Is Bad Behavior from an Employee the Consequence of an Unfulfilled Organizational Promise?

Topic: Counter-Productive Work Behavior, Fairness, Trust, Workplace Deviance
Publication: Journal of Business and Psychology (WINTER 2010)
Article: Psychological contracts and counterproductive work behaviors: employee responses to transactional and relational breach
Authors: J.M. Jensen, R.A. Opland, and A.M. Ryan
Reviewed By: Allison B. Siminovsky

Counterproductive work behaviors (CWBs) are those actions undertaken by the employee that are detrimental to the overall work environment.  The reasons for engaging in such behaviors and the means of expressing them differ from situation to situation, and as a result it can be difficult for organizations to pinpoint exactly what the causes of CWBs may be.  This article seeks to find antecedents for CWBs in organizational breaches of the psychological contract, or the employee’s inherent expectations about how the reciprocal relationship between employer and employee ought to be.   In other words, does deviant workplace behavior result from perceived organizational injustices and mistreatment?

The current study examines the possibility of numerous types of CWBs occurring as the result of a perceived breach of the psychological contract and achieved several significant findings.  For example, it was found that when employees are moved to retaliate to feeling a lost sense of their employers caring about them, they are most likely to engage in abuse behaviors, which include threatening and undermining one’s co-workers. 

Additionally, a likely retaliatory action in response to feeling a loss of power is the active decision to intentionally perform one’s job inadequately.

Does this study serve to warn organizations about the definitive CWBs they will experience as a result of breaching an employee’s psychological contract?  It does not, but rather, it hints at potential motivations for certain types of negative behaviors that employees willfully engage in.  This study should be viewed as a guide to remind organizations to clearly discuss mutual goals and expectations with employees and to consistently monitor that employees feel as though they are being adequately rewarded.

Jensen, J., Opland, R., & Ryan, A. (2010). Psychological Contracts and Counterproductive Work Behaviors: Employee Responses to Transactional and Relational Breach. Journal of Business and Psychology, 25(4), 555-568. doi: 10.1007/s10869-009-9148-7.