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Nelson, L., Tonks, G. & Weymouth, J. (2006). The Psychological Contract and Job Satisfaction: Experiences of a Group of Casual Workers, Research and Practice in Human Resource Management, 14(2), 18-33.

The Psychological Contract and Job Satisfaction: Experiences of a Group of Casual Workers

Lindsay Nelson, Graeme Tonks & Joshua Weymouth


Recent changes to the Australian workforce raise questions about the impact of casualisation on employees. This study explored the effects of casual employment on a group of university students using the psychological contract as an interpretative framework. Qualitative data indicated that while these employees adopted a transactional work orientation, they expressed concern over the relational obligations of employers. These findings were substantiated with quantitative research, which revealed low job satisfaction and problems with the psychological contract. Although respondents thought that the transactional dimension was satisfied, the relational contract remained mostly unfulfilled. In particular they felt exploited and treated less fairly than fulltime employees. This suggests management should pay more attention to the relational needs of all their employees.


The increased use of casual labour represents a significant development in the Australian labour market (Dawkins & Simpson 1993, Pocock 1998). The number of employees categorised by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS 1996) as ‘casual’ rose from 700,000 in 1982 to 2.1 million in 2000, while ‘casual density’ increased over the same period from 13.3 per cent to 26.4 per cent (Burgess & Mitchell 2001). From 1988 to 2001, casual employment for workers, aged between 15 to 19 years, grew from 38 per cent to 66 per cent; and it is predicted that, if current trends continue, one in three Australian workers will be employed casually by 2010 (Watson, Buchanan, Campbell & Briggs 2003).

Casualisation has resulted from ‘labour market fragmentation’ and has been well documented over the past fifteen years or so. There is a general agreement that it emerged from political and economic factors, and labour market strategies used by employers to alleviate labour costs, and mitigate market uncertainty in order to gain a competitive advantage (Dawkins & Norris 1990, Walsh 1997, Campbell & Brosnan 1999, Standing 1999, Campbell & Burgess 2001, Hepworth & Murphy 2001, Watson, et al. 2003). Casual workers, compared with permanent workers, have substandard rights, benefits and protection, as well as substantial levels of precariousness (Campbell 2000). Although casual pay rates often include a loading (additional payment) intended as an insulation against employer exploitation (Campbell 1996), Campbell and Burgess (1997) argue that award provisions for casual employees are not aimed at providing protection and benefits, but are more to denying them, thus becoming an officially sanctioned gap in protection. Casual workers, therefore, may be classified as an inferior class of employee.

In this paper, perceptions of the psychological contract and job satisfaction of a group of casual workers is examined using established measures from Millward and Hopkins (1998), and O’Brien, Dowling, and Kabanoff (1978), together with interviews. The combination of both quantitative and qualitative approaches provides robustness to the findings. The objective is to identify the perceptions held by casual employees towards their employment situation, and as a consequence, their disposition towards their work and employer. The results begin with interviews followed by quantitative data. These results are discussed, together with a concluding section, to reflect on their relevance in terms of the work expectation of casual employees and the obligations of managers to endorse appropriate human resource management (HRM) practices.

Psychologicial Contract

The psychological contract has emerged as an analytical framework for analysing the impact which employment changes can have on individuals (Guest 2001). Based on an individual’s perception that an employer has agreed to certain obligations in return for an employee’s contributions to the organisation (Turnley & Feldman 2000), the psychological contract is an unique and subjective set of “… beliefs regarding reciprocal obligations.” (Rousseau 1990: 390). Usually incorporating concrete and abstract dimensions, the psychological contract implies aspects of the employment relationship, which go beyond the terms set in formal agreements (Anderson & Schalk 1998, Rousseau & Schalk 2000).

