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Advances in Accounting Behavioral Research

ISBN : 978-1-80071-013-9 , eISBN : 978-1-80071-012-2

Publication date: 20 January 2021

Psychological contracts represent unofficial or informal expectations that an individual holds, most commonly applied to an employer–employee relationship. Understanding psychological contracts helps explain the consequences of unmet expectations, including increased budgetary slack and reduced audit quality. This chapter reviews and synthesizes accounting behavioral research that discusses psychological contracts and that was published in academic and practitioner journals in the areas of financial accounting, management accounting, auditing, taxes, non-profit organizations, accounting education, and the accounting profession itself. Despite the prevalence of psychological contracts in the workplace and the applicability to behavioral research, accounting literature remains limited regarding applications of psychological contracts. This chapter aggregates research across all areas of accounting to provide suggestions for use of psychological contracts in future research and thus create a connected research stream.

  • Psychological contract
  • Psychological contract breach
  • Literature review
  • Social exchange theory
  • Relational contracts
  • Transactional contracts

Young, K.M. , Stammerjohan, W.W. , Bennett, R.J. and Drake, A.R. (2021), "Psychological Contract Research in Accounting Literature", Karim, K.E. , Fogarty, T. , Rutledge, R. , Pinsker, R. , Hasseldine, J. , Bailey, C. and Pitre, T. (Ed.) Advances in Accounting Behavioral Research ( Advances in Accounting Behavioural Research, Vol. 24 ), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 117-137.

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Psychological Contract Breach and Outcomes: A Systematic Review of Reviews

Gabriela topa.

1 Faculty of Psychology, UNED—Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, 28040 Madrid, Spain

2 Universidad Autónoma de Chile, Santiago 7500912, Chile

Mercedes Aranda-Carmena

3 Faculty of Health Sciences, Department of Psychology, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, 28933 Madrid, Spain

Berta De-Maria

Associated data.

Not applicable.

A psychological contract is a set of individual beliefs that a person has about the reciprocal obligations and benefits established in an exchange relationship, such as an employment relationship in an organizational setting. A psychological contract breach is a subjective experience referred to the perception of one of the parties that the other has failed to adequately fulfill its obligations and promises. Breaches have been systematically connected to employees’ attitudes and behaviors that hamper the employment relationship. Despite its apparent clarity, some relevant topics about psychological contract breach, psychological contract fulfillment and the relationships with their consequences still remain unclear. The main objective of this review of reviews is to conduct a review of reviews on psychological contract breaches, considering both systematic reviews and metanalytical papers with the purpose of synthesizing the evidence to date under the psychological contract theory. Using the SPIDER tool, our systematic review of reviews focuses on: (a) Sample; (b) Phenomenon of Interest; (c) Design; (d) Evaluation; and (e) Research type. Finally, only eight systematic reviews and meta-analyses met the inclusion criteria. Of the eight reviews included, seven were meta-analyses while the other was a systematic quantitative review. This study describes the available empirical research on psychological contract breaches and fulfillment and summarizes the meta-analytical evidence on their relationships with attitudinal and behavioral outcomes, as well as the role of potential moderator variables. Due to the methodological caveats of the reviews themselves and of the primary studies they were based on, our conclusions about the impact of psychological contract breaches on outcomes still remain tentative.

1. Introduction

Psychological contract theory has its roots in social exchange theory [ 1 ] and it has been extensively applied to understanding employment relationships since the seminal works of Rousseau [ 2 , 3 ]. While empirical research increased in the first decades of the XXI century [ 4 ], some contradictory findings on its relationships with work-related attitudes and behaviors deserve additional attention. For example, recent counterintuitive findings showed that the relationships between psychological contract breaches and both work engagement and in-role performance were absent, while the relationships with Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCBs) were positive, when the behaviors were directed to the individuals, but were negative when they were focused on the organization [ 5 ]. This increasingly number of empirical studies promoted the publication of meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and critical revisions, but there is still a debate about the usefulness of psychological contract, the strength of the relationships between psychological contract breaches or fulfillment and outcomes, as well as the potential moderators under which these relationships are manifested.

In the last decade, different comprehensive models of the psychological contract have been proposed [ 6 ], but, at the same time, some criticisms arose, such as the psychologization of employment relationships [ 7 ]. These critiques pointed out that a psychological contract reduces the analysis to the individual level, highlighting the role of individual differences in explaining work-related outcomes, instead of including the collective factors that affect employment and HRM areas. Given that a systematic review of reviews could help us in revealing trends, beyond the data of a specific empirical synthesis [ 8 ], we present a global assessment of the findings of meta-analytical studies and reviews focused on psychological contract breaches and fulfillment. The purpose of this systematic review of reviews is to provide an up-to-date synthesis of the empirical evidence, evaluate the quality of the systematic reviews included, and map the advancements and caveats of the psychological contract theory.

Conceptualizing Psychological Contracts: Content, Type, Breaches, Fulfillment, and Aftermath

In recent decades, the psychological contract has emerged as a broad theoretical model that contributes to the explanation of complex and changing employment relationships. However, the empirical studies that apply it contain some variable and inconsistent findings, for whose interpretation quantitative syntheses would be useful.

A psychological contract is a set of individual beliefs that the person has about the reciprocal obligations and benefits established in an exchange relationship [ 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 ]. Although there is no absolute consensus regarding its definition, most authors point out that a psychological contract focuses on the promises that the parties have exchanged in the constituent phases of said contract, and therefore a resulting balance is required to compare what has been promised and what is actually fulfilled. The content of psychological contracts includes a wide range of exchanges as well as financial compensations, career opportunities, security at work, and work–life balance. Most empirical research has focused on two dimensions of psychological contracts, namely relational and transactional contracts, which can be distinguished as a function of their focus on long-term exchanges of socioemotional resources vs. short-term economic exchanges [ 13 ]. These two main types of psychological contracts are rarely pure, and Rousseau developed the concept of balanced psychological contracts as exchanging relationships with a mix of economic and social features [ 14 ]. Further explorations about the psychological contracts of volunteers or civil servants highlighted that ideological-related psychological contracts could exist, and inducements and fulfillments could be perceived in a different way by these employees [ 13 ]. The evolution of the psychological contract theory has later been enriched by a processual perspective, where the organizational socialization, the influences of veteran coworkers as well as newcomers’ emotions have been integrated in a model psychological contract creation [ 15 ].

From these theoretical definitions, the operationalizations of the various components of the model follow two main paths. One of them focuses on the fulfillment of the psychological contract and the other on the breach or perceived violation, exploring in both cases their effects on the attitudes and behavior of the workers. Psychological contract fulfillment is defined as the perception that the reciprocal exchanges between the employee and the organization conform to previous promises and such exchanges are considered the key features of the relationship’s quality. Freese and Schalk [ 16 ] proposed the first questionnaire on compliance with the various dimensions of the contract based on previous lists of job expectations and values. This approach, which used attitudinal criteria, such as commitment or identification with the organization, and behavioral criteria, such as absenteeism, originated different ways of operationalizing the measures of the fulfillment of psychological contracts. However, it seems to lose prominence to the other line of research that focused on psychological contract breaches or violation.

A psychological contract breach is a subjective experience that refers to the conception by one of the parties that the other has failed to adequately fulfill their obligations and promises. Associated to the perception of psychological contract breaches, violation refers to an intense and negative emotional reaction of anger and distress and feelings of having been betrayed [ 14 , 17 ]. Following these conceptualizations, a wide range of personal and organizational outcomes of both breaches and violation have been explored. Different studies have explored the consequences of violation on the subsequent psychological contracts of victims that do not abandon the firm [ 18 ], as well as proposing a dynamic model where the building blocks of contracts (promises, inducements, contributions, and obligations) change over time and play a different role as a function of the creation, maintenance, renegotiation, or repairing phase of the contracts [ 19 ]. Moreover, one of the most recent research developments focused on the comparison of the differential impact of algorithmic management vs. human agents on perception of breaches and later employees’ outcomes [ 20 ]. Finally, considering the third parties’ information and the coworkers’ cues regarding violation, Costa and Coyle-Shapiro [ 21 ] recently proposed that social influence on an individual’s fulfillment evaluation could affect focal individuals’ psychological contracts. Despite the updates of these theoretical models [ 6 , 15 , 18 , 21 ], some relevant topics about psychological contract breaches, psychological contract fulfillment, their measurement, the relationships with their consequences, and the potential moderator variables still remain unclear.

Firstly, in the empirical research, the terms breach and violation of psychological contracts are often used in an equivalent and sometimes confusing way. Rousseau clearly established that a breach is one of the basic forms of the violation of the contract, but later a conceptual distinction was proposed between the cognitive component—the disagreement—and the affective or emotional aspect—the violation—that constitute the experience of the overall perceived breach of the psychological contract. At first glance, it seems clear that psychological contract fulfillment is associated with an increase in desirable results and a decrease in undesirable ones for both the person and the organization, while breach follows an inverse relationship pattern. However, when explored more closely, we find highly variable and even contradictory findings among the meta-analyses and reviews [ 22 , 23 , 24 ]. Hence, there is not conclusive evidence on the differences or the overlapping between fulfillment and breach, and this lack of clarity justifies the present systematic review of reviews.

Secondly, there is also no consensus as to how to operationalize the various measures, both for fulfillment and for breaking a psychological contract. It is as common to ask people to what extent they believe that their employers comply with the promises made at the beginning of the employment relationship as it is to ask them to indicate whether such levels of compliance are sufficient for them or to request a comparison between what was promised and what was received. Therefore, lacking broadly accepted instruments for assessing psychological contract is a recurrent concern in the reviews [ 25 ], showing that this topic also justifies further attention.

Thirdly, a wide range of attitudinal and behavioral outcomes was explored as a consequence of both breaches or fulfillment of psychological contracts, but solid empirical evidence was only found for a limited number of dimensions. Therefore, the most relevant discrepancies among the empirical findings have been examined by reviews and meta-analyses, claiming further synthesis.

Fourthly, due to the fact that employment relationships are usually embedded in particular work contexts, they are affected by different potential moderator variables. Previous meta-analyses have already pointed out that there are a number of variables that can affect the results of empirical studies, especially those more closely related to individual features or specific characteristics of the context of the employment relationship. As Raja, Johns and Ntalianis [ 26 ] pointed out, personality traits might affect psychological contracts via the type of contract negotiated, the perception of breach, and the subsequent impact of this perception on work-related attitudes and behaviors. Among the demographic characteristics of employees, age, organizational tenure, and occupational categories seem the most relevant moderators explored by reviews. More recently, national cultural factors and macro-economic trends have been proposed as moderators for the meta-analyses [ 27 , 28 ]. Hence, some clarification is needed about the impact of moderator variables in the relationships between psychological contract breaches and outcomes.

Fifthly, some methodological caveats of empirical research have been consistently highlighted by reviews and meta-analyses. As the quality of the empirical studies was a recurrent concern of the reviews, we evaluate the methodological quality of the included reviews using AMSTAR (Assessment of Multiple Systematic Reviews) [ 29 ], a measurement tool for the assessment of systematic reviews, in order to reach more valid conclusions.

Finally, most of the systematic reviews follow the PICO tool, focused on the Population, Intervention, Comparison, and Outcomes as the relevant concepts in the research question. Despite its wide use, the PICO search tool was developed in epidemiology and some of their categories are difficult to apply to correlational primary studies and to qualitative research. Hence, Cooke and colleagues [ 30 ] developed a new search strategy tool named SPIDER (Sample, Phenomenon of interest, Design, Evaluation, and Research type). The addition of the Design and Research type categories was intended to increase the ability of identifying relevant articles. Most of the research about psychological contract breaches and fulfillment conducted in the Work and Organizational Psychology field is correlational, and this fact renders Comparison group or Intervention irrelevant categories. Therefore, following the SPIDER tool, our systematic review of reviews focuses on: (a) Sample: workers, volunteers, or students currently working in any type of organization; (b) Phenomenon of interest: psychological contract breach or violation, and psychological contract fulfillment; (c) Design: systematic reviews or meta-analyses, including primary studies that reported at least one quantitative assessment of psychological contract breach or violation, or psychological contract fulfillment; (d) Evaluation: perceptions of psychological contract breach or psychological contract fulfillment by self-informed questionnaires; and (e) Research type: quantitative systematic reviews and meta-analytical syntheses of empirical evidence.

To sum up, the main objective of this study is to conduct a review of reviews on psychological contract breach, considering both systematic reviews and metanalytical papers with the purpose of synthesizing the evidence to date under the psychological contract theory. The specific objectives of this review of reviews are the following: to provide an up-to-date synthesis of the empirical evidence, evaluate the quality of the systematic reviews included, and map the advancements and caveats of the psychological contract theory.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. study design and literature search.

The following English and non-English language electronic databases were used to retrieve systematic reviews and meta-analyses on Psychological Contracts without any language or time restriction: Web of Science, Scopus, PsychArticles, Psicodoc, PsychINFO, Social Science Citation Index, ERIC, Medline, and Google. Reference lists of review articles and the most relevant journals in the Work and Organizational Psychology area (such as Journal of Organizational Behavior , Human Resource Management Journal , and Journal of Vocational Behavior ) were consulted. The keywords were psychological contract , psychological contract breach , psychological contract fulfillment, psychological contract violation , AND review . We retrieved a total of 320 references. Because of the small number of reviews retrieved, international experts on the topic were contacted, but unfortunately nobody provided us with other reviews or meta-analyses. This systematic review entailed a critical analysis of articles in the literature and was conducted in accordance with the guidelines of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) statement (see Supplementary Tables S1 and S2 ). The approval of the Research Ethics Committee was not required because the study was a systematic review. The main search was performed in June 2022 and the updated search in September 2022. A total of 45 published studies were retrieved in full text.

2.2. Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

To be included, reviews had to evaluate empirical studies on psychological contract breaches or fulfillment using organizational samples, such as workers, volunteers, or students currently working in any type of organization, but not students that are not working. The reviews and meta-analyses had to include at least one of the following quantitative measures: psychological contract, psychological contract breach, violation, or psychological contract fulfillment. Only peer-reviewed published literature was included; hence, theses, dissertations, and conference proceedings were excluded. Reviews considered not systematic, such as theoretical papers or position papers , book reviews, commentaries, and editorials, were also excluded. The most relevant reason for excluding theoretical and critical reviews was the absence of enough information on the criteria used to include or exclude the primary synthesized papers. No articles were excluded based on language. The inclusion and exclusion criteria are summarized in Table 1 .

Inclusion and exclusion criteria.

2.3. Study Selection

Based on the above-mentioned criteria of inclusion and exclusion ( Table 1 ), two independent authors screened the list of titles and abstracts retrieved through electronic and manual searches. Any discrepancy was solved by discussion in order to reach a consensus. A total of 45 potentially relevant systematic reviews were retrieved in full text. The further full-text examination of the retrieved papers allowed us to exclude the following: six duplicates, ten book reviews, one empirical study [ 31 ], one review focused on other work-related topics [ 32 ], one corrigendum article, one review focused on students’ psychological contract [ 33 ], and 17 theoretical reviews [ 6 , 23 , 34 , 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 , 40 , 41 , 42 , 43 , 44 , 45 , 46 , 47 , 48 ]. Finally, only 8 systematic reviews and meta-analyses met the inclusion criteria [ 22 , 24 , 27 , 28 , 49 , 50 , 51 , 52 ]. The included studies are marked in the reference list with an asterisk. Figure 1 is a flow diagram charting the process followed for retrieving the relevant works. The process begun by specifying the number of references extracted from the databases searched. The diagram also specifies the number of documents obtained in the two phases of the process. Firstly, the results for the initial phase (reading of the titles and abstracts) are shown, indicating how non-relevant references (due to either type of document or topic) were removed. Secondly, the diagram specifies the number of references recovered during the final phase (i.e., the reading of the full texts), which allowed us to exclude duplicates, book reviews, corrigendum, empirical studies, reviews focused on students’ psychological contract, and 17 theoretical reviews. The complete list of records retrieved and examined in full text, but that were finally excluded, is in Appendix A .

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Flow diagram of the information through the different phases.

2.4. Data Extraction and Analysis

First, after screening the full text, data collection was conducted in order to identify information on the type of studies included in the reviews, the instruments used, and the outcome or moderator variables analyzed. Other items such as geographical coverage of the review, the time frame of included studies, type of measures, and theoretical background were also identified. Second, we conducted a thorough quantitative analysis of the articles included in this systematic review of reviews using the free software VOSwiever version 1.6.18 (Centerfor Science and Technology Studies, University of Leiden, Leiden, The Netherlands) [ 53 ]. It was used to create a network-based map using the titles, keywords, and the abstracts to enrich the quantity of eligible terms. Given that the number of reviews included in this systematic review of reviews was small, with this analysis, we intended to identify the main variables, participants’ features, and studies’ characteristics of the field, and the relationships among them.

2.5. Quality of Systematic Reviews

The methodological quality of the systematic reviews was evaluated with AMSTAR, a measurement tool including 11 criteria. The instrument asks reviewers to answer yes, no, cannot answer, or not applicable. The following criteria were considered relevant to our assessment: research question and inclusion criteria established before conducting the review, duplicate study selection, and data extraction by at least two independent researchers, comprehensive literature search, exclusion or inclusion based on the status of publication, or language, publication of a full list of included and excluded studies provided, full information about characteristics of the included studies provided, scientific quality of the included studies assessed, documented, and used in formulating the conclusions, methods used to combine the findings of the studies, the likelihood of publication bias assessed, and conflicts of interest clearly acknowledge. AMSTAR accumulated strong evidence of its reliability and validity. This measurement tool to assess the methodological quality of systematic reviews showed satisfactory inter-observer agreement, reliability, and construct validity in the study conducted by Shea et al. [ 54 ]. Items in AMSTAR displayed levels of agreement ranging from moderate to perfect. The global reliability was also adequate.

The relevant information of the eight titles finally considered for inclusion is summarized in Table 2 , Table 3 , Table 4 , Table 5 and Table 6 . Of the eight reviews included, seven were meta-analyses, while the other was a systematic quantitative review. Three reviews were published before 2010, one in 2010, and three in or after 2021.

Information about the process of retrieving the primary studies, publication search, and other study characteristics.

Participant characteristics of the included reviews and meta-analyses.

PCB: Psychological Contract Breach; PCF: Psychological Contract Fulfillment.

Quality assessment of the included reviews and meta-analyses using AMSTAR.

Note: 1 The first-dimension ranges between 0 and 4. 2 The second ranges between 0 and 7, with a maximum quality value of 11. 3 The maximum possible quality is 9 instead of 11, due to 2 criteria not being applicable. * 0.5: Only the list of included studies is provided, but not the list of excluded studies. N.a.: not applicable.

Antecedent, outcome, and moderator variables analyzed by the included reviews and meta-analyses.

PCB: Psychological Contract Breach; PCF: Psychological Contract Fulfillment. N.a.: not applicable.

Mean effect size for the psychological contract breach–Outcome relationship reported by the included meta-analyses.

n.a.: not applicable.

3.1. Description of Included Reviews

The majority of reviews did not provide information about the gender of participants in their primary studies, and those that did offer it provided neither all the descriptive results nor standard deviations [ 49 ], perhaps due to the absence of these data in the primary studies that they summarized. Only four reviews included information about the age of primary studies’ participants [ 22 , 49 , 50 , 51 ], and only three about participants’ organizational tenure [ 22 , 49 , 50 ]. In relation to the geographical distribution of the samples participating in the primary studies, only one review did not mention it [ 24 ], while the others offered information divided into different categories (e.g., USA vs. North America, including the USA and Canada). The status of publication of the primary studies was mentioned by the majority of the reviews, except two [ 22 , 49 ]. The risk of bias was assessed only by four reviews [ 22 , 24 , 27 , 50 ], and all of them used the fail-safe N as indicator. Due to the fact that, when calculating the Orwin’s fail-safe N, it is necessary to specify a value that is considered a “trivial” size, information about the value specified by the researcher is useful for readers, but this information was not provided in any review. Hence, the researcher concludes that publication bias is not a significant problem due to the fact that the fail-safe value was relatively large. Two reviews did not mention the language of the primary studies [ 50 , 52 ]. Most of the reviews included primary studies written in English, with a minor number of studies written in Dutch, Chinese, and other languages. Full information is provided in Table 2 and Table 3 .

