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Psychological contract and employee attitudes: The impact of firm ownership andemployment type

Yuchao Zhang (China Construction Bank, Shanghai, China)
Ting Ren (HSBC Business School, Peking University, Beijing, China)
Xuanye Li (Rutgers Business School, Rutgers University, Newark and New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)

Chinese Management Studies

ISSN: 1750-614X

Article publication date: 8 October 2018

Issue publication date: 26 March 2019




This paper aims to investigate the Chinese employment relationship under the framework of psychological contracts. The authors explored the effects of firm ownership (in terms of state-owned and private enterprises) and employment type (in terms of permanent and temporary employees) on employee perceptions of psychological contract. In addition, the associations between fulfilled psychological contract and various dimensions of employee attitudes were examined.


The authors adopted a questionnaire as the primary instrument to investigate the impact of firm ownership and employment type on psychological contract perceptions and outcomes. The analysis was based on a Chinese sample of a size of 363 employees.


The results indicate that state-owned employees overall reported fewer promises (employer under-obligation promised psychological contract), while private employees tended to have more promises (mutual high obligation, employer over-obligation and quasi-spot obligation promise-based psychological contract). Permanent employees reported high fulfillment (employer over-obligation, mutual high obligation and employer under-obligation fulfilled psychological contract). In contrast, temporary employees presented many promises (mutual high obligation promised psychological contract) and low fulfillment (quasi-spot fulfilled psychological contract). In general, firm ownership had weak effects on permanent and temporary employees’ perceptions of promise-based psychological contract, but no significant influence on fulfillment-based psychological contract. Moreover, psychological contract fulfillment was positively related to employees’ fairness perception and job satisfaction, while negatively related to the intention to quit. The authors failed to find comprehensive statistical support for the moderating effects of firm ownership or employment type.


The study contributes to the literature through a number of ways. First, instead of psychological contract breach, the authors use psychological contract fulfillment as a direct measure to examine the relationship between psychological contract and employees’ attitudes. Second, they investigate the effects of firm ownership on employment relationship under the psychological contract framework, enriching the institutional lens of the issue. Third, while majority of psychological contract studies concerning employment type concentrate on either permanent or temporary employees, the authors take both types into account. Fourth, they integrate perspectives of firm ownership and employment type. Finally, the authors perform the study in the Chinese context, which offers extra evidence to the body of psychological contract literature.



Zhang, Y., Ren, T. and Li, X. (2019), "Psychological contract and employee attitudes: The impact of firm ownership andemployment type", Chinese Management Studies, Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 26-50.



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