Journal of Applied Psychology
2004, Vol. 89, No. 1, 52–72
Copyright 2004 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0021-9010/04/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/0021-9010.89.1.52
Mutuality and Reciprocity in the Psychological Contracts
of Employees and Employers
Guillermo E. Dabos and Denise M. Rousseau
Carnegie Mellon University
The authors assessed the joint perceptions of the employee and his or her employer to examine mutuality and reciprocity in the employment relationship. Paired psychological contract reports were obtained from 80 employee– employer dyads in 16 university-based research centers. On the basis of in-depth study of the research setting, research directors were identified as primary agents for the university (employer) in shaping the terms of employment of staff scientists (employees). By assessing the extent of consistency between employee and employer beliefs regarding their exchange agreement, the present study mapped the variation and consequences of mutuality and reciprocity in psychological contracts. Results indicate that both mutuality and reciprocity are positively related to archival indicators of research productivity and career advancement, in addition to self-reported measures of Met Expectations and intention to continue working with the employer. Implications for psychological contract theory are presented.
to provide the employer a substantial return in the future. Failure to reciprocate the other party’s actions erodes the quality of the exchange relationship (Cotterell, Eisenberger, & Speicher, 1992; Morrison & Robinson, 1997; Rousseau, 1995).
Although mutuality and reciprocity play important roles in
theories of relationships and employment, they are seldom studied directly. The present study examines the extent to which workers and employers share beliefs regarding specific terms of the exchange (mutuality) and their reciprocal commitments (reciprocity). By investigating the extent of consistency between worker and employer beliefs, this study maps the variation in mutuality and reciprocity occurring in an employment relationship. It provides evidence of how mutuality and reciprocity impact such
employment-related outcomes as objective indicators of productivity and career advancement and subjective measures of Met Expectations and intention to continue working with the employer. This study differs from previous research in several ways. First, it matches each employee’s psychological contract report with that of his or her employer, an uncommon feature in previous research. Although there has been little work incorporating the employer’s perspective, those studies that do exist typically have used either general unit-level reports from the employer’s representative (e.g., Porter et al., 1998) or between-group comparisons of managers and workers (e.g., Coyle-Shapiro & Kessler, 2000). Second, the research site was selected to overcome the limitations of past research in capturing the employer’s perspective. Determining who speaks for the organization is a major challenge (Guest & Conway, 2000). Previous research has used direct supervisors or top managers to represent the employer’s perspective without ascertaining whether these individuals were the primary agent for the firm in shaping the terms of employment (e.g., Lester, Turnley, Bloodgood, & Bolino, 2002). Because previous studies mixed
different kinds of firms or organizational activities, it cannot, however, be inferred that each employer’s representative played the same role in their firm’s employment relationship. This study focuses on autonomous research units in a university setting where each research director had primary control over recruitment, development, and research opportunities of the scientists studied.
Shared understandings and reciprocal contributions for mutual benefit are the core of functional exchange relationships (Blau, 1964) and constructive psychological contracts between workers and...
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