3.2. Quality of the Included Reviews

The methodological quality of the systematic reviews and meta-analyses included was evaluated using AMSTAR, a reliable and valid measurement tool. Two dimensions of the methodological quality of included reviews were assessed: the internal validity of the design (a priori design and clear inclusion criteria; two independent extractors and consensus procedures applied; status of publications explicitly recognized as inclusion criteria or not) and the quality of the information provided by the published review or meta-analysis. The last dimension includes the following features: provision of the complete list of included and excluded studies, information about the features of the primary studies included related to participants, interventions, and outcomes; quality of the included studies assessed and documented; scientific quality of the primary studies used to formulate the conclusions; appropriate methods for combing the finding of studies; likelihood of publication bias informed; and acknowledgement of potential conflicts of interest. The first dimension ranges between 0 and 4, while the second ranges between 0 and 7, with a maximum quality value of 11. The quality of the included meta-analyses ranged from 4.5 to 6.5, and the most frequent failure was the absence of the quality assessment of the primary studies included. The systematic review published by Kutaula et al. [ 52 ] had a lower value due to two criteria not being able to be applied (adequacy of the methods used to combine the findings and assessment of the likelihood of publication bias). Full information about the criteria fulfilled by each meta-analysis or systematic review is provided in Table 4 .

3.3. Antecedent, Outcome, and Moderator Variables

Four meta-analyses included only psychological contract breaches as antecedents, while the other reviews combined this measure with psychological contract fulfillment, psychological contract violation, or assessment of the psychological contract’s content, operationalized as employer’s obligations or relational vs. transactional contract. The outcome evaluations mainly included attitudes such as organizational commitment, job satisfaction, organizational trust, and turnover intention, behavioral outcomes as well as job performance (assessed both globally and separately as in-role performance and OCB), deviant behavior, and actual turnover. The range of potential moderator variables was wide, due to some meta-analyses including the characteristics of the job, the contract, the organization, and studies’ features as moderators [ 22 , 49 , 52 ], while others were more focused on psychological contracts’ features, employees’ personality and HRM practices, and contextual factors (labor market characteristics or cultural values).

The individual features of participants in the primary studies were included as potential moderator variables. Mainly, the participants’ age was considered as a moderator in four meta-analyses as a categorical variable, as well as organizational tenure, which was included in three meta-analyses. Full information is provided in Table 5 .

3.4. Strenght of the Relationships between Psychological Contract Breaches and the Outcomes

Considering psychological contract breach as an antecedent, the relationships (average effect sizes) with desired attitudinal outcomes ranged from r = −0.45 to r = −0.38 for job satisfaction, from r = −0.38 to r = −0.32 for organizational commitment, and r = −0.53 to −0.36 for organizational trust. Related to the desirable behavioral outcomes, the average effect sizes for the relationships between psychological contract breach ranged from r = −0.20 to r = −0.07 for in-role performance, while it ranged from r = −0.31 to r = −0.11 for OCB. Undesirable outcomes such as intention to quit, neglect, and turnover were included in a small number of reviews, with their average effect sizes ranging from r = 0.36 to r = 0.30 for turnover intention. Neglect behavior was only included in two meta-analyses with an average effect size of r = 0.21, while actual turnover was included in two meta-analyses, with the average effect size ranging from r = 0.13 to r = 0.05.

3.5. Moderator Variables in the Relationships between Psychological Contract Breach Antecedents and Outcomes

Despite the fact that researchers have hypothesized a wide range of moderators in some meta-analyses (as can be seen in Table 5 ), few hypotheses have been confirmed. Using categorical moderator variables, Topa and Palaci [ 50 ] only confirmed that both the type of employment contract and the occupational category significantly moderate the relationships between psychological contract breach and neglect. Zhao and colleagues [ 48 ] confirmed that the content of the psychological contract breach (relational vs. transactional) significantly moderates the relationships with job satisfaction, organizational commitment, turnover intentions, and OCB. Topa, Morales, and Depolo [ 22 ] showed that the type of employment contract also moderates the relationships between psychological contract breach and organizational trust.

Using continuous variables, organizational tenure has been shown as the best predictor for attitudinal (job satisfaction and organizational commitment) and behavioral outcomes (OCB and job performance). Specifically, two meta-analyses showed that tenure was the best predictor into the weighted regression analyses predicting job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and OCB, while it fails to predict job performance [ 22 , 50 ]. In the meta-analysis conducted by Bal and colleagues [ 51 ], organizational tenure showed a significant predictive power both on job satisfaction and affective commitment, beyond the effect of the employees’ age.

Topa and colleagues’ [ 22 ] meta-analysis showed that the quality of studies has a stronger β-value for undesirable, desirable, attitudinal, and behavioral outcomes. Bal and colleagues [ 49 , 51 ] showed a significant moderator effect of the participants’ age on the relationships between psychological contract breach and organizational trust, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment.

Considering contextual economic factors, inflation rate has been a significant moderator of the relationships between psychological contract breach and in-role performance, turnover intention, and actual turnover [ 27 ], while the unemployment rate only significantly moderates the relationships between psychological contract breach and in-role performance and turnover intention [ 27 ].

The relationships between psychological contract breach and in-role performance are more efficiently moderated by institutional collectivism, power distance, future society, and gender equality practices. The relationships between psychological contract breach and OCB are only more efficiently moderated by institutional collectivism and performance-oriented practices [ 28 ]. The relationships between psychological contract breach and intention to quit are only more efficiently moderated by institutional collectivism, future society, and gender equality practices [ 28 ]. Finally, the actual turnover–psychological contract breach relationship is only moderated by the future society practices [ 28 ].

3.6. Clustering Analysis of the Relevant Terms

Psychological contract breach was the central and most frequently used word in the analysis of the relevant terms, as displayed in Figure 2 . In the map created from the relevant terms using titles, keywords, and abstracts, breach had the highest value and was clustered with job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and performance (Cluster 1, green), and was directly connected with development, perception, and workplace terms. In cluster 2 (red), development plays a central role and was strongly connected with perception and workplace terms. This network map depicted in Figure 2 reflects a high weight of psychological contract breach as well as its strong connections with attitudinal outcomes and job performance.

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Network map created from the review articles included in this systematic revision using VOSwiever software. Titles, keywords, and abstracts were employed to extract the significant terms.

4. Discussion

This review of reviews on the psychological contract breach and its outcomes had five objectives. First, clarification was needed about the differences or the overlaps between psychological contract fulfillment and breach. Second, the identification of a broadly accepted instrument for assessing psychological contract was also needed. Third, the most relevant discrepancies between primary empirical findings were synthesized. Fourth, clarification about the impact of moderator variables on the relationships between psychological contract breach and outcomes also were needed. Fifth, the quality of the quantitative reviews needed to be evaluated using a measurement tool for the assessment of the methodological quality of the systematic reviews in order to reach more valid conclusions. Based on the above-presented results, we can affirm that some of these objectives were fulfilled, but further research is still needed.

First, the potential differences or overlaps between the measures of psychological contract breach and psychological contract fulfillment still deserve further attention. A separate evaluation of fulfillment versus breach was only reported in one meta-analysis [ 49 ]. The other quantitative reviews collapsed both measures into one indicator by reversing the sign of the Pearson’s correlation between fulfillment and outcomes, as Jayaweera and colleagues did [ 27 ]. On the one hand, this method combined the data provided by the primary studies and seems theoretically well justified, but precludes us from comparing the strength of the relationships obtained by each one of the evaluation procedures. On the other hand, in the only meta-analysis in which it was included as a predictor, psychological contract fulfillment shows relationships with OCB and organizational commitment, similar to those obtained using psychological contract breach as antecedent, but somewhat smaller. Perhaps, as a consequence of this procedure that collapses fulfillment into breach, our VOSwiever network map, displayed in Figure 2 , only included psychological contract breach as a central term.

As some authors recently pointed out [ 55 ], reciprocity should be considered as a significant link between psychological contract fulfillment, breach, and violation. Psychological contract fulfillment displays positive reciprocity where employer–employee obligations are respected. Breach highlights the lack of reciprocity and violation that can lead to negative reciprocity in the search of compensation from unfair mistreatment. These relationships between the perceptions of fulfillment, breach, or violation—on the one hand—and outcomes—on the other—could be mediated by attributional processes blaming the firm or its representatives [ 56 ], but our findings suggest that fulfillment should not be simply considered as a reversed facet of breach. Moreover, considering that psychological contract fulfillment is an event at work that could exert positive emotions and trigger positive reciprocity, their uncertain role on the relationships between fulfillment and employee’s outcomes should be clarified. However, there is still insufficient information available to comment on the appropriateness of using psychological contract breach or psychological contract fulfillment measures.

Second, the data supported the hypothesized relationships in most of the included meta-analyses and reached a large or medium effect size, except in the case of in-role performance and actual turnover. On the one hand, this finding verifies that the psychological contract breach has very consistent negative consequences on both employees’ attitudes and behaviors. Similarly, the lack of detailed information about the questionnaires used in the primary studies precludes us from reaching any conclusion about the differences between them or their adequacy. Only one review [ 24 ] conducted a moderator analysis based on the type of assessment of psychological contract breach (global vs. composite by dimensions). Following their findings, it is possible to conclude that global assessment was less frequent than dimensional assessment, but it renders higher effect size values. Due to the fact that respondents could balance lack of reciprocity in one dimension with its presence in other dimension (e.g., job security vs. payment), when the participants evaluated breaches according to dimensions, they mentioned less discrepancies between promises and fulfillments than when conducting a global assessment of breaches. Given that the standardization of measures remains as a caveat in this area of research [ 6 , 25 ], renewed attempts to develop valid and reliable questionnaires are recommended [ 57 ].

Third, this review supports the firm conclusion that psychological contract breaches have a negatively impact on employee outcomes. The effect sizes obtained by the seven meta-analyses seem reasonable and consistent with the theoretical proposals about psychological contract breaches. However, a breach does not reveal an identical level of impact on all outcomes. On the one hand, four attitudinal outcomes were assessed in the majority of the meta-analyses, and three of them reached higher effect sizes: organizational trust, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment. The other attitudinal outcome included in five meta-analyses was turnover intention and showed a positive, but lesser, effect size. Neglect was only assessed in two meta-analyses and showed a lesser effect size. Hence, attitudinal outcomes showed a consistent pattern of effect sizes and low variability was shown between the different meta-analyses. On the other hand, three behavioral outcomes were assessed, in-role performance, OCB, and actual turnover, but the last was only included in three quantitative reviews. Behavioral outcomes only reached low or medium effect sizes, and specifically, the range of the obtained values was higher than that of attitudinal outcomes. Perhaps, actual turnover or decrease in job performance is more related to contextual factors, such as available employment options or financial resources.

