Psychological contract: Issues and emerging developments



Psychological contract is a core building block that forms the basis of relationships within organizations. Today, employees are increasingly working in multicultural teams, often situated in multiple countries, whereby the context may lend itself to differences in the manifestation of a psychological contract- fulfilment, breach or violation- between employees and organizations. For instance, due to socio-cultural norms and beliefs as formed by historic, economic and institutional changes, in some cultures, the relational or ideological elements of a psychological contract dominate, whereas in others, transactional contracts are more important in the employee-organization relationship. Therefore, research points towards the need to understand psychological contract through a more nuanced poly-contextual approach. While commitments remain as important as ever in upholding relational obligations in a psychological contract, the employing organization is no longer always the most relevant target of one’s dedication and effort. In response to these contemporary developments, there is an increasing interest in the study multi-foci psychological contracts. 

Further, from a sustainability viewpoint, in light of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and widespread global campaigns such as sustainable packaging, human rights, and climate change, the pressure on organizations to engage with environmental sustainability is increasing more than ever before. These widespread corporate social responsibility change initiatives call for integrating sustainability into business models and for a re-examination of the reciprocal obligations and mutual commitments that define employee-organization relationships.

Understanding psychological contract has become even more important in the wake of the Covid pandemic. Many organizations had to stall their operations, while others have failed to provide employees with personal protective equipment and a safe workplace. These changing economic conditions have led organizations to change their levels of support for employees, often exposing existing contradictions between the logic of employee health and the economic logics. Such contradictions will likely disrupt the commitment system or the multi-foci balance between multiple ‘contractors’ in the psychological contract. 

Individuals were compelled to adapt to constantly changing ways of working, including following social distancing and working remotely. This suggests that employees would find it difficult to draw upon the “social” bonds at work, given the perils of working at a distance, resulting in negative influences on mental health and well-being as there are increased probabilities of breach/ violation. It has also brought to forefront the social inequality prevalent within society and in organizations, and the subsequent impact it has on workplace relationships. Similarly, heightened concerns for racial equality are focusing attention on equity and justice across demographic groups, resulting in widespread protests, and leading Black employees to voice their experiences of racism in their employing organizations. 

Given these far-reaching implications for people at work, it is critical to understand how such unforeseen events change the psychological contract of individuals. Employee implicit expectations for organizational change and support in these challenging times have clearly emerged. These changes raise questions about the current conceptualization of the psychological contract, clearly problematizing what the ‘organization’ represents. Therefore, the aim of this call is to broaden the understanding of the concept of psychological contract in this changing and complex environment.

List of topic areas:

We welcome conceptual or empirical submissions drawing on novel theoretical perspectives, and a wide range of quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Papers may be situated at multiple levels of analysis. Potential topics that might be addressed by papers in this special issue call include, but are not limited to:

  • Influence of individual factors such as individual's experience, social category or other identity, religion, personality, gender, status, values or emotions on psychological contract. What are the foundational diversity and inclusion issues that impact psychological contract in such challenging times?
  • Multi-foci approaches to the psychological contract and related constructs (e.g., commitment, wellbeing and careers). This might involve the study of increased individualization and complexity of contemporary work arrangements, such as temporary, volunteering, or project-based work.
  • Addressing the question how institutional contradictions and societal inequalities highlighted during Covid-19 and the social justice movement and their impact on psychological contract. Are social distancing measures a privilege? What happens when essential staff are forced to choose between their health and paying the bills? How are negative actions (e.g., layoffs) distributed across social categories?
  • Relational perspectives to psychological contract: What is the role of social influence such as friends or family on psychological contract? How do formal and informal interactions within/ outside the organization impact the psychological contract? How do ideological aspects of the psychological contract respond to these new developments?
  • Examination of alternative significant employee relationships within the organization, such as co-workers, trade unions or HR. Most extant studies examine the employee-organization relationship globally or use line manager as the organizational representative
  • Impact of psychological contract on negative outcomes such as counterproductive or unethical work behaviors
  • Emotional responses to breach such as mistrust, as in some cultures, emotions play a significant role in managing employment relationships, and emotions may vary by culture 
  • Conceptualization of PC breach over time, and its outcomes over time: Do different types of breach accumulate additively? How does magnitude of the breach relate to effects of breach accumulation? How do relationships recover (or fail) after breach over time? 
  • Responses to psychological contract breach affected by cultural values and expectations: In understanding patterns of perceived obligations and responsibilities, exploration of the influence of culture on perceptions of social exchange, organizational support, responses to unmet expectations or organizational justice 
  • Rise of non-traditional work arrangements such as informal contracts in the gig economy and their effects on psychological contract; changes in work arrangements and their persistence (e.g., work-from-home). 
  • The impact of technology such as AI on psychological contract: How are workplace interactions and outcomes influenced by the use of technology? 
  • Psychological contract and corporate social responsibility within organizations and their impact on employee outcomes such as pro-environmental behaviors
  • New theoretical lenses for understanding the psychological contract 

Guest Editors: 

Dr. Smirti Kutaula, Associate Professor in Human Resource Management, Kingston Business School, Kingston Hill, Kingston upon Thames, KT2 7LB, United Kingdom [email protected] 

Dr. Alvina Gillani, Lecturer in Marketing and Strategy, Surrey Business School, Guildford, GU2 7XH, United Kingdom [email protected] 

Professor Pawan S. Budhwar, Professor of International HRM and Head, Aston Business School, Birmingham, B4 7ET, United Kingdom [email protected] 

Submissions Information

Submissions are made using ScholarOne Manuscripts. Registration and access are available at:

Author guidelines must be strictly followed. Please see:

Authors should select (from the drop-down menu) the special issue title at the appropriate step in the submission process, i.e. in response to ““Please select the issue you are submitting to”. 

Submitted articles must not have been previously published, nor should they be under consideration for publication anywhere else, while under review for this journal.

Key deadlines

Opening date: 1st July, 2023
Closing date: 1st November, 2023