of crossover between a number of related bodies of literature.

The current study has defined pre-entry expectations, post-entry experiences and met expectations with reference to existing terminology. Hypothesized relationships within the current study have focused on main effects, whilst allowing a comparison with an interaction effect. Second, the measurement of met expectations has addressed the concerns raised by a number of authors (Edwards, 1991; Edwards & Cooper, 1990; Irving & Meyer, 1994). Longitudinal data using a repeated-measures design, avoidance of difference scores, and use of commensurate measures of expectations and experiences consisting of a broad number of items have improved the validity of results. Third, met expectations have been directly tested with respect to psychological contract violation, and within the context of an integrated model of job satisfaction, rather than the testing of single relationships. Hypotheses 5 and 6 clarify the nature of these relationships by testing the contention that met expectations are the primary predictor of psychological contract violation and job satisfaction in this model. This allows us to test the primary question of met expectations research: Do unmet expectations result in higher levels of job dissatisfaction?

Our findings did not support the met-expectations hypothesis: that unmet expectations lead to dissatisfaction, which then leads to turnover (Wanous et al., 1992). Guest (1998) argued that it is not clear that unmet obligations (psychological contract violations) are different from unmet expectations and instead reflect on the magnitude of the breach and intensity of the ensuing reaction. As noted above, empirical findings that support a distinction between these two concepts (Robinson et al., 1994) are few. Our findings suggest that a focus on the three constructs of pre-entry experiences, post-entry expectations and psychological contract violations will provide a greater understanding of job satisfaction and other employment-related outcomes.

Strengths and limitations

A strength of this study is that it has addressed a number of the methodological limitations that have been identified in the literature (Edwards, 1991; Edwards & Cooper, 1990; Irving & Meyer, 1994; Wanous et al., 1992). Development of commensurate measures of pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences has removed the need for difference scores and direct measures of met expectations. Multiple item measures of all key constructs were employed that were distinct enough to highlight specific relationships. In this study, a direct multi-item measure of psychological contract violations was chosen, rather than an interaction between psychological contracts and the degree to which respondents perceive they experienced these elements of the contract. Unlike met expectations, psychological contract violations do not include the notion of a discrete measure at a particular point in time. Rather, psychological contract violations are an evolving perception of what the employee believes they should be receiving from the job and are not. For this reason, psychological contract violations can be assessed by a single contemporaneous measure, while met expectations need to be assessed by two distinct measures.

A further strength of the study is its longitudinal design and sample. Data-collection points were separated by a reasonable period of time (14 months) during which respondents had been working for a mean period of 9 months. Respondents were surveyed while they were engaged in real work settings reporting and assessed on their perceptions of their experience of work and what it should be. The sample was representative of the population from which it was drawn, and good response rates were obtained.

The nature of the sample also raises some potential limitations of the study. The professional nature of the sample may limit the extent to which the findings can be generalized to other occupational settings. For example, in response to the dichotomous measure of psychological contract violation, only 32% of respondents indicated that their employer had failed to meet promised obligations, which is much lower than that reported (55%) by Robinson and Rousseau (1994), in their study of graduate management alumni. The vast majority of empirical research into psychological contracts has drawn samples from business students (McFarlane Shore & Barksdale, 1998; Robinson & Morrison, 1995; Rousseau, 1990; Rousseau & Anton, 1991), business alumni (Robinson, 1996; Robinson et al., 1994, Robinson & Rousseau, 1994) and managers (Guzzo & Noonan 1994). The current study applies psychological contract theory to a human-service profession whose graduates, particularly in their first year of work, are employed largely within the public sector. This necessitated the adaptation of employer obligation items to suit practice within a professional health setting that did not have the latitude to vary the type of employment exchanges/rewards that is evident in the private sector. Industrial awards, for example, typically determine pay for new therapists employed in the health and education sectors. However, for business alumni, remuneration packages are an important currency of exchange. As noted by Robinson and Rousseau (1994), care must be taken when generalizing results where the focus has been restricted to one particular professional group. This limitation of our study is common to the field of research. Future research designs may incorporate a cross-sectional sample that is followed over time.

Other potential limitations include differences in the way that the three key constructs were measured. We employed a direct measure of psychological contract violations rather than a measure derived from an interaction effect such as for the met-expectations variable. However, as noted above, because the formation of a discrete psychological contract cannot be determined in the same way that pre-entry expectations can, such a measure is conceptually problematic. Further, psychological contract violations were measured by eight broad items designed to be relevant to the professional sample, whereas the 40 items used to measure pre-entry expectations/ post-entry experiences were far more specific. This reflects the restrictions placed on the formation of psychological contracts, such as mutual employee/employer agreement, that are not applicable to expectations.

The correlations obtained from the study provide evidence that the measures are both distinct and meaningful. For example, all three experience measures and the contract violation measure were significantly correlated with satisfaction and were uniquely related to satisfaction in the path model. Further, the violation measure and the experience of job content measure were significantly correlated (r = -.20, p < .05). Only the experience measure of pay was not significantly correlated with violations. Therefore, the measures demonstrated both expected divergence and convergence, appropriate for testing the hypotheses. An item concerning pay may have been included in the violation measure. However, given that pay expectations and pay experiences were not significantly related to any other measure in the study, it seems unlikely that the substantive nature of the results would change.

Practical applications

The experience of the job and the interaction with the employer regarding what that experience will be like are the primary predictors of job satisfaction. Job satisfaction was found to be the strongest predictor of turnover intention in the current sample. The more highly satisfied the employee, the less likely they are to leave the organization. As discussed above, this study highlighted two factors that are important to job satisfaction: a positive experience of the job and psychological contract violation. The first step in promoting job satisfaction and other desirable work-related outcomes is to provide opportunities for establishing and renegotiating a detailed psychological contract. To avoid psychological contract violation, employers need to fulfil the promises that they make regarding issues such as training and development, supervision and feedback, promotion and advancement, long-term job security, change management, power and responsibility, and work environment.

Many of these issues are explicitly of implicitly addressed during the selection and recruitment phases. The content of the contract should, and does, evolve through formal and informal interaction between the two parties and places a high demand for good communication skills on both employee and employer. Over time, it is likely that the separate psychological contracts that the employee and employer hold will differ, and this will necessitate the renegotiation of terms to avoid the perception of contract breach that may lead to a range of unwanted outcomes. Employers may be faced with renegotiating and managing the understanding of exchange obligations when they are unable of unwilling to deliver mutually understood obligations (Coyle-Shapiro & Kessler, 2000b).

If an employee's experience of the job is not positive, they will be dissatisfied and more likely to leave, irrespective of whether or not their experience is foreshadowed or reflected by the psychological contract. The second requirement for job satisfaction, therefore, is that the employee's experience of the job must be positive. Both the intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of their jobs affect the level of satisfaction of workers. In order to be satisfied, a broad range of needs must be met. Intrinsic aspects of work, such as enjoyment of patient contact, the extent to which patients value their intervention, and being a member of a multidisciplinary team, are important in promoting job satisfaction. However, the extrinsic needs including adequate orientation, regular and effective supervision, feedback and acknowledgement of good performance are also important for job satisfaction. Although pay is largely fixed by award wages in this sample, job satisfaction was still influenced by respondents' perceptions about their level of pay and to what extent this reflected their level of performance.