To sum up, the impact of psychological contract breaches on attitudes seems to be stronger than the influence exerted on behaviors, but the underlying process remains unclear. In short, one possible explanation is that attitudes appear to be closer to the psychological contract breach than behaviors. As Robinsson, Kraatz, and Rousseau [ 58 ] described earlier, a psychological contract breach involves feelings of disloyalty and profounder psychological distress, whereby the victim experiences anger, dislike, a sense of injustice, and unfair damage. Another reason is that the relationship between psychological contract breach and behavior is mediated by behavioral intentions, as the theory of planned behavior suggests. In this sense, these indirect relationships are weaker than the direct ones, which connects psychological contract breach and attitudinal outcome variables. Moreover, another underlying mechanism that could clarify the influence of psychological contract breach on outcomes is provided by the affective events theory [ 59 ]. Some authors [ 60 , 61 ] have empirically shown the mediating role of affect in the relationships between different adverse work-related events and employee outcomes. The generation of intense negative psychological states can explain the negative influence of psychological contract breach on employee well-being, operationalized as job satisfaction, organizational trust, and other attitudes. The lower relationship between psychological contract breach and in-role performance can perhaps be attributed to the direct impact that the decline in performance may have on the work situation, an impact that is not as direct in the case of attitudes. While the employer may not perceive a decline in OCBs, they will surely sanction declines in performance, although this process is also moderated by the type of company in which the work activity takes place. Finally, a more recent view on the underlying processes between breach, violation, and subsequent outcomes has been proposed by Tomprou and her colleagues [ 18 ] based on self-regulatory processes. When the victim does not have the option of abandoning the employment relationship, they behave in a way that evolves from their coping strategies to four possible outcomes, namely as reactivation, thriving, impairment, or dissolution. Although the mechanisms are complex, interacting with organizational and societal factors, the post-violation model offers a map for investigating the aftermath of violation.

Fourth, some clarification is provided by this review on the impact of moderator variables. On the one hand, organizational tenure as a continuous variable has a positive regression value on all the results. That is, the longer the tenure in the organization, the lesser the impact of psychological contract breach on employee attitudes and behaviors. These results could be due to the fact that a permanent employee may, in the face of psychological contract breaches, weigh the benefits derived from the employment relationship that a temporary worker does not have. It is also possible that those who hold an indefinite contract or are state employees are not willing to relinquish their employment status easily, even if they perceive that some promises have not been adequately fulfilled. This could explain the small effect sizes achieved for the relationship between psychological contract breaches and turnover intention in some meta-analyses. This pattern of relationships seems to be repeated in meta-analyses relating psychological contract breach to job satisfaction. Four meta-analyses [ 22 , 40 , 50 , 51 ] included age as continuous variable in order to test its impact on the relationships between psychological contract breaches and outcomes, but their findings were not consistent. While the two meta-analyses carried out by Topa and colleagues [ 22 , 50 ] found only a negligible impact of age in the relationships between psychological contract breach and outcomes, Bal and colleagues [ 49 , 51 ] reached statistically significant effects of age on the relation between psychological contract breach and some outcomes (organizational trust, job satisfaction, and organizational commitment), despite that the percentage of explained variance is very small. Hence, we believe that the literature based on psychological contract breach could gain insights into the processes it investigates if it took into account the idiosyncratic nature and contextual influences that affect psychological contracts in different latitudes, expanding the findings based on employee age, gender, or organizational tenure, as well as the studies of Jayaweera and colleagues [ 27 , 28 ].

Finally, our findings assessing the methodological quality of reviews allow us to affirm that our conclusions about the impact of psychological contract breaches on outcomes remain still tentative. On the one hand, a common criticism of the meta-analyses is related to their procedures of combing empirical findings obtained from primary studies with very different levels of methodological quality [ 62 ]. While some authors recommended the inclusion only of those studies with high methodological rigor, others decided to categorize the primary studies based on their methodological quality [ 63 ]. It seems probable that the relationships between psychological contract breach and outcomes differ as a function of the rigor of primary studies. In this sense, if those primary sources with lower methodological quality provide effect sizes highly discrepant from the majority of the values, we suppose that this high variability is related to the lower reliability or validity of the primary studies.

Despite its recognized relevance, the quality of the systematic review and the seven meta-analyses included in this review of reviews only reached a mean AMSTAR score that indicates that the quality of the reviews is only moderate. The main weaknesses were the failure of all of the reviews to provide an a priori design, to offer a full list of excluded studies, and to recognize any potential conflicts of interest. Based on the fact that four of the meta-analyses were conducted by the authors of some of the included primary studies, we assume that any conflicts of interest should have been acknowledge. Due to the methodological caveats of the reviews themselves and of the primary studies they are based on, our conclusions about impact of psychological contract breaches on outcomes still remain tentative.

In spite of this caveat, some suggestions for the further development of the research field can be obtained from our findings. First, related to the measurement topic, current proposals of new scales are valuable, but, at the same time, some studies try to conduct experimental research. These designs would allow us to demonstrate causal relationships between psychological contract breaches and their consequences [ 20 , 64 , 65 ] as well as the impact of orientation programs in the prevention of future breaches [ 66 ]. Second, several new ways of research and application of psychological contract breaches have been recently proposed, such as its impact on customer sexual harassment [ 67 ], workplace bullying behaviors [ 68 ], and expatriates’ psychological contracts [ 69 ]. Third, as past research on psychological contract breaches and fulfillment and their outcomes has primary focused on employment relationships, currently, some proposals are trying to apply the psychological contract approach to other not work-related relationships, as the link between students and universities [ 70 ] or doctoral supervisory relationships [ 71 ]. These attempts of widening the application of the psychological contract to higher education contexts would prove its usefulness as well as provide new research insights. Fourthly, following the directions opened by some of the reviews included in this systematic revision [ 28 ], empirical articles continue to explore the potential moderator effect of national cultures on psychological contracts. The exploration of the dimensionality of psychological contracts in Islamic cultures [ 72 ] or the role of interpersonal influences as Wasta (Middle East) [ 73 ], Guanxi (China), Jeitinho (South America), and Blat/Svyazi (Russia) [ 74 ] provide valuable findings on the relevance of cultural features and expand the research field from its initial Western-oriented view. To sum up, the psychological contract seems to be still “alive and kicking” considering its potential usefulness to explain complex relationships in workplaces and other contexts as well as its predictive power on personal wellbeing and valuable organizational outcomes.

5. Conclusions

Despite the general findings of this review, it should be noted that the psychological contract appears is a broad and comprehensive theoretical model that can account for an important set of personal and organizational outcomes.

Supplementary Materials

The following supporting information can be downloaded at: , Table S1: PRISMA 2020 Checklist for Systematic Reviews; Table S2: PRISMA 2020 Checklist for Abstract.

This appendix contains the complete list of excluded articles.

Full list of excluded studies, all of them retrieved and examined in full text.

1 Year or publication; 2 Volume number; 3 Issue number; 4 First Page; 5 Page Count.

Funding Statement

This research received no external funding.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, G.T. and M.A.-C.; methodology, G.T.; software, G.T.; validation, G.T., M.A.-C. and B.D.-M.; formal analysis, G.T.; investigation, G.T.; resources, M.A.-C.; data curation, M.A.-C.; writing—original draft preparation, G.T.; writing—review and editing, G.T., M.A.-C. and B.D.-M.; visualization, B.D.-M.; supervision, G.T.; project administration, G.T.; funding acquisition, M.A.-C. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.

Institutional Review Board Statement

Informed consent statement, data availability statement, conflicts of interest.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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The flexpatriate psychological contract: a literature review and  future research agenda.

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Since the 1980s, research on international assignments (IA) has principally focused on traditional long-term expatriates. However, due to pressures to reduce long-term expatriate assignments and the emergence of a portfolio of more flexible staffing options, there has recently been a growing focus on the deployment of alternative forms of IA. This paper focuses on one form of alternative IA, flexpatriation, where employees undertake frequent international business trips without relocating. More specifically, we critically examine the flexpatriate employment relationship by applying psychological contract theory to yield insight into both the employer and the employee perspectives, which has been neglected in previous research. The article also examines some of the key HR challenges in managing flexpatriates and contributes to both the IHRM and psychological contract literature by presenting an agenda for future research in this area.

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psychological contract literature

Psychological Contracts in Organizations: Understanding Written and Unwritten Agreements

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Recipient of the George Terry Book Award sponsored by the Academy of Management "The incredible number of specific illustrations embedded in this text is a great asset. The book will be a good read for a potentially wide academic audience of professors and students (especially in psychology and business schools), anybody interested in contracts in the nonlegal sense, and for 'thinking managers' and practitioners. Psychological Contracts in Organizations will become a standard reference in the organizational sciences by 1997." --Richard Guzzo, University of Maryland, College Park This unique book examines the organizational, social, and psychological meaning of contracts, written and unwritten, in organizations. The author addresses a multitude of important topics, including contract making, interpretation of contracts, contracts that are emerging due to the turmoil and economic forces in the 1990s, contract violations, and strategies for changing contracts. In addition, this volume includes a thought-provoking discussion of how contracts are linked to an organization's strategy and its human resource practices. This outstanding volume concludes with an assessment of societal trends that point to large-scale changes in future employment contracts. Psychological Contracts in Organizations will capture the interest of advanced undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, managers, and researchers in the areas of organizational behavior, management, organizational psychology, human relations, industrial relations, law, and socioeconomics.

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Review article, the organizational commitment in the company and its relationship with the psychological contract.

psychological contract literature

Business organizations in their work environment, aspire to create a high level of performance and low levels of absenteeism and turnover. Organizational commitment is considered a key factor in achieving this objective, however, it can be conditioned by several factors, among which is the psychological contract. The literature has related the organizational commitment with the fulfillment of the psychological contract framing it as one of the explanatory variables. This work aims to investigate research trends on psychological contract and organizational commitment. For this purpose, bibliometric techniques and the software SciMAT have been used. 220 journal articles indexed in Web of Science (WoS) were analyzed. The findings indicate that the theme chosen for this review is valid. Based on the relationship between the two concepts, as the most recurrent themes, issues such as the sense of justice and the consequences of the violation of the psychological contract, normative commitment, HR management or job insecurity are addressed. However, in the last period analyzed (2015–2018), publications related to more sensitive topics to the present time emerge, such as the employability or the impact of these two concepts in the new generations (millennial and generation-Y) or the retention of talent. On the other hand, shortcomings are detected in the research on the ideologically charged psychological contract, the analysis of the organizational context or cultural and demographic factors in relation to both theoretical constructs. The contribution of this work lies in giving visibility to scientific results, which will serve business organizations as instruments for decision making in their labor management and, for the scientific community, as knowledge of the research spaces to explore.


