The psychological contracts of National Health Service nurses

J Nurs Manag. 2003 Mar;11(2):107-20. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2834.2003.00357.x.


Aims: Following the psychological contract model of the employee-employer exchange relationship is offered as a means of understanding the expectations of a UK sample of 223 National Health Service (NHS) nurses in association with their leaving intentions.

Design and methods: A pilot study involving 21 NHS nurses, using the repertory grid technique was conducted to elicit contract expectