How to deal with psychological contract breaches and dissent

How to deal with psychological contract breaches and dissent

This is the last of 4 articles looking at what happens when people in organisations feel aggrieved and how the research shows, managers should deal with it.

Part 1 Psychological Contract Breaches & 3 Types of Employee Dissent

Part 2 The 3 Forms of Organisational Dissent

Part 3 The 5 Different Dissent Strategies

Part 4 Management Responses (This Part)

The 3 management responses

The researchers found that there are largely three management responses that can either deal with the dissent or escalate it.

  1. Showing concern
  2. Provide justification or explanation
  3. Taking action to deal with the situation

Managers who fail to engage in each of these three responses are highly likely to be considered by the employee not to have responded adequately to the situation, and it is highly possible that the employee will elevate the situation up the five level escalation spiral.

All three of these management responses appear to be required in order to prevent escalation. This is likely to be associated with increasingly negative emotional responses such as anger and resentment, which in turn will influence the manner in which the employee escalates the situation.

The problem here is that the very emotions that spur an employee to voice their dissent or escalate the situation are also the very emotions that are most likely to undermine their capacity to dissent in a constructive manner.

The response of management is key therefore as to whether the employee engages in escalation behaviours or not.

How to deal with psychological contract breaches

The paper emphasises two issues from the employee’s point of view that can help them deal with perceptions of psychological contract breaches successfully.

  1. The first is their ability to regulate their own emotions, in other words having a level of emotional resilience. Studies have shown that employees who are able to identify and regulate their emotions successfully are much more likely to engage and to maintain engagement in constructive dissent strategies than those who have less emotion regulation ability.
  2. The second factor which contributes to whether an individual will escalate dissent is the quality of the relationship that they have with management.

From the manager’s point of view their own emotion regulation and their own quality of relationship, also underpins their ability to respond appropriately to perceived psychological contract breaches and any resultant dissent.

What this means in effect is that if both the employee and the manager is able to identify and regulate their emotions, ti is unlikely that any dissent to psychological contract breaches will spiral very far. Further where the relationship between the management and employees is a good one, this again is most likely to result in faster resolution to psychological contract breach situations.

What the researchers have discovered is that people with better levels of emotional intelligence and emotion regulation capability are significantly less likely to engage in strategies that attack an individual, such as blaming, rather than just focus on the situation and a solution.


The researchers recommend:

– That both employees and managers are trained in both emotional intelligence and emotion regulation techniques,
– That managers focus on developing quality relationships and
– That managers are taught to understand the nature of psychological contract breaches, their effects and the nature of dissent spiral escalation.


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David Wilkinson