Psychological contracts are dynamic, but few studies explore the processes driving change and how employees influence them. By adopting a process approach with a teleological change lens, and drawing upon the sensemaking and coping literatures, this study positions individuals as active and adaptive agents driving contract change. Employing a mixed methodology, with a four-wave longitudinal survey (n = 107 graduate newcomers) and qualitative interviews (n = 26 graduate newcomers), the study focuses on unfolding events and develops an “adaptive remediation” process model aimed at unraveling contract dynamics. The model demonstrates how breach or violation events trigger sensemaking, resulting in initially negative employee reactions and a “withdrawal” of perceived contributions, before individuals exercise their agency and enact coping strategies to make sense of, and adapt and respond to, these discrepancies. A process of contract “repair” could then occur if the coping actions (termed “remediation effects”) were effective, with individuals returning to positive exchange perceptions. These actions either directly addressed the breach and repaired both it and the psychological contract (termed “remedies”) or involved cognitive reappraisal of the broader work environment and repaired the contract but not the breach (termed “buffers”). The results highlight the unfolding, processual nature of psychological contracting.
- Process research
- Psychological contract change
- Psychological contract repair
- Sensemaking of psychological contract breach and violation
- Stress and coping