The violation of psychological contract : possible causes for the failure of organizational incentive systems to motivate knowledge sharing : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Management in Human Resource Management, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Researchers and practitioners have linked the survivability of organization to
their ability to manage their knowledge resource. This ability of the
organizations depends on providing the technological support for the creation
of knowledge, organizational structures (such as the organization reward
systems) and the willingness of their employees to share their knowledge.
Developments in information and communication technologies have
facilitated organizations in developing the infrastructures that are required for
the dissemination of knowledge. Organizations are thus left with the
challenge of developing organizational structures that will motivate
knowledge sharing among its employees.
The knowledge sharing problem, which was once seen as an issue of
capturing can codifying information, is now seen as a challenge of motivating
individuals, the true owner of knowledge, to share their valuable resource.
Behavioural scientists have taken interest in knowledge sharing as a form of
helping behaviour which is directed at the organizations or member within the
organizations. Although organizations have great desire that their managers
engage in this behaviour, it is the discretion of their employees whether they
want to share or withhold their knowledge. Organizational structural control
mechanisms (such as the performance evaluation systems) have limited
success in enforcing such behaviour as there are no means of measuring its
Organizations depend on their incentive systems to motivate knowledge
sharing. Research into motivation indicates that there is no easy fix to
achieve this. Organizations have to balance the use extrinsic and intrinsic
motivators, considering the specific motivational requirements of their
employees. Motivational interventions, such as the use of incentives, are
dependent on the level of trust the employees have in their managers and
the organization in whole to deliver on those incentives in a fair and equitable
manner. Where trust levels are not sufficient, employees tend to ignore such
incentives and tend to further disinvest discretionary efforts.
The current study used the psychological contract theory as a frame work for
understanding the dynamics of the employee-employer exchange. The
central premise of the theory is that employees tend to lose trust in the
organization or the agent of the organization, when they perceive that their
expectations have not been met. In addition to the lost of trust, psychological
contract violation is also negatively associated with desirable organization
behaviours and attitudes – such as commitment, in-role and extra-role effort
– and is positively associated with undesirable organization behaviours and
attitudes such as intention of turnover.
The current study used a qualitative research design to investigate how the
violation of the psychological contract can add to the ineffectiveness of the
organization incentive system to motivate knowledge sharing. Using semistructured
interviews the participants were provided with short scenarios
(vignettes) which simulated occurrences of psychological contract violation.
The participants, acting as informants, responded to question with regards to
how the situations depicted in the vignettes would affect the vignette
characters’ work behaviours, specifically their desire to share knowledge.