In summary, the current project focuses on three constructs that have often been included in studies of the employment relationship but have not been systematically differentiated or integrated. This study has illustrated the need to examine the differential impact of pre-entry expectations, post-entry experiences and psychological contract violations with respect to work-related outcomes. It has clarified terminology used in related bodies of literature and, by focusing on the underlying constructs, has served to clarify some of the confusion surrounding the met-expectations hypothesis.
Table 1. Pre-entry expectations and post-entry experiences items and

                                   Pre-entry           Post-entry
                                  expectation          experience
                               loadings (Time 1)    loadings (Time 2)

Factor and item                 1      2      3      1      2      3

1. Supervision
     Supervisor helpful in      .63    .04    .05    .85   -.06    .05
       resolving issues of
     Supervisor assists me      .52    .13    .06    .77   -.07   -.07
       to increase clinical
     Able to approach           .55    .06   -.03    .74    .08   -.04
       supervisor easily
     Receive adequate           .68   -.05   -.02    .65    .08    .02
       feedback about job
     Receive supervision on     .53   -.12    .04    .55   -.03   -.08
       regular basis
     Good performance is        .53    .03   -.05    .61    .08    .06
     Received adequate          .56    .10   -.30    .55   -.02    .03
       period of orientation
2. Overall Job Content
     Patients/clients value     .09    .48   -.02   -.04    .72   -.06
       my intervention
     Work is rewarding         -.06    .70    .03    .03    .74    .05
     Patient/client contact    -.05    .63    .04   -.04    .62    .09
       enjoyable part of job
     My intervention makes a    .17    .49   -.02   -.03    .66   -.01
       difference to
     Enjoy working as member   -.04    .58   -.04    .13    .45    .02
       of multidisciplinary
3. Pay
     Content with level of     -.07    .10    .80   -.10    .09    .87
     Pay is an adequate         .06   -.05    .60    .07   -.10    .88
       reflection of my

Table 2. Descriptive statistics and correlations among the variables

Variable                       M      SD       1

1. Age                       23.20   3.84    --
2. Gender                     1.89   0.32   -.12 *
3. T1--Supervision            3.72   0.46   -.01
4. T1--Overall Job Content    4.15   0.41    .03
5. T1--Pay                    3.51   0.76   -.28 ***
6. T2--Supervision            3.55   0.79    .05
7. T2--Overall Job Content    4.22   0.48   -.06
8. T2--Pay                    3.22   1.00    .15 *
9. Violation                  3.66   0.72   -.01
10. Satisfaction              3.72   0.42    .03
11. Turnover Intention        2.32   1.20   -.09

Variable                       2         3          4

1. Age
2. Gender                     --
3. T1--Supervision           -.01      .78
4. T1--Overall Job Content    .09      .37 ***    .73
5. T1--Pay                    .09      .07        .14 *
6. T2--Supervision            .03      .07        .05
7. T2--Overall Job Content    .13 *    .10        .33 ***
8. T2--Pay                    .15 *   -.08       -.09
9. Violation                  .02     -.15 *     -.08
10. Satisfaction              .10      .18 ***    .20 **
11. Turnover Intention       -.03     -.09       -.10

Variable                        5         6          7

1. Age
2. Gender
3. T1--Supervision
4. T1--Overall Job Content
5. T1--Pay                    .65
6. T2--Supervision           -.06       .85
7. T2--Overall Job Content    .08       .22 **     .77
8. T2--Pay                    .24 **    .15 *      .09
9. Violation                  .03      -.46 ***   -.20 **
10. Satisfaction              .01       .51 ***    .16 *
11. Turnover Intention       -.03      -.34 ***   -.33 ***

Variable                        8         9          10      11

1. Age
2. Gender
3. T1--Supervision
4. T1--Overall Job Content
5. T1--Pay
6. T2--Supervision
7. T2--Overall Job Content
8. T2--Pay                    .86
9. Violation                 -.11       .71
10. Satisfaction              .22 **   -.57 ***    .84
11. Turnover Intention       -.11      -.32 ***   -.36 ***   .90

Note. T1: Time 1 pre-entry expectations variables; T2: Time 2
post-entry experience variables.

* p < .05; ** p < .01; *** p < .001.


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Received 19 November 2002; revised version received 21 November 2002

Gigi Sutton * and Mark A. Griffin

Queensland University of Technology, Australia

* Correspondence should be addressed to Gigi Sutton (e-mail:
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