Psychological contracts may be operationalised according to the type of relationship perceived to be present between employee and employer (Robinson, Kraatz & Rousseau 1994, Robinson & Rousseau 1994, Rousseau & Wade-Benzoni 1995, Stiles, Gratton, Truss, Hope-Hailey & McGovern 1996, Herriot, Manning & Kidd 1997, Anderson & Schalk 1998, Cavanaugh & Noe 1999). Transactional contracts are based on economic exchange, which translates into a short term, closed ended focus on material rewards in return for well defined employee contributions to the organisation (Rousseau & McLean Parks 1993, Millward & Hopkins 1998, Aselage & Eisenberger 2003). In contrast, relational contracts are based on social exchange, and are broader, involving long term and open ended obligations centred on support, loyalty and trust (Arnold 1996, Millward & Hopkins 1998, Aselage & Eisenberger 2003). Robinson, et al. (1994), and Millward and Hopkins (1998) take the position that the transactional and relational aspects are inversely correlated; that is, “… the higher the relational orientation, the lower the transactional orientation, and vice versa.” (Millward & Hopkins 1998: 1546). This suggests that a contract can involve both extrinsic and intrinsic elements, but the weight given to these elements may vary (Shore & Tetrick 1994, Rousseau & Wade-Benzoni 1995).

Employees regard the psychological contract to be breached when there is a perception “… that one’s organisation has failed to fulfil one or more obligations composing one’s psychological contract.” (Morrison & Robinson 1997: 230), and for a breach to occur, an individual must elicit an affective response to this perceived violation. Morrison and Robinson (1997) further suggest that there are two causes of psychological contract violations: (i) reneging (when the employer deliberately breaks a promise, either purposely or due to unforeseen circumstances), and (ii) incongruence (when the employee and employer have divergent perceptions regarding what has been promised). Robinson, et al. (1994) found that psychological contracts become more transactional following violation, showing that employees retreat from social exchange aspects and focus on pecuniary benefits in order to create a psychological distance from the source of violation (McLean Parks & Kidder 1994). Research indicates that the shift to a transactional contract results in changes in employee attitudes and behaviours.

Deery, Walsh and Knox (2001) provide evidence that changes in the Australian employment landscape, especially the increasing incidence of casual employment, are not dissimilar to Sissons’ (1993) ‘bleak house’ scenario salient in the U.K. The prevalence of the ‘bleak house’ scenario and hard approach to HRM fosters what Kabanoff, Jimmieson and Lewis (2000) observe to be a movement by Australian employers towards more transactional orientations in employment relationships. A plausible explanation of this movement is the increased use of casual workers. It can be argued, therefore, that because casual workers are widely considered to belong to an ‘inferior class’ of employee (Campbell 2000), they are likely to have a short term focus on pecuniary benefits. This is supported by Rousseau and Wade-Benzoni (1995), McLean Parks, Kidder and Gallagher (1998), Millward and Hopkins (1998), and Gakovic and Tetrick (2003).

The paucity of research into the psychological effects associated with casualisation prompted the present study. Observing the disadvantaged position of casual employees, Campbell (2000) suggests that future research on casualisation requires more emphasis on its effects on individual employees, and notes that a “… sensitive exploration of … employee preferences and attitudes would help in teasing out these specific effects …” (p. 93). To develop this latter point, an investigation was undertaken in connection with the work experiences and perceptions of the psychological contract among a group of casual employees. University students provide a large pool of labour for casual work and it was from this group that participants for the present study were drawn. In particular, this study focussed on their experiences at work and what implications this has for the psychological contract.


Participants and Sites

Approximately 2.4 million people in Australia are enrolled in a course of study, of which approximately 650,000 are undertaking a degree at a university (ABS 2004). Since the introduction of the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) in 1989, a large proportion of these students have found it necessary to engage in casual employment and it was this group, which formed the basis for the investigation. Respondents were self-selected from a group of students who were both undertaking an undergraduate business management course, and in paid employment on a casual basis. The participant students represented many diverse organisations, although the majority worked in the service sector, particularly the hospitality and retail industries.


The research was executed in three distinct phases. Firstly, exploratory interviews were conducted with a small group of 20 students. The purpose of this phase was to ascertain the participants’ experiences as casual employees to identify issues associated with their employment. The results of this preliminary research indicated that there were a number of problems perceived by the majority of respondents, which could be seen as associated with, inter alia, the psychological contract. Given these findings, the second phase of the research assessed the transactional-relational orientation of their contracts. The third phase examined the level of job satisfaction experienced by this small group.


Assessment of the Psychological Contract

In the first phase of the study, the focus was on accessing the expectations and perceptions of employees in relation to transactional and relational aspects of the psychological contract. To this end, qualitative data were gathered by way of semi-structured interviews of about one hour duration administered to a group (N = 20) of randomly selected participants.

In the second phase of the study, the Psychological Contract Scale (PCS), which was developed by Millward and Hopkins (1998), was used. This scale, which comprises of 17 items was administered (N = 20), as a seven point Likert scale ranging from one for strongly disagree, to seven for strongly agree. This incorporated ten items relating to the transactional sub scale and seven items relating to the relational sub scale. The scale is shown in Appendix A. Mean scores were obtained, but due to the low number of participants (N = 20), it was felt that additional quantitative tests would be unreliable.

Job Satisfaction

The third stage of the research investigated the level of job satisfaction experienced by the employees. The respondents completed the O’Brien, et al. (1978) scale, which rated 18 dimensions on a five point Likert scale (scale responses ranged from 1 indicating very dissatisfied to 5 for very satisfied). The scale items are shown as Appendix B. Here again, due to low numbers (N = 20), tests of significance were not considered justified. Mean scores were calculated.


Data obtained from the interviews were interrogated and analysed using QSR NUD*IST software. The pattern of nodes emerged as shown in the results section. This programme, which facilitated the storage, management and analysis of data, enabled the researchers to realise the interpretive component of the research. The application of computer based analysis in social research is recommended by Padilla (1991), and Richards and Richards (1991).


Assessment of the Psychological Contract

The interview data revealed two primary categories reflecting the transactional and relational contract antithesis. From this initial divergence, the QSR NUD*IST software revealed a number of sub-categories as shown in Figure 1. The transactional dimension predictably exposed concerns about pay and benefits, but the relational dimension is more complex. Of interest is the surfacing of hard and soft versions of HRM (Storey 1987, Legge 1995, Brosnan & Walsh 1996). Interactions with colleagues and superiors revealed several less than satisfactory issues of trust, commitment, organisational citizenship behaviours (OCBs) and anti role attitudes. However, the three levels of subordinate nodes, which emerged ‘below’ the transactional and relational dimensions, revealed the most information.

Figure 1
QSR NUD*IST Node Tree – The Dimensions of the Psychological Contract
QSR NUD*IST Node Tree - The Dimensions of the Psychological Contract

Transactional Dimension

Participant responses indicate a perception of transactional contracts, with many attributing this expectation to their working mainly to support their university studies.

I’m there to … be able to put this on my resumé so I can get a fantastic job earning a [large salary] and the other one is to help pay my bills while I’m at uni[versity]. I know I’m not going to be there forever … I’m looking at it as a stepping stone.

(Accountant – tenure of 14 months).

I do it … to pay the rent, to buy text books and stuff, I know it’s not something I really want to be doing for the rest of my life.

(Retail – tenure of six months).

Respondents felt that they were adequately and fairly paid. To some extent, pay was a nonissue, as it was viewed merely as a means to an end; that is, to support their studies.

I get paid well.

(Fast food – tenure of one year).

The pay doesn’t worry me … I get my $80.00 for my Saturday afternoon shift and I’m not stuck in a supermarket, I’m at uni[versity] studying and I’m going on to better things.

(Retail – tenure of eight months).

The issue of benefits, or rather lack of benefits, reinforcing the inferior nature of casual employment, did not seem to concern participants.

There may not be the benefits … but I am in the position [university] where that doesn’t get to me.

(Retail – tenure of five years).

Being a casual I know I don’t get the benefits … I realise that’s the type of employment I’m in.

(Administration – tenure of one year).

The mean scores for the transactional items are shown in Figure 2. Results reveal varied opinions on a range of items. There was agreement with an expectation of being paid for overtime (mean 6.3), and doing the job for money (5.2), but disagreement that there was a clear career path (2.1), a preference for defined working hours (2.4), and the level of motivation (2.9) was relatively low. The remaining items were relatively neutral.

Figure 2
Mean Scores for Transactional Sub Scale Items (N = 20)
Item # Mean
I do this job for the money. 1 5.2
I prefer to work a strictly defined set of working hours. 2 2.4
It is important not to get too involved in your job. 4 4.8
I expect to be paid for any overtime I do. 6 6.3
I come to work purely to get the job done. 7 4.6
My loyalty to the organisation is defined by the terms of my contract. 9 3.4
I only do what is necessary to get the job done. 11 4.4
I am motivated to contribute 100% to this company in return for future benefits. 12 2.9
My career path in this organisation is clearly mapped out. 14 2.1
I work to achieve the purely short terms of my job. 15 4.6
Relational Dimension

Few respondents felt positive about the relational dimension of the psychological contact. Most felt their relational contract was not being met, or was being violated; this perception suggests that the relational aspect was deemed important.