In the current business context, a change toward an efficiency model based on organizational commitment is required. Business organizations need to form teams that are highly committed to their strategic objectives, oriented toward organization and work. Human resource management is positioned as one of the main functions within the organization where working conditions, worker welfare and job satisfaction are valued, which helps to maintain high levels of organizational commitment ( Tiwari and Singh, 2014 ; Kurtessis et al., 2017 ). The formation of organizational commitment is related to the inputs that the worker receives from the organization and is intimately linked to the results of the relationship between both parties, as well as to the emotional bond between the goals and values of the organization and the employee ( Buchanan, 1974 ). This exchange relationship between worker and company can affect work performance, absenteeism and job rotation ( Betanzos and Paz, 2007 ). The literature in many works has related the organizational commitment to the fulfillment of the psychological contract, that is, the degree of compliance with the promises made by the organization ( Rousseau and Parks, 1993 ), framing it as an explanatory and determining variable of the organizational commitment ( Guest, 1998 ; Zaragoza and Solanes Puchol, 2013 ). The following provides a review of these two concepts; psychological contract and organizational commitment, as well as the relationship between them.

Psychological Contract

Rousseau (1995) defined the psychological contract as the set of individual beliefs of a person in relation to the reciprocal obligations and benefits established in a relationship of exchange. The result of the exchange conditions the behavior of both the organization and the employees. However, Rousseau emphasizes in her definition the unipersonal and subjective nature of the employees’ interpretation of the psychological contract, which could lead to different views on the terms of the psychological contract between employer and employee ( Morrison and Robinson, 1997 ).

The theory of the psychological contract shows as a key factor the perceived adequate performance of the contract between two parties involved, where subjectively one of the parties considers that the other has not adequately performed the obligations promised ( Robinson, 1996 ). In reality, this comparison has consequences that go beyond the mere violation of the expected rewards. Its influence extends to the image that the person acquires about the organization, affects trust in the employer and the perception of fairness in the employment relationship ( Cantisano et al., 2008 ).

In the exchange relationship between the organization and the employee two main dimensions can be distinguished, the relational contracts and the transactional contracts ( MacNeil, 1985 ). The relational are characterized by an emotional exchange of social-emotional resources in the long term, in this case, the employee perceives that in exchange for his loyalty he will receive possible promotions to develop his career in the organization and/or security to remain in his job. The transactional contracts are mainly focused on an economic exchange ( Rousseau, 1995 ). The breach of the psychological contract and its consequences have been widely addressed by researchers, where it has been demonstrated in many empirical studies how this fact is positioned as a key aspect in the field of labor relations and influences negatively the attitudes and behavior of employees ( Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2019 ). The validity or degree of compliance with the psychological contract has different interpretations depending on whether the employee is involved ( Robinson, 1996 ), the employer ( Coyle-Shapiro and Kessler, 2002 ) or both ( Dabos and Rousseau, 2004 ). A distinction must be made between breach and violation of the psychological contract. While the assessment of compliance or breach of the psychological contract starts from the individual’s own analysis based on his or her judgment, the violation of the psychological contract is a possible consequence of the breach, where the subject reacts in an emotional way, with greater resentment and indignation ( Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2019 ).

The consequences associated with the breach of the psychological contract can be numerous and depend on a variety of factors that would be related to both the organization and the employee. Some of these consequences have been widely addressed by researchers; employees’ job performance ( Gracia et al., 2006 ); intention to leave work ( Lester et al., 2002 ); job satisfaction and organizational commitment ( Porter et al., 1998 ; Cassar, 2001 ; Coyle-Shapiro and Kessler, 2002 ; Topa and Morales, 2005 ); and/or decreased trust ( Robinson, 1996 ; Zhao et al., 2007 ), among others. The difference between the promises made and their fulfillment will generate different effects depending on the characteristics of the labor relationship, the age of the employee, the professional category, the organizational culture (individualistic or collective) and other demographic variables ( Rousseau, 1995 ; Turnley and Feldman, 1999 ; Costa et al., 2017 ). As for the emerging and developing themes on the psychological contract, Coyle-Shapiro et al. (2019) point out that they focus mainly on (a) those who investigate an expansion of psychological contracts beyond social exchange, the so-called psychological contracts with a strong ideological charge and their relation to organizational commitment, the presence of this type of contract in the public sector, or its repercussion on the organizational citizen behavior of employees, (b) those who analyze the antecedents of the breach of the psychological contract, such as the restructuring and downsizing of organizations, causing a decrease in the capacity to fulfill their part of the exchange, or those who investigate the impact of the employee’s perception of job insecurity, and how it affects the breach of psychological contract, and finally, (c) those who have extended the explanations of the relationship between the rupture and the result, focusing on the analysis of psychological contracts as dynamic processes.

Organizational Commitment

There are various definitions of organizational commitment one been as the desire on the part of the employee to make high efforts for the good of the institution, longing to remain in it and accept its main objectives and values ( Porter and Lawer, 1965 ). Another widely accepted definition is that of Greenberg and Baron (2008) who define organizational commitment as the degree to which employees identify with the organization where they work, the degree of commitment they show and whether they are willing to leave it. In research related to organizational engagement, three different perspectives can be distinguished. The first one is born from the perspective of social exchange, where the commitment of the individual to the organization is the result of the small investments that he or she has made over time and that would stop his or her voluntary disengagement from the organization ( Becker, 1960 ). This perspective was later developed by Meyer and Allen (1991 , 1997) where it was called Commitment to Continuity (CC). The second model, Affective Commitment (CA), leans toward a psychological perspective, where emphasis is placed on the binding force between the person and the organization. It is characterized by the employee’s desire to remain a member of the organization, accepting values and goals from the organization in exchange for certain psychological rewards, such as support or recognition ( Mowday et al., 1979 ; Mathieu and Zajac, 1990 ). The third perspective, or Normative Commitment (NC) developed by Meyer and Allen (1991) is focuses on the work ethic and the responsibility that the worker acquires, which drives him/her to do his/her job well in any circumstance. This normative commitment has been the source of multiple interpretations regarding its independence as an element of study ( Varona, 1993 ; Ko et al., 1997 ; Bergman, 2006 ; González and Guillén, 2008 ). On the other hand, organizations have assimilated that employees represent their most important asset ( Glen, 2006 ; Fulmer and Ployhart, 2014 ; Millar et al., 2017 ). Job satisfaction and job motivation, among other factors, become key aspects for the company’s success. Several attempts have been made at an integrated theory for analyzing motivation at work, covering most approaches and factors involved in employee motivation and expectations ( Donovan, 2001 ; Locke and Latham, 2004 ), although no complete consensus has been reached. As for organizational commitment, it is closely linked to job satisfaction. This satisfaction depends on many factors, but most are related to what the organization brings to the employee. Some studies indicate that job satisfaction precedes the level of organizational commitment ( Meyer et al., 2002 ; Morrow, 2011 ), in contrast, other research defends the idea that it is organizational commitment that is a predecessor to job satisfaction ( Price and Mueller, 1981 ; Curry et al., 1986 ). Organizational engagement of employees has been addressed in remarkable research where one can distinguish between so-called individual theories and process theories. Individual theories are based on the individual, the needs of the individual, and his or her motivation to act in one way or another. In this section we could cite: the Theory of Motivation ( Maslow, 1943 ); the Theory of Hierarchy ( Alderfer, 1969 ); or the Theory of Motivation-Hygiene ( Herzberg, 2005 ). The process theories also include the characteristics of the job or work environment, where other factors surrounding the individual are taken into account and are focused on analyzing why people have different behaviors in relation to the commitment to their organization. Among these process theories are, The Theory of Work and Motivation ( Vroom, 1964 ), Goal Setting Theory ( Locke, 1968 ) and the Theory of Equity ( Adams, 1963 ) (see Culibrk et al., 2018 ).

Psychological Contract and Organizational Commitment

At present, there is no generally accepted categorization that encompasses the connection between psychological contract and organizational commitment. However, the literature has strongly related the link between both theoretical constructs, analyzing it from different perspectives, and giving it special relevance in terms of its influence in the field of organizational behavior ( Meyer and Allen, 1997 ; Bunderson, 2001 ; Lester et al., 2002 ; Sels et al., 2004 ; McInnis et al., 2009 ; Meyer and Parfyonova, 2010 ; Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2019 ). Organizational commitment, within the organizational approach, is among the most analyzed consequences in the literature, when explaining the results of the breach of psychological contracts, as opposed to other approaches such as factors oriented to internal third parties (supervisors or co-workers), external third parties (unions or clients) or health ( Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2019 ). On the other hand, research has been carried out that seeks to analyze the relationship of the psychological contract and its variants (relational and transactional psychological contract) with the different types of organizational commitment. In this sense, Meyer and Parfyonova (2010) , in their attempt to explain the differentiation between CA and NC, and to reinforce the conceptualization of the latter, point out the importance of this distinction to better understand the processes by which the psychological contract influences employee behaviors. Meyer and Allen (1997) ; Bunderson (2001) , Lester et al. (2002) , Sels et al. (2004) , and McInnis et al. (2009) point out that psychological contracts have been more related to the CA, however, it is more relevant to relate it to the NC. In addition, Meyer and Parfyonova (2010) , suggest that the conception of the type of contract in which the employee is (transactional or relational contract) may have implications on the way in which the employee experiences CK. In this line, they highlight that it is likely that employees with a relational contract experience a sense of moral duty, aligning themselves with the interests of the organization, even at the cost of sacrificing their own objectives. However, employees with a transactional contract, experience their obligation within the reciprocity of a social exchange relationship, consequently, they can respond out of necessity instead of desire and restrict their contributions to what is strictly necessary.

