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Career stage and generational differences in psychological contracts

Narelle Hess (Challenge Consulting, Sydney, Australia)
Denise M. Jepsen (School of Management, University of Technology, Sydney, Australia)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 19 June 2009




The purpose of this paper is to determine how employees in different generational groups (or cohorts) and different career stages perceive their psychological contracts.


A survey of 345 working adults included psychological contract obligations, incentives and importance and the cognitive responses of job satisfaction, affective commitment and intention to leave. Super's “Adult career concerns inventory” measured career stage.


Small but significant differences between individuals' psychological contract perceptions were based on both career stage and generational cohort: higher levels of balanced obligations and fulfilment were found than either relational or transactional obligations and fulfilment; relational and transactional obligations were significantly higher for Baby Boomers than Generation Xers; a stronger negative relationship was found between transactional fulfilment and intention to leave for Generation Xers than Generation Yers; higher balanced fulfilment had a significantly stronger positive relationship with job satisfaction for exploration compared with other career stages and commitment for exploration compared with maintenance stages.

Research limitations/implications

Cross‐section methodology and difference scores in the female‐dominated sample limits generalisability. The study's key theoretical contribution is the need to further investigate whether the protean career concept is operating within employees' perceptions of their psychological contractual terms.


Despite widespread colloquial use of generational cohort groupings such as Baby Boomer, Generation X and Generation Y, small effect sizes were found. Implications for employers looking to manage employees' psychological contracts include that there are greater similarities than differences between the different career stages and generational cohorts.



Hess, N. and Jepsen, D.M. (2009), "Career stage and generational differences in psychological contracts", Career Development International, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 261-283.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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