I feel like I am just there to get paid … it should be more than that, they should at least be trying to meet me at where I am and where I’m trying to be in the organisation.

(Fast food – tenure of three years).

It’s just too hard to establish a proper relationship when you’re there only 10 hours a week … that annoys me because work doesn’t mean as much to me as it should.

(Fast food – tenure of 1.5 years).

Respondents believed they were subjected to both hard and soft approaches to HRM and management styles that were often perceived as uncaring. Respondents rarely experienced soft HRM, such as socialisation and training, but in some instances made positive comments.

[My employer has] good training and a good introduction to the job, which backed up their high expectations of working on the floor … I saw it as a sign of respect.

(Fast food – tenure of three years).

My workplace really supported me through the early stages with training … that was helpful and a valuable experience.

(Hospitality – tenure of three years).

Where hard HRM systems prevailed, autocratic styles of management were commonly reported.

… they’ll expect you to work double shifts, and double shifts [are] 16, 17 hours long … they don’t think we’re human.

(Hospitality – tenure of five years).

I was sick, and I said I needed to go home and my [line] manager could see that I was sick, but he said you have to stay to finish your shift … in the end I just went home … and the next week when I looked at the roster I had no hours … I nearly quit after that, but you know you have to keep going.

(Retail – tenure of five years).

There was consensus, however, that more supportive HRM approaches were needed.

No we don’t get any support HR wise … its really just learn as you go … we’ll just chuck you in there and you deal with it … and looking back, yeah that was pretty stressful.

(Fast food – tenure of three years).

Although interactions with superiors generally had a negative effect on a respondent’s job satisfaction, attitudes and behaviours, the majority of the participants felt that their relationships with colleagues was a satisfying aspect of their job.

All my co-workers seem to get on fairly well … one thing we all agree on is how bad we are treated at work.

(Hospitality – tenure of one year).

You develop relationships at work … a lot of us go out for a beer every now and then … it’s a pleasing thing about my work.

(Fast food – tenure of three years).

Many respondents expressed dissatisfaction with their employment situation and treatment by their employer.

I have seen some dodgy stuff going on and you’ve got no one to turn to and they know that … there’s not really anyone that supports the casual … they could sack you at anytime if they wanted to and they know that. You know you’re always a casual – you’ve got nothing.

(Retail – tenure of six months).

We don’t get the benefits but I’m OK with that … we don’t have many rights, or power I guess, and that gets on my nerves a bit. I feel insecure at times … I feel I have to say yes to shifts, and that can hinder my studying …

(Fast food – tenure of one year).

You work in a thankless environment.

(Retail – tenure of 10 months).

They look at you as a lower class person.

(Administration – tenure of nine months).

He makes me feel very insignificant.

(Fast food – tenure of two months).

Views about management style and the affect it had on attitudes about trust, commitment and OCB appeared to be issues of concern.

… there has not been a breach of trust or respect, because there is none, no relationship whatsoever.

(Fast food – tenure of three years).

I don’t think my manager would trust me, just because I’m casual … I don’t think I could trust my manager, you’re nothing to him, I wouldn’t put myself in the position where I would need to trust him.

(Retail – tenure of one year).

I’m not committed … because I want to get out as soon as possible…

(Fast food – tenure of two months).

I couldn’t give a stuff about my organisation … there’s no attachment there, no commitment.

(Administration – tenure of one year).

I don’t get involved in my workplace … no way.

(Fast food – tenure of one year).

Nobody notices you or what you do … you stop putting in 100 per cent and wanting to get involved and after a while … [it] becomes normal.

(Retail – tenure of three years).

In some cases, respondents engaged in anti role behaviours, which were characterised as absenteeism, gossiping, verbal abuse and even potential sabotage.

I often think what’s my purpose here, why do I want to work in this job, what am I getting out of it? … there’s a fair few feelings there … anger, disappointment to disenchantment.

(Fast food – tenure of 1.5 years).

There was an instance where five of us were going to quit at the same time … just to leave the bastard understaffed.

(Fast food – tenure of one year).