Another connection of the psychological contract with organizational commitment has to do with the most recent conceptualization of the psychological contract, which goes beyond the theory of social interchange; the so-called ideologically charged psychological contracts. This concept is based on the proposal of Thompson and Bunderson (2003) , which has been supported by many other authors such as Bingham (2005) ; El Bedoui et al. (2011) or Vantilborgh et al. (2014) , in relation to employee behavior inspired by ideology. This approach suggests that the employee recognizes his or her contribution to the achievement of a greater good aligned with the company’s objectives, for which he or she would be willing to make some sacrifices. In this sense, the employee understands that the achievement itself provides him/her with an intrinsic motivation and this encourages him/her to continue cooperating with the organization in the belief that it is the right thing to do. Under this prism, the behavior that exceeds the psychological contract based on social exchange, is explained from the conception of the commitment with moral objectives that can promote satisfaction, even in the absence of an economic relationship ( Shamir, 1990 ; Aguilera et al., 2007 ). In this line, Meyer and Parfyonova (2010) try to relate the ideological psychological contract with the affective and normative commitment when; (a) there are ethical foundations, (b) they are transformative and charismatic leaders, or (c) they are employed with collectivist cultures.

Justification, Objectives, and Practical Implications

It is noted that there is a strong link in the literature between psychological contract and organizational commitment. It is also confirmed that new lines of research continue to appear, such as that which analyzes the relationship between the typologies of psychological contracts and the different types of organizational commitment. Hence, there is an incipient interest in ideologically charged psychological contracts and their close relationship with the CA/NC, -some authors suggest that the investigation of ideologically charged psychological contracts is in an initial phase and invite further research ( Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2019 ). For this reason, a broader approach is necessary, with the purpose of knowing more about the literature around these two great theoretical axes, which explain to a great extent the organizational behavior and the consequences that derive from them. Therefore, the objective of this work is to give visibility to scientific results that provide knowledge of the nexus between psychological contract and organizational commitment, putting the focus on explaining the relationship between them and with other theoretical elements within the area of human resources, as well as identifying the spaces of research that remain to be explored. Hence, in its practical implication, this research can serve business organizations to better focus decision-making on the management of organizational behavior, in an attempt to find greater efficiency and sustainability of human capital. To achieve this objective, this work carries out a review of the research literature that analyzes these two theoretical constructs together. To this end, bibliometric analysis techniques will be used to present a detailed study of the evolution of research and authors who have addressed this issue. The adopted approaches and the incorporation of numerous empirical studies have provided a remarkable sustained literary wealth, which goes from the first works published in the nineties of the past century, to the proliferation of publications that take place in the beginning of the twenty first century.

The Web of Science (WoS) database has been used as a source in the search of scientific publications and SciMat as software for the generation and visualization of maps. A total of 220 articles related to the topic at hand have been used as a starting point. The analysis carried out is divided into two stages; firstly, an attempt to evaluate from a quantitative and qualitative orientation the production by countries, authors and journals, and secondly by means of longitudinal and strategic maps, which show the intensity of the relationships between the topics and their evolution in time, therefore giving an idea of which are the most developed and where future research can be directed.

Materials and Methods

This work aims to know the trends in the scientific production of psychological contract and organizational commitment . This research is based on a bibliometric analysis of the scientific literature. A bibliometric analysis examines bibliographic material from an objective and quantitative perspective that is useful for organizing information within a field specification ( Albort-Morant and Ribeiro-Soriano, 2016 ); Therefore, a metric analysis of the bibliography allows us to analyze the details of the main research topics within a domain and the relationships at the micro level, generating useful information for researchers who evaluate scientific activity ( Chen and Xiao, 2016 ; Rey-Martí et al., 2016 ).

In order to carry out our analysis, two clearly differentiated sets will be described in detail; relationship indicators and activity indicators. The review of the articles in our sample will reveal the evolution of the research related to psychological contract and organizational commitment. Other data that is analyzed correspond to the year of publication of the manuscripts, authors, place of origin, number of citations, impact indices and other characteristics related to scientific production. This approach will provide researchers with a complete vision of what scientific production in this field has meant.

The database used to extract the sample has been Web of Science, where the search was carried out in February 2019. To meet the objectives set out in this research, the location of articles in this database was configured with the following expressions: “psychological contract” and “organizational commitment.” The year of publication was not limited and was restricted to the Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED) and Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI). Thus, those documents whose title, abstract or keywords include the expressions “psychological contract” and “organizational commitment” are extracted. To further refine the search for the selected items, the search is restricted to the categories “Management,” “Phychology applied,” “Business,” and “Sociology.” This configuration provided a total of 220 items in this source. Usually, in reviews that use bibliometric techniques, those articles that have received a greater number of citations are selected. In this review, all articles that meet the above parameters are included, so that those manuscripts that have not yet reached their highest impact rate are not excluded.

In a first step for a global perspective, we will carry out a descriptive statistical analysis, where the indicators of activity in the literature are detailed. In a second step, where the temporal evolution of these topics will be appreciated, we will make longitudinal, strategic and thematic network maps. In this way, those topics that have had a greater transcendence throughout time will flourish, as well as those that have a lesser current impact, or those that are currently positioning themselves as topics of greater interest in relation to our purpose.

SciMAT has been used for the construction of longitudinal maps, strategic maps and thematic networks. This allows us to see chronologically what the thematic evolution of the literature under study has been. This software has been developed by SECABA, a research group from the University of Granada, Spain ( Cobo et al., 2012 ).

The following configuration of SciMAT has been carried out for the analysis: the author’s keywords and those coming from the source represent the thematic unit. The equivalence index acts as a measure of similarity to normalize the networks, as well as to create the scientific map of topics and the networks that compose it. The single center clustering algorithm was used.

In order to more clearly expose the focus of this research, Figure 1 shows schematically the procedure that has been performed. The longitudinal map ( Figure 1 , Left) indicates the evolution of literature associated to a particular theme. In this map each period represents by means of spheres the main themes concentrated in a certain number of articles of that period. The evolution from period to period is reflected by connecting lines between the represented items.

Figure 1. Example of longitudinal map, strategic map and thematic network. Prepared by the authors base in Cobo (2011) .

A strategic diagram is divided into four quadrants ( Figure 1 , Center). Motor themes are in the upper right quadrant, peripheral themes in the upper left, emerging themes are in the lower left quadrant, and basic themes are in the lower right quadrant ( Cobo et al., 2012 ). With respect to the first ( Figure 1 , Center Circle “A”), they indicate that subjects are the motors of the specialty, they have a high density and pronounced centrality, they are very developed and important subjects for the composition of the scientific field, they also have notable relations with concepts applicable to other subjects. The circle “D” ( Figure 1 , Center), identifies the position that the peripheral themes would occupy, although their importance in the scientific field being analyzed is not very high, if they have very developed internal links and are characterized by being very specialized. The circle “C” ( Figure 1 , Center) indicates the position that emerging or decadent themes would occupy. Both their density and their centrality are very low, so their development has not been very notable, although they may evolve toward more transcendental themes in the future. The basic themes are represented by the circle “D” ( Figure 1 , Center). Although they are not sufficiently developed, they are transversal and generic, and therefore represent the basic themes of a scientific field. The third dimension in the strategic map is included through the spheres of the themes, where their volume may represent different bibliometric indicators, such as the number of documents associated with a theme, the number of citations received by the documents associated with each theme, or the H-Index of the theme ( Cobo, 2011 ).

Together with the global network of interconnected themes and keywords, a second thematic network is created, based on the documents associated with each theme. Each thematic network ( Figure 1 , Right) is assigned the documents that share some keywords with the network, being able to consider two types of networks: main documents and secondary documents. A main document will be one that contains at least two keywords of the thematic network, and those documents that have at least one keyword associated to the thematic network will be called secondary document. In this way, both primary and secondary documents can belong to more than one thematic network ( Cobo, 2011 ). The quantitative and qualitative analysis developed in this research has been based on the network of primary documents.

Indicators of Activity in the Literature on Psychological Contract and Commitment

The evolution of the number of publications per year has experienced a notable increase. The sample analyzed consists of 220 articles, the first of which appears in 1994, “Expatriate Managers and the Psychological Contract” published by Guzzo, RA, Noonan, KA and Elron, E. in Journal of Applied Psychology . This journal is one of the pioneers and remains one of the most productive in this field, although its contribution does not keep a constant pace.

Up to and including the year 2000, the number of investigations published within the chosen sample was only 14 units (6%). Between 2001 and 2010 this number rises to 88 articles, and from 2011 to the present a total of 118 works have been published in these sources. The years between 2005 and 2015 are shown as the most productive with a total of 149 (68%) articles with respect to this sample. Bearing in mind that the current decade (2011–2020) still has a few months of production to go and that the articles cited gain prominence in the years following their publication, it is worth noting that there has been a considerable increase in the pace of publication on this subject.

The Figure 2 shows how from 2005 onwards the growth of publications is very high, maintaining an average rhythm of 17 articles per year until 2013, where a pronounced fall can be seen. Until 2005, researchers from the United States of America published on this subject in a significant way with 31 articles, the American country has the largest representation with a total of 58 articles between 1994 and 2018. From 2006 to 2018, researchers from England (24), Holland (16), Australia (15), Canada (15), China (14), and Germany (11) have more than 10 publications. The rest of the documents are distributed among other countries that have not reached 10 in the last 15 years; Spain (5), Taiwan (5), France (4), Greece (4) or India (4) are the most numerous examples. In this phase before the turn of the century, the research carried out by Guzzo, Noonan and Elron entitled “Expatriate managers and the psychological contract” (1994) stands out and becomes a reference for later works.

Figure 2. Number of articles by year of publication. Prepared by the authors on the basis of WoS data.

The authors who have published the greatest number of articles in the database consulted are shown in Table 1 . The Hirsch Index, or H-index, of each author is also added, which relates the number of publications and citations received.

Table 1. Authors who have published three or more articles on psychological contract and organizational commitment (1994–2018).

It is necessary to comment as the author with more publications (10), De Witte, H, only appears as first author in an article of the ten where he participates. On the other hand, De Cuyper, Bal, Ng, and others, are authors who usually appear as the first researcher in the articles in which they participate. The most cited authors per article are not represented in the above list, as their production in this field has not been as numerous. The most cited article of all those analyzed is by Zhao, Wayne, Glibkowski and Bravo who in 2007 published “The impact of psychological contract breach on work-related outcomes: A meta-analysis” with 517 citations from other researchers. Another article to be highlighted is the manuscript published by Coyle-Shapiro et al. (2019) , “Psychological Contracts: Past, Present and Future,” which despite its novelty already has more than 37 citations from other authors and represents a broad systematic review on this subject.

