Broken Promises at Work

Broken promises at work

By Patrick Raymund James M. GarciaPrashant Bordia, Simon Lloyd D. Restubog,Valerie Caines


Psychological contracts capture the perceptions of mutual obligations between an employee and an employer. Employee perception of a breach of the psychological contract can lead to reduced employee performance, loyalty, and may cause the employee considerable psychological distress. In this research, we examined the effects of perceptions of psychological contract breach on two wellbeing indicators of older workers: psychological distress and insomnia.

We also wondered if generativity concern mitigated the harmful effects of breach. Generativity concern refers to an interest in doing something to benefit future generations. Generativity tends to arise in mid to late middle-age, but people vary on how strongly they feel the generativity concern. We predicted that those with high generativity concern will be less affected by psychological contract breach at work for two reasons: 1) generativity concern shifts the focus from the self to others and 2) generativity may provide meaning, purpose, and self-esteem.  

What was done?

Two survey studies were conducted with working adults (aged 40 and above) in the Philippines.

What did they find?

Both studies showed that:

  • Psychological contract breach was positively related to psychological distress and insomnia.
  • These relationships were weaker for people high on generativity concern (compared to those who were low on generativity concern).

What does this mean?

The experience of breach of psychological contract at work is a distressing event and contributes to insomnia. Unfortunately, breach is commonly experienced at work and it is important to identify personal and situational coping mechanisms. Generativity concern may serve as a personal resource that buffers the older worker from harmful effects of breach. People high on generativity concern are focused on mentoring, teaching and guiding others and trying to leave a beneficial legacy for the next generation. This focus on others seems to buffer the older worker from their own negative experiences with their employer: An interest in benefiting the next generation also seems to benefit the self.    

This summary is based on the paper:

Garcia, PRJM., Bordia, P., Restubog, SLD., Caines, V. (2017). Sleeping with a broken promise: The moderating role of generativity concerns in the relationship between psychological contract breach and insomnia among older workers. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 2017; 1-13.

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