If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours – unless your hands are covered in thorns.

Topic: Change Management, Job Attitudes, Organizational Performance
Publication: Journal of Business Research
Article:  Exploring civic virtue and turnover intention during organizational changes. 
Blogger: LitDigger

If you buy me a coffee, I’ll tell you what I know. If you cover my shift, I’ll cover yours next week.  If you buy me dinner, in turn I will . . . never mind, you get the picture.Reciprocity is a critical element to any social relationship.  The same holds true for employee-employer relationships.

Employees hold certain expectations regarding how their organizations will treat them and what they will gain in return for their time and energy.  These employee expectations are referred to in the literature as the psychological contract.

So what happens when my psychological contract is BREACHED because my company is merging with another?  BAM!  The children’s daycare I rely on everyday has suddenly disappeared.

Of course, this is just one example . . . but when companies are in the midst of organizational change, anything can happen.  A job position’s perks and conveniences may be overcome by the realities of change within a company, and all of a sudden an employee may find that this may not be the job he/she originally signed up for.

Bellou (2008) used employees in Greece to examine organizational changes in light of mergers & acquisitions (M&A) by looking at how breached psychological contracts may affect employees’ turnover intentions and civic virtue. We all know what turnover intentions are: employees wanting to “get the heck out” of their organization.  Civic virtue is extra-role behavior performed by employees for the good of their organization. For those of you who are not familiar with Organ’s (1988) five dimensions of organizational citizenship behavior, civic virtue is one of those dimensions.  Bellou (2008) offers some examples of civic virtue, including: active governing or monitoring the environment for opportunities and threats.

The research article also looked at organizational commitment and individual differences in coping as part of its framework. Here are some noteworthy findings from the M&A explored by Bellou (2008):

·The more employees believed their psychological contract had been breached, the more
likely they were to want to quit and avoid performing civic virtue

·Organizational commitment was an important link in the relationship between psychological contract and civic virtue (org. commitment partially mediated the relationship)

·Organizational commitment was also an important link in the relationship between psychological contract and turnover intentions (org. commitment partially mediated the relationship)

·Employees who felt confident in their ability to cope with organizational changes and who also felt highly committed to their organization were more likely to perform civic virtue. However, employees confident in their coping abilities who were also less committed to their organization were less likely to perform civic virtue.

What can practitioners do to help keep civic virtue high and turnover intentions low during M&A, according to Bellou (2008)?  Try to keep employees from feeling that their psychological contract has been breached and offer resources or strategies to help employees cope with the changes taking place (e.g., use good communication, ask employees to take part in the change process, and be empathetic toward the emotions that naturally arise).

In conclusion, it’s good for employees to ask themselves if what they’re seeing now is what
they’re getting over the years to come. It’s also important for employers to understand that breaching the psychological contract can impact work outcomes.  Although this contract is perception-based and invisible, it may be one worth keeping….especially if current employees are worth keeping.

Bellou, V. (2008).Exploring civic virtue and turnover intention during organizational changes. Journal of Business Research, 61 (778-789).