Johnston, Alan (2021) Academics and the Psychological Contract: The formation and manifestation of the Psychological Contract within the academic role. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The psychological contract is a feature of everyday relationships in the workplace and is understood to be the manifestation of the employment relationship and is built on the assumed promises, expectations, and obligations of the employee. Not so much as what has been agreed but the perception of what has been agreed. While much research has been undertaken to analyse the psychological contract in the context of the workplace, and in particular of professionals in the workplace, very little has been undertaken with a focus on academics and specifically academics within the UK Higher Education Sector.

This research set out to explore the psychological contract of academics within Business Schools (or equivalent) within the UK University Sector and identify the impact it has on them including its manifestation into discretionary effort. Discretionary effort plays a major role in performance within academic roles, as expectations on academics have increased (administrative load, teaching load and pressures surrounding research) while resources have become more restrictive. The research took a qualitative approach as the basis for investigating the lived experiences of academics across the ‘three’ predominant sub-sectors of the UK Higher Education Sector. Eighteen interviews were conducted across nine institutions (two interviewees per institution) with a supporting questionnaire to collect elements of data to support each individual response and to gain an overall picture.

The analysis of the data used a thematic approach in which key themes were identified and explored. In particular, the research findings suggested that academics undertook a large amount of additional work that impinged on life outside of what may be considered working hours. This discretionary effort was deemed, in most cases, to be more acceptable when related to academic work (teaching and research) but was less so when related to administration. Further analysis suggests that rather than the place of employment, role perception, was more influenced by background and doctoral studies.

The research concludes by setting out key contributions to theory and practice and provides a set of recommendations based on the key findings which are targeted at institutions (or part of) and individuals to ensure the psychological contract can be appropriately formed to allow academics to better understand the expectations of them in their role.

FINAL THESIS - Johnston.pdf - Accepted Version
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