Figure 3
Mean Scores for Relational Sub Scale Items (N = 20)
Item # Mean
I expect to gain promotion in this company with length of service and effort to achieve goals. 3 2.3
I expect to grow in this organisation. 5 3.7
I feel part of a team in this organisation. 8 3.0
I feel this company reciprocates the effort put in by its employees. 10 2.4
I have a reasonable chance of promotion if I work hard. 13 2.2
I will work for this company indefinitely. 16 1.9
I am heavily involved in my place of work. 17 2.0

The mean scores for the relational sub scale are shown in Figure 3. These scores for each item show that there was a low level of agreement for all items. This result suggests that respondents did not expect that relational aspects of the psychological contract would be fulfilled. Respondents reported that it was unlikely that they would continue working for the company (mean 1.9), felt uninvolved with the organisation (2.0), and did not expect promotion (2.2). Notwithstanding the low expectation of promotion, however, there was a near neutral response relating to an expectation to grow in the organisation (3.7).

Job Satisfaction

Figure 4 shows the casual workers were dissatisfied with many aspects of their job, yet were prepared to endure these features of the workplace in order to gain employment. In particular, personal growth and individuality (mean 1.9), a lack of job variety (1.9), and the absence of challenging work (2.0) are dissatisfying to this group of casual workers. Only items relating to people (means 3.9, 3.6), pay (3.9) and physical working conditions (3.3) received more positive means. This score for the items relating to people suggests that the respondents found their working setting a social venue.

Figure 4
Mean Scores of Job Satisfaction Scale Items (N = 20)
Item # Mean
Having a say about the way I do things in my job. 1 2.5
Being able to change the things I don’t like about my job. 2 1.8
The chance to use my abilities within my job. 3 2.8
The people I talk to and work within my job. 4 3.9
The chance to get to know other people in my job. 5 3.6
The chance to learn new things in my work. 6 2.3
The amount of change and variety in my job. 7 1.9
The chance to do different jobs. 8 2.1
Being able to do my job without a supervisor worrying me. 9 2.3
Having enough time to do my job properly. 10 2.9
Chances of achieving something worthwhile. 11 2.2
The amount of pay I get. 12 3.9
Promotion opportunities. 13 2.0
Quality of supervision. 14 2.3
Physical conditions at work (cleanliness, noise levels). 15 3.3
The amount of pressure or stress. 16 2.9
Opportunities to do challenging and interesting work. 17 2.0
Opportunities to grow as a person and be yourself. 18 1.9


The research questions centred on the work experiences of casual workers, and what this might suggest about the psychological contract. Since the respondents were drawn from a population of university students it is problematic whether they could be viewed as typical of all casual workers. However, even if regarded as atypical, they nevertheless represent a significant cohort in the Australian labour force as more than half a million or more casual workers are students attending university or some other tertiary institution in Australia. By any standards this is a significant proportion of the working population.

The findings do not entirely concur with Wooden’s (1998) assertion that casual jobs for those attending university are not ‘bad’ jobs, because the research results (reported in this paper) demonstrate that employers regularly treat casuals derogatively and unfairly. Respondents felt that they were treated in an inferior manner because of their employment status and were conscious of power differentials between themselves and their employer. For example, they complied with employer requests for working additional hours, even if it conflicted with study commitments. Respondents often felt that they were victims of injustice and power abuse by managers. This, in turn, invoked low job satisfaction, as well as low levels of trust and commitment, a withholding of organisational citizenship behaviours (OCBs) and involvement in anti role behaviours by employees. In light of these findings, a casual job could be interpreted as a ‘bad’ job. However, the research does endorse the view that casual work appeals to university students because of its flexibility (Wooden 1998, Murtough & Waite 2000), and the claims by Bessant (2003), and Lawson (2001) that work and study commitments often conflict. Overall, students were prepared to endure negative work experiences as a short term solution to meeting their financial commitments whilst studying at university. A worrying implication is that the need for money, met through casual employment, may well interfere with academic requirements to attend classes and complete assignments on time.

Although the sample size in this group was small, the findings showed a strong transactional orientation. Whilst it was to be expected that casual workers, especially among university students, would focus on transactional obligations, such a result has been found in wider populations (Rousseau 1990, Coyle-Shapiro & Kessler 2000, 2002). It is, however, entirely plausible that the contingent workers in the present study would feel lower levels of relational obligations, such as commitment and OCBs than other workers, as observed by Coyle-Shapiro and Kessler (2000).

