Beyond Reciprocity: A Conservation of Resources View on the Effects of Psychological Contract Violation on Third Parties

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Abstract

Building on conservation of resources theory, we cast resource depletion as a novel explanatory mechanism to explain why employees’ experience of psychological contract violation results in harm to third parties outside the employee-organization exchange dyad. This resource-based perspective extends and complements the dominant social exchange perspective which views employee reactions to psychological contract violation as targeting the source of the violation—the organization. The present article reports on 3 studies. Study 1 conducted an experiment with 109 participants and established the main effect of psychological contract violation on resource depletion. Study 2, using survey data from 315 medical employees and their immediate supervisors, found that after controlling for the social exchange mechanism (i.e., revenge cognitions toward the organization), resource depletion mediated the indirect effects of psychological contract violation on supervisory reports of employees’ interpersonal harming toward coworkers and decision-making vigilance for clients. Further, we found that organizational and professional identification played opposing moderating roles in the effects of violation on resource depletion and consequently behavioral outcomes, such that these mediated relationships were stronger when organizational identification was high, and weaker when professional identification was high. Study 3 replicated all the results obtained in Studies 1 and 2 with time-lagged data from 229 medical employees across 3 measurement points. The findings confirm that resource depletion is a more effective explanation of the consequences of violation on third parties than revenge cognitions, although both are useful in predicting organization-directed outcomes (i.e., civic virtue and organizational rule compliance).

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