Purpose – The psychological contract is defined as a perceived exchange agreement of promissory obligations between employee and organization. Most approaches to this concept ignore the role of context in shaping its features. However, others have pointed out the need to evaluate the features of the construct within the context in which it is studied. Three salient features of the construct include the use of the term “promises” versus “obligations”, its implicit nature and reference to the “other” party, and the exchange content. Rousseau and Schalk suggest that these features are weighted and interpreted differently across different countries. The purpose of this paper is to test this proposition in the island state of Malta, a European Union micro-state.
Design/methodology/approach – Semi-structured interviews are used. Three questions are addressed: do employment obligations vary from promises in this context? Are employment obligations in this context necessarily explicited? Who is considered the employer in this context?.
Findings – The results show that some findings are similar to those found in other settings (e.g. acknowledgement of an exchange relationship in employment), others are more context-bound (e.g. the meaning of obligations as predicting future reciprocal behaviours compared to promises). The paper also shows that many of these understandings are related to and construed by the way the employment relationship is construed in a country like Malta.
Originality/value – These findings strengthen the need to incorporate the contextual realities in which the features of the construct are employed as this has implications for both the generalizability of results and theory building.