Although Figure 2 shows that the respondents reject the suggestion that they may prefer to work to a strictly defined set of working hours, it was obvious from the interviews that problems over shifts and overtime were very much on the minds of the workers. This could be interpreted as a desire for working hours to be determined by employees themselves, rather than by employers. Career paths, the likelihood of future benefits and loyalty issues, however, held few expectations for the employees. Given the short term nature of casual work this was unsurprising. Pecuniary matters figured prominently, although a stronger response to the proposition that the job was only done for the money, could have been expected, compared to the question on paid overtime (means of 5.2 and 6.3 respectively; in Figure 2).

Figure 3 reveals that on the relational side none of the items spilled over to the ‘agree’ end of the scale, indicating that the employees held no thoughts of a permanent relationship or a sense of belonging and involvement. At the same time, however, the qualitative data revealed a strong feeling of dissatisfaction over the way these employees were treated. For example, employers showed a lack of trust and treated them poorly. Thus, in a convoluted way, although the relational obligations were at a very low level, workers resented the poor treatment to which they were exposed, indicating that even these contingent workers wish to be treated with respect and dignity. For this reason, and notwithstanding support for the transactional obligations, it appears that the relational side of the psychological contract was regarded as important. Support for this is derived from the NUD*IST node tree, (Figure 1) which highlighted relational aspects of the psychological contract, revealing negative feelings of employees towards their managers and the employing organisation.

Although the contingent workers of this study expressed a preference for pecuniary benefits they apparently also expected a relational orientation to their psychological contract. These findings agree with observations of Coyle-Shapiro and Kessler (2002), and McDonald and Makin (2000). The participants’ desire for a transactional emphasis in employment relationships may be explained by the theory of life space (Guzzo & Noonan 1994). As students, the respondents were entrenched in the social system of a university (perceived to be important to their future), and were engaged in casual employment primarily to support their studies. Being a means to an end, remuneration and benefits were non-issues in the relationship in the sense that they believed their transactional contract was being fulfilled. However, the findings diverged from the theory of life space (Guzzo & Noonan 1994) in one significant aspect. Guzzo and Noonan (1994) propose that individuals embedded in social systems outside their job will place less importance on the relational dimension of the psychological contract. The respondents in this inquiry were found to regard the relational dimension of employment as important. In fact, the findings suggest that relational qualities are more important than the transactional orientation, because its fulfillment or unfulfillment can impact on an individual’s attitudes and behaviours, and thus, on organisational performance. This finding supports the Turnley, Bolino, Lester and Bloodgood (2003) conclusions. The study findings also reveal that, because the respondents depend on employment for their income, the relational unfulfilment was not strong enough for them to leave their employment, but it was sufficient to impair attitudes and behaviours regarding satisfaction, trust, affective commitment and OCBs.

Job satisfaction levels reflect the general unhappiness expressed by the study respondents. In Figure 4, only three issues scored on the ‘satisfied’ side of neutral: (1) the hygiene factors of pay, (2) colleagues and (3) physical working conditions. Intrinsic issues or those relating to management were all viewed as unsatisfactory, the worst being the opportunity for change and to be oneself. The general impression given by these scores is, that reduced to automata, workers have little, if any, opportunity to express themselves and develop as individuals. As university students, however, it is possible that the respondents may be more strongly oriented to ideas of personal growth and self actualisation than other workers. Since the quality of management appears to be a continuing complaint, the relatively mild level of dissatisfaction about supervision (mean of 2.3 in Figure 4) may well have been higher.

During the interviews, the respondents felt that employers exploited their power and treated casuals in a degrading and unfair manner. Although procedural and interactional injustices were evident within the interviews, instances of interactional injustice in particular were cited as a common cause of dissatisfaction. This finding was supported in the job satisfaction survey, with a majority of the respondents expressing dissatisfaction with the quality of supervision.


This inquiry is notable for the consistency of its findings across several research instruments, which included personal interviews, a job satisfaction questionnaire and two surveys of the psychological contract. The study established that the employment relationship for casually employed university students has a short term focus based on pecuniary benefits. However, the respondents retained a desire for relational aspects of the psychological contact, which most participants perceived as being unfulfilled. This unfulfillment perception was identified to be primarily related to the oppressive management style and abuse of power by superiors. A majority of respondents felt they were subjected to a ‘casual stereotype’ and a hard approach to HRM, which left them starved of respect, value and support. Believing that they were routinely treated less fairly than their full time counterparts were, they felt they were victims of interactional injustice, the effects of which probably account for the lack of attachment these employees feel toward their employing organisation. Given that university students generally regard casual jobs as temporary employment pending graduation, it is surprising this group perceived that relational aspects were so important. Experiencing relational unfulfillment, and regarding themselves as ‘second class’ workers, casual employees reported affective and behavioural outcomes such as low levels of trust, dissatisfaction, little affective commitment, a withholding of OCBs and involvement in low intensity anti role behaviours.

