Ongoing projects

The Mutuality and Reciprocity Lab has been successful in making theoretical and practical contributions to the literature, mainly by challenging the validity of common assumptions and interpretations of existing and inconsistent findings (e.g., type casting variables solely as antecedents or outcomes, assuming linear or unidirectional relationships, etc.). Moving forward, it is our intention to continue tackling complex issues to address important needs in the study of employee-employer relationships. In doing so, we will continue to make meaningful and significant contributions that influence the manner in which future research is conducted, future theory is understood, and future practice is influenced.


Below you can find some of our ongoing projects. If you want to get involved in any of these projects, as a (Undergraduate) Research Assistant, Honors Thesis Student, or Graduate Student, please click the link at the bottom of the specific project you are interested in and get in touch with us! 


The dynamic network structure of psychological contracts

The basic aim of this project is to understand how exchanges between an employee and his/her employer are created, maintained, disrupted, and repaired in a working environment that is increasingly characterized by flexibility and change. Understanding this seemingly simple process of exchange between two parties remains one of the greatest puzzles in Organizational Behavior and Psychological Contract Theory (Conway & Briner, 2009), despite the fact that we never had more sophisticated tools to our disposal to address this problem, including complex social network and computational models to study and simulate the interactions between two parties. Recently, some scholars (Doci, Vantilborgh, Griep, & Hofmans, 2016; Vantilborgh, Griep, Achnak, & Hansen, 2016) have attempted to solve this problem by drawing from propositions of Dynamic Systems Theory to explain how interactions between individuals are in constant flux and how social network and computational models might be used to understand the process of employee-employer exchanges.

Drawing from their work, Dr. Tim Vantilborgh and Dr. Yannick Griep have proposed a new theoretical model which treats the employee-employer exchange as a complex dynamic networks of promised inducements and contributions. The nodes represent the individual’s perception of promised inducements and contributions and the links between these nodes capture—among other things—reciprocity in the employee-employer exchange. Moreover, these employee-employer exchange networks are believed to evolve over time as they become crystallized over time. However, sudden negative events—such as broken obligations—can call this crystallized employee-employer exchange network into question, leading one to revise the employee-employer exchange agreement.

In the proposed research we will: 1) further develop theoretical propositions for these employee-employer exchange networks based on the initial work we have been working on (see above), 2) test these propositions using a simulation study by means of computational modeling, 3) empirically validate the basic assumptions of our model using a set of experiments, 4) test the dynamic properties of the model and establish its external validity using an experience sampling study, analyzed by means of social network analyses. 

This work will help us to accurately capture reciprocity in employee-employer exchange relationships. This is important knowledge in its own right and also helps to build a framework for understanding employee-employer exchanges in a dynamic world that is in constant flux.


Physiological experiments on the impact of psychological contract EVALUATIONS

Although we know that psychological contracts as the perceived agreement between two social parties have important implications for social relationships, we do not know how people respond physiologically to different evaluations (breach, under-fulfilment, fulfilment, over-fulfilment) of their psychological contract with another party and whether these immediate physiologically responses trigger different attitudinal and/or behavioural responses. To address this shortage of knowledge, we are conducted a series of experiments to test whether different evaluations of one’s psychological contract (i.e. breach, under-fulfilment, fulfilment, over-fulfilment) relate differently to the experience of physiological arousal (skin conductance) and valence (facial electromyography) and whether these physiological responses influence reactions toward the experimenter, risk-taking behaviour, and even workplace mistreatment. 

In this series of experiments we will be able to demonstrate the  causal effects of psychological contract evaluations in relation to attitudinal and behavioural reactions; thereby finally opening the black box of causality in psychology contract research. 

Integrated model of stereotype threat

Although cognitive ability is one of the most predictive criteria available to employers, racial mean differences in performance on cognitive ability can adversely affect the selection of minorities. Researchers have proposed several different explanations for these observed performance differences, including decreased test-taking motivation, decreased potential to perform due the stereotype threat, and more recently, the adoption of performance avoid goals. In general research on stereotype threat and test-taking motivation has been disjoint and no theoretical integration of how stereotype threat may influence test-taking motivation exists. The absence of theorizing in this area is surprising, given that the experience of stereotype threat might influence test-taking motivation. In this project, we thus propose an integrated model that delineates the mechanisms underlying performance decrements caused by stereotype threat on test-performance. Specifically we propose a model in which stereotype threat triggers the adoption of performance goals which in turn effect the individual’s test-taking motivation, and consequently their performance.

The aim of this project is to develop specific and testable propositions in order to spur further and more precise research in this much needed area. 


Psychological contract breach in teams

Teamwork is frequently used to tackle complex and demanding tasks in organizational and educational settings. While teamwork may offer substantial benefits, the challenges of working effectively in teams are considerable and most teams do not reach their full potential in terms of performance (Salas, Goodwin, & Burke, 2008). It is within this challenge that the current project studies perceptions of psychological contract breach in relation to team members’ perceptions of team fit as a key factors underlying a team’s success or failure. In this project, we are especially interested in unravelling how perceptions of psychological contract breach might differentially influence complementary fit (i.e., the individual possesses characteristics that are unique within the team) and supplementary fit (i.e., the individual possesses characteristics that are similar to the team), which in turn might have a different influence on team performance. 

By better understanding the relationship between psychological contract breach as a team-level phenomenon in relation to perceptions of person-team fit, we will be better equipped to understand why some teams might be more successful than other teams. Moreover, we will be able to develop training modules and workshops to inform policy makers about the importance of psychological contracts at the level of a team.

Psychological contract breach in relation to health, well-being, and burnout

In the health care industry, we often observe an unequal relationship between what employees give to their organization and what they get in return. That is, patient care staff often have jobs that are characterized by high physicality, emotional investment, long hours, personal risk, low job control, and little rewards in return. Despite this perceived imbalance, we also notice that many employees remain highly committed to providing quality health care (Health Quality Council of Alberta, 2014). In this project, we are interested in understanding whether this perceived paradox can be explained by focusing on the role of  value infused mutual agreements, labeled ideological psychological contracts, between health-care employees and their organisations. We are especially interested in understanding whether health-care employees will work harder when they perceive a breach of their ideological psychological contract to ensure that patient care does not diminish, but at the cost of increasing the likelihood that they will develop stress and burnout. 

The aim of this project is to better understanding the process by which health care employees become overworked, in order to develop more targeted strategies and tools to avoid psychological contract breach,  reduce stress and burnout experiences at work, and improve mental and physical wellbeing.