With respect to the journals with the greatest presence in research on Psychological Contract and Organizational Commitment, it can be indicated that the set of 220 articles studied in this work from 1994 to 2018 are distributed in 82 different publications, highlighting the most representative with 19 and 17 research edited. As with research production in this field, the most active journals have appeared in this field since 2005, almost continuously publishing a significant number of articles each year.

The journals with the greatest presence of this sample and its impact factor are indicated in Table 2 . Most of them are located in the first or second quartile (Q1–Q2–Q3–Q4) of this theme according to JCR Category. In the cases where a publication is cataloged in more than one category, the one belonging to the area of knowledge according to this research has been chosen.

Table 2. Journals on psychological contract and organizational commitment.

The International Journal of Human Resource Management , volume 1 of which appeared in 1990, is the most active in this field, with 19 articles since 2003, and continuous production to date. The second publication with 17 articles, Journal of Vocational Behavior appears in 1971, and like the previous one from the beginning of the twenty first century it gathers a series of researches on the subject we are concerned with, although as it happens in the general computation it shows more activity from 2008 onwards. In Table 3 , the 19 journals listed in Table 2 , which indicates the number of articles related to Psychological Contract and Organizational Commitment that have been published each year, are shown.

Table 3. Annual journal activity in articles on psychological contract and organizational commitment. number of articles per year.

As can be seen, except for the International Journal of Human Resource Management , no journal represents more than 8% of the published articles, which indicates that few journals have specialized specifically in this matter. It also gives an idea of how this subject is represented from multidisciplinary approaches, which although having limited the search in certain areas of knowledge, the study of the Psychological Contract and the Organizational Commitment admits points of view from various disciplines.

Content Analysis

Evolution of keywords.

In order to analyze the conceptual and thematic evolution of the literature related to organizational commitment and psychological contract, we first analyze how the keywords have evolved, their overlapping, continuity and discontinuity chronologically. For this purpose, 4 periods are established (1994–2004/2005–2009/2010–2014/2015–2018). The criterion of creating blocks with a certain similarity in their amplitude and number of documents has been followed. It was estimated that 5 years periods would favor analysis. For the first block, due to the low level of literary production, it was thought convenient to extend from 5 to 10 years the breadth of the period, even so, it contains the least number of publications with a total of 32 documents. The second and third blocks, both have an amplitude of 5 years and 55 and 78 manuscripts, respectively. In the case of the fourth block, it comprises the last 4 years of the total period under study, and has a total of 55 publications.

In the analysis of the evolution of keywords in the area, the methodology of Price and Gürsey (1975) has been used ( Figure 3 ). Each circle represents a chosen period, the figure inside it indicating the number of different keywords in that period. The horizontal arrows that join the circles represent the keywords shared that pass from one period to the next, so they remain between the two periods. The figure in parentheses indicates the stability index or overlapping fraction (between period 1 and 2, the stability index was 49%, which decreased between period 2 and 3, and between period 3 and 4. This indicates the growth of keywords that have been associated with this theme. This indicates the growth of keywords that have been associated to this theme. An arrow appears at the top of each period to inform us of how many keywords no longer appear in the following period. At the opposite point, the arrow that enters diagonally in the circle indicates the number of new keywords that have been incorporated during this period. As you can see in Figure 3 , in each period new keywords are added and others are no longer used with respect to adjacent periods. A large number of keywords is observed, which gives an idea of the diversity of topics adjacent to those dealt with by the central core object of this study. As for the analysis of periods, the number of keywords is closely related to the number of publications, so the third (2010–2014) is where more keywords have coexisted with a total of 501. The stability index has remained between 0.49 and 0.37 which, although decreasing, shows a high strengthening of the vocabulary by the scientific community when describing the published documents ( Cobo et al., 2012 ).

Figure 3. Keywords shared between periods. Prepared by the authors on the basis of SciMAT data.

Longitudinal Analysis of the Theme

Once the evolution of keywords has been analyzed, the study would focus on how the subject has evolved. In order to do this, we rely on Figure 4 , where the relations of the themes are represented by periods according to the volume of primary documents. In the case of Psychological Contract and Organizational Commitment, there is continuity in each of the periods. In the first period, the subject revolves more around the Psychological Contract, giving way to Organizational Commitment in the following periods. However, in the central blocks (2005–2009 and 2010–2014), the issues are closely related. In the case of the subject that has to do with the violation of the psychological contract, it evolves in all periods toward the conception of obligations and toward social exchange in the last period. Job insecurity remains in force in all periods, resulting in the second with health and in the last two with performance or social exchange. In the last period (2014–2018) there are themes that are not related to those of previous periods, such as personality , turnover , millennials, employability or moderating-role and that, due to their density, are themes with certain possibilities of becoming driving themes in the near future.

Figure 4. Evolution of the theme of organizational commitment and psychological contract. primary documents. Prepared by the authors on the basis of SciMAT data.

Thematic Analysis Through Strategic Diagrams

Period 1994–2004.

The strategic diagram in Figure 5 represents an image of the situation of the theme in the first decade in which the central themes of this study, Psychological Contract and Organizational Commitment, began to be jointly researched. The main driving themes are psychological contract and justice . The first one has a high level of centrality and density ( Table 4 ) which makes it the main asset of the subject, at the same time it stands out from the others, both in the quantitative plane with 28 documents, and in the qualitative plane with an H-index of 24, in the case of the second, justice , with an H-index of 3, it only has 4 documents related to satisfaction, the behavior of citizens or trust. As basic topics are those related to behavior or violation of the psychological contract. As for emerging or decadent issues, there is organizational support , which has a high density, although the centrality is relatively low. In the upper left quadrant, in which peripheral themes are visualized, it is represented by performance or job insecurity , both considerably developed, although with little production and low H-index.

Figure 5. Strategic map 1994–2004. Prepared by the authors on the basis of SciMAT data.

Table 4. Cluster period 1994–2004.

With the intention of knowing which literary activity makes up the main driving theme, which in this first period is a psychological contract , it would be interesting to analyze its thematic network ( Figure 5 ). The study of psychological contracts is intimately related to organizational commitment , but it is also closely related to the analysis of performance , job satisfaction , rotation , antecedents and the consequences of the same (both topics that in turn maintain an important intensity in their relationships), as well as with other topics with less intensity such as professional commitment, models, human resources management or social exchange .

The five publications with the greatest impact of this network between 1994 and 2004 were, (i) Whitener (2001) , “High Commitment” Human Resource Practices Affect Employee Commitment? (times cited: 443); (ii) Raja et al. (2004) , The Impact Of Personality On Psychological Contracts (times cited: 308); (iii) Guzzo et al. (1994) , Expatriate Managers And The Psychological Contract (times cited: 304); (iv) Scandura and Lankau (1997) , Relationships Of Gender, Family Responsibility And Flexible Work Hours To Organizational Commitment And Job Satisfaction (times cited: 236), and (v); Meyer and Smith (2000) , Hrm Practices And Organizational Commitment: Test Of A Mediation Model (times cited: 210).

Period 2005–2009

In the second block (2005–2009), in the association Psychological Contract—Organizational Commitment as a driving theme, there is a change of leadership ( Figure 6 ). The number of documents and the quality (H-index) increased in this second period, from 28 to 51 and from 24 to 30, respectively ( Tables 4 , 5 ). As the second driving theme, obligations appear, with 7 publications related to perceptions, violation and the rupture of the psychological contract. In this period there is a peculiarity in which two clusters are generated on the topics health and turnover-intention. The first is at the border of the quadrant of emerging themes with the basic themes that, as has been commented ( Figure 4 ), was an evolution—from the previous period—of the job-insecurity theme and evolved, in the following period, toward themes such as job-insecurity or performance. In the case of the latter, it lies between the quadrant of emerging or decadent themes and peripheral themes, as seen earlier created in this period, but evolves in the following one toward normative-commitment. Both topics have few documents, between 5 and 3, respectively, and in the qualitative aspect an H-index of 5 and 3 equally ( Table 5 ).

Figure 6. Strategic map 2005–2009. Prepared by the authors on the basis of SciMAT data.

Table 5. Cluster period 2005–2009.

The thematic network of organizational commitment , for this period, as main driving theme ( Figure 6 ) is constituted, in the first place, by psychological contract and closely, by antecedents and consequences —al as well as in period anterior—, and job-satisfaction . On the other hand, there are two issues that are closely related to organizational engagement, such as social-exchange and employment-relationship. During this period there is a great deal of interest in knowing about the literature on this subject, with 12 publications on the subject of meta-analysis.

With respect to the five publications with the greatest impact between 2005 and 2009, the following can be found; (i) Zhao et al. (2007) , The Impact Of Psychological Contract Breach On Work-related Outcomes: A Meta-analysis (times cited: 538); (ii) Cheng and Chan (2008) Who Suffers More From Job Insecurity? A Meta-analytic Review (times cited: 335); (iii) Bentein et al. (2005) , The Role Of Change In The Relationship Between Commitment And Turnover: A Latent Growth Modeling Approach (times cited: 198); (iv) De Cuyper and De Witte (2006) , The Impact Of Job Insecurity And Contract Type On Attitudes, Well-being And Behavioural Reports: A Psychological Contract Perspective (times cited: 183); and (v) Bal et al., 2008 ), Psychological Contract Breach And Job Attitudes: A Meta-analysis Of Age As A Moderator (times cited: 160).

Period 2010–2014

The third block (2010–2014) continues its organizational commitment as the main driving theme ( Figure 7 ), which although it is present in more publications, 74 as opposed to 51 in the previous period, from a qualitative point of view has worsened, going from a 30 to a 23 H-index ( Tables 5 , 6 ). At the frontiers of the driving themes there are two themes that could belong to this classification. The first is in the line that divides the peripheral themes of the emerging or decadent, normative-commitment 1 , which is an evolution, as we could see, of turnover-intention and that has experienced a greater centrality between its publications—goes from 3.3 to 26.83—, giving rise to the potential necessary to become a driving theme, with a notable increase in its H-index, which goes from 3 to 10. The second, violation , is at the frontier of peripheral issues. In this period it is again configured as a driving theme with violation , but with a lower density and centrality and, in quantitative and qualitative terms, fewer documents and lower H-index. In the basic and peripheral themes, there are job-insecurity and performance , themes that have evolved from health of the previous period, to transform the first into a peripheral theme, with a notable density and centrality and the second into a basic theme, little developed, with low centrality and density, however both have the same H-index (4). As an emergent or decadent theme appears work , which with an H-index of 6, has an acceptable density, but a very low centrality ( Table 6 ).