Although this study was undertaken in an Australian context, it should be noted that the present global environment encourages deregulated labour markets, where employees are increasingly exposed to contracts, which offer little motivation for corporate loyalty and attachment to jobs. In the name of economic imperatives, government policies, academic literature and business publications often promote the virtues of short term transitional employment relationships. Whilst casual labour does provide employers and employees with particular benefits, the management of such arrangements needs to be considered carefully. Specifically, employers should not assume that casual workers are interested in little else than pay. If organisations, in both developed and emerging economies, adhere to the notion of the relative importance of financial rewards, they may be creating structures that could ultimately contribute to reduced performance, or even their own failure.

Organisations wishing to capitalise on the advantages of using casual labour, need to reverse the trends identified in this study. Irrespective of the prevailing political and economic milieu, management are encouraged to configure HRM policies and practices to strengthen links with the relational dimension of the psychological contract. This requires a much greater emphasis on the tenets of ‘soft’ HRM. Employers who focus on the relational contract within the context of the contemporary workplace and the needs of casual workers are likely to create work place climates that have potential to encourage employees to develop their resourcefulness. Under this model, civility, respect, value, and sensitivity would replace ‘hard’ HRM, which has been shown to be detrimental to both casual employees and those who engage casual labour.


Lindsay Nelson BA (Hons), MSc, PhD is a Senior Lecturer with the School of Management, based at the University of Tasmania’s Hobart campus. He has extensive HRM and Employee Relations experience in the public and private sector, and teaches in the HRM and Organisational Behaviour areas. Dr Nelson’s research interests include organisational change, workplace change, and occupational health and safety.


Graeme Tonks BBus, MEd, PhD is a Lecturer with the School of Management, based at the University of Tasmania’s Launceston campus. Prior to entering academe, he has held management positions in the finance industry. He teaches in the HRM, Organisational Behaviour, and International Business areas. Dr Tonks’ research interests include management in developing economies, management education, and HRM.


Joshua Weymouth BCom (Hons) is a past student at University of Tasmania. His studies focussed on HRM, with an emphasis on non-traditional work arrangements.



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Appendix A
Items Adapted from the Millward and Hopkins (1998)
Psychological Contract Survey
1 T I do this job for the money.
2 T I prefer to work a strictly defined set of working hours.
3 R I expect to gain promotion in this company with length of service and effort to achieve goals.
4 T It is important not to get too involved in your job.
5 R I expect to grow in this organisation.
6 T I expect to be paid for any overtime I do.
7 T I come to work purely to get the job done.
8 R I feel part of a team in this organisation.
9 T My loyalty to the organisation is defined by the terms of my contract.
10 R I feel this company reciprocates the effort put in by its employees.
11 T I only do what is necessary to get the job done.
12 T I am motivated to contribute 100% to this company for future benefits.
13 R I have a reasonable chance of promotion if I work hard.
14 T My career path in this organisation is clearly mapped out.
15 T I work to achieve the purely short-term goals of my job.
16 R I will work for this company indefinitely.
17 R I am heavily involved in my place of work.

T = Transactional
R = Relational

Appendix B
Items from O’Brien, et al. (1978) Employee Satisfaction Survey
1 Having a say about the way I do things in my job.
2 Being able to change the things I don’t like about my job.
3 The chance to use my abilities within my job.
4 The people I talk to and work within my job.
5 The chance to get to know other people in my job.
6 The chance to learn new things in my work.
7 The amount of change and variety in my job.
8 The chance to do different jobs.
9 Being able to do my job without a supervisor worrying me.
10 Having enough time to do my job properly.
11 Chances of achieving something worthwhile.
12 The amount of pay I get.
13 Promotion opportunities.
14 Quality of supervision.
15 Physical conditions at work (cleanliness, noise levels).
16 The amount of pressure or stress.
17 Opportunities to do challenging and interesting work.
18 Opportunities to grow as a person and be yourself.