Figure 7. Strategic map 2010–2014. Prepared by the authors on the basis of SciMAT data.

Table 6. Cluster period 2010–2014.

In the period 2010–2014, the thematic network of organizational commitment ( Figure 7 ), as the main driving theme, has its densest relationship with psychological contract , followed by meta-analysis , which is again present with some consistency, on the other hand, other themes such as job-satisfaction, consequences, psychological-contract-breach or social-exchange are related to each other and strongly related to organizational commitment.

The five publications with the greatest impact between 2010 and 2014 were; (i) Ng et al. (2010) Psychological Contract Breaches, Organizational Commitment, And Innovation-related Behaviors: A Latent Growth Modeling Approach (times cited: 94); (ii) Tremblay et al. (2010) , The Role Of Hrm Practices, Procedural Justice, Organizational Support And Trust In Organizational Commitment And In-role And Extra-role Performance , (times cited: 83); (iii) Direnzo and Greenhaus (2011) , Job Search And Voluntary Turnover In A Boundaryless World: A Control Theory Perspective (times cited: 82); (iv) Lub et al. (2012) ; Different Or Alike? Exploring The Psychological Contract And Commitment Of Different Generations Of Hospitality Workers (times cited: 79); and (v) Deconinck (2011) , The Effects Of Ethical Climate On Organizational Identification, Supervisory Trust, And Turnover Among Salespeople (times cited: 69).

Period 2015–2018

The last period (2015–2018) is characterized by the proliferation of themes, fundamentally in publications classified as peripheral and basic and as a consequence, by a lower density in the works related to the main driving theme, organizational commitment ( Figure 8 ). As in the previous period, there are motor themes that are right in the line that divides this quadrant with the basic themes or with the peripheral themes. At the border with the basic issues is a social-exchange , which is an evolution of normative-commitment , a theme inherited from the previous period, which retains virtually its range of density and centrality. With respect to its thematic network, it is interesting to highlight that, due to its evolution, it constitutes a line of research that seems to be consolidating, in addition to the normative commitment, toward issues related to the affective-organizational commitment and the importance of the perception of the organizational support, the role of the leader or the organizational trust, the professional commitment or the behavior of the citizenship. On the other hand, human-resource-management appears for the first time and does it as a work evolution,—in the previous period it was considered as a emerging topic — with topics about the management and retention of talent. With respect to the basic issues, consequences , turnover and breach appear, the first comes from the previous period as an evolution of job-insecurity , located among the peripheral issues. In the quadrant of the basic themes there are three clusters that appear for the first time and that have no link with themes in previous periods; personality , millennials and employability , have a considerable density and could become future driving themes that point to lines of research related to work attitudes, self-esteem, organizational commitment and the perspective of the psychological contract in the new generations, the exchange of knowledge or work opportunities. Finally, with respect to emerging issues ( Table 7 ), moderating-role appears for the first time, with publications analyzing the importance of organizational support in job insecurity and in performance or the role of cultural values in the psychological contract.

Figure 8. Strategic map 2015–2018. Prepared by the authors on the basis of SciMAT data.

Table 7. Cluster period 2015–2018.

In the thematic network of organizational-commitment as the main driving theme ( Figure 8 ), it maintains the most intense relationship with the psychological-contract , on the other hand, there is an important connection between both themes and job-satisfaction. Other subjects among which it is related with certain intensity are psychological-contract-breach, performance, work, citizenship-behavior, turnover-intention or meta-analysis —than also appears in this period.

The five publications with the most impact between 2015 and 2018 are; (i) Deery and Jago (2015) , Revisiting Talent Management, Work-life Balance And Retention Strategies , (times cited: 45); (ii) Ng (2015) , The Incremental Validity Of Organizational Commitment, Organizational Trust, And Organizational Identification , (times cited: 29); (iii) Choi et al. (2015) , Understanding Organizational Commitment: A Meta-analytic Examination Of The Roles Of The Five-factor Model Of Personality And Culture , (times cited: 27); (iv) Vander Elst et al. (2016) , Perceived Control And Psychological Contract Breach As Explanations Of The Relationships Between Job Insecurity, Job Strain And Coping Reactions: Towards A Theoretical Integration , (times cited: 24); (v) Solinger et al. (2016) , Bouncing Back From Psychological Contract Breach: How Commitment Recovers Over Time , (times cited: 23).

We start from the idea that this work does not intend to carry out a revision of the literature in a deep and systematic way. The methodology used leads us to make visible, in a longitudinal and relational way, how the topics related to psychological contract and organizational commitment have been developed throughout time, and to detect which topics have been leading the literature. This work provides a new perspective on the nexus of these two theoretical constructs related to organizational behavior and sheds light on the issues that have occupied more central positions and which have had a greater density, also providing information on the levels of quality of research (h-index), authors and journals that have been interested in the subject and what level of specialization they have had. This methodological approach also makes it possible to know the state of the subject, in terms of the degree of maturity or saturation, where the research is headed and what spaces have not yet been addressed.

With respect to the findings found in the sample analyzed, it is confirmed that there are key aspects within the axis of psychological contract and organizational commitment that the literature has studied extensively, such as normative commitment, social interchange, violation of the psychological contract, job satisfaction, justice, job insecurity, organizational citizen behavior, performance, or the intention to leave work ( Porter et al., 1998 ; Cassar, 2001 ; Coyle-Shapiro and Kessler, 2002 ; Topa and Morales, 2005 ; Betanzos and Paz, 2007 ; Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2019 ). However, there are other themes that, although they may have sufficient entity in the research of either construct independently (psychological contract and organizational commitment), have not been developed from the perspective of the relationship between the two, lacking sufficient centrality and density to represent a cluster and, as a consequence, to position itself as a driving theme and set a trend. Therefore, it is considered that they have not yet been developed or are in an embryonic phase. Hence, we find research such as the analysis of psychological contracts with a strong ideological charge and their relationship with the public sector; the analysis of the organizational context in aspects such as the restructuring and reduction of organizations; how factors oriented to internal third parties (supervisors or colleagues) or external third parties (unions or clients) affect them; analysis of how intercultural differences or horizontal-individualist or vertical-collectivist cultures may affect the perception of the breach of psychological contract; or analysis of demographic variables such as employment status, professional category, age, or gender ( Rousseau, 1995 ; Turnley and Feldman, 1999 ; Costa et al., 2017 ; Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2019 ).

The literature related to psychological contract and organizational commitment has been producing work independently, providing valuable knowledge in order to better address efficiency within the organizational context. The objective of this work was to know more about the literature of these concepts, that is, to give visibility to the lines of research that try to explain, from all possible perspectives and approaches, what effects the psychological contract has on organizational commitment and both on HR management in organizations.

From the results of this work, it can be inferred that there is indeed an important scientific production that relates the concepts of psychological contract and organizational commitment. This begins at the beginning of the nineties of the last century, in an insignificant way and it is not until 2005 when interest in this subject really takes hold. The most fruitful years in terms of the number of works were between 2006 and 2016, where 72% of the entire sample was concentrated. It should be noted that the publications analyzed belong mostly to journals of the first and second quartile of Social Science Citation Index ( SSCI ) and Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED) , which gives the subject a certain level of relevance, however, none of the journals represents more than 10% of published articles, which shows that there is no specialization of the subject by any of them. In terms of production by country, researchers from the United States of America with 58 documents and England with 24 represent more than 37% of the published works.

The results suggest that the basis of research on psychological contract and organizational commitment has been developed, and that, in recent years, issues have emerged that are beginning to consolidate as lines that focus on more current needs or sensitivities. However, there are research trends in psychological contract and organizational engagement that, although they are likely to begin to obtain results independently, in the field of study between the two constructs (see section “Discussion”), they are not relevant.

From the longitudinal perspective, between 1994 and 2004, psychological contract is positioned as a topic with greater density and centrality, however, from 2005, organizational commitment takes over with strength and distance progressively. At the same time, they have survived over time with different issues such as the sense of justice, the perception of obligations within the framework of the psychological contract and its violation, the normative commitment or the management of human resources. Job insecurity, sometimes as a peripheral issue and sometimes as a basic issue, has been part of the focus of the central theme. With some distance, it has also happened to the study of performance or behavior. In the last period, works oriented toward a more current social demand emerge, such as employability or the study of new generations (millennials and generation-Y) focused on organizational commitment, satisfaction or the retention of talent which, due to their density, are well developed and which could end up being driving themes in the future; however, the development of other themes, which are currently also especially sensitive, such as the management of diversity and gender equality, is missed.

It must be recognized that this work is not without its limitations. The 220 articles selected for this analysis come only from the Web of Science (WoS) database. This fact may unintentionally exclude important contributions that have been made in other sources, however, the results obtained indicate that the sample used has been sufficiently large. Neither have those studies published in non-academic journals or books been included in the analysis carried out, although they have been taken into account in the introduction and approach to the research.

Future Research

Future publications should be oriented toward the development of works that continue the investigation of topics that have emerged in recent years and that are related to current socio-economic change, such as new generations and the retention of talent, and among other topics. It would also be necessary to delve into certain topics that have not shown a significant presence and that we consider important as sensitive issues, such as the management of diversity or gender equality in relation to the psychological contract and organizational commitment, as well as the development of the psychological contract with a strong ideological charge and its relationship with the normative commitment, or the transversal analysis of how aspects such as certain demographic factors, interculturality or the organizational context affect and/or moderate both theoretical constructs.

Author Contributions

JH and CHR designed, performed, analyzed the research, wrote the manuscript, searched literature, analyzed, and verified the data of this article. Both authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


We recognize the support of the University of Málaga, Spain.

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Keywords : psychological contract, organizational commitment, HR management, job insecurity, bibliometric, SciMAT

Citation: Herrera J and De Las Heras-Rosas C (2021) The Organizational Commitment in the Company and Its Relationship With the Psychological Contract. Front. Psychol. 11:609211. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.609211

Received: 22 September 2020; Accepted: 21 December 2020; Published: 14 January 2021.

Reviewed by:

Copyright © 2021 Herrera and De Las Heras-Rosas. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Juan Herrera, [email protected] ; Carlos De Las Heras-Rosas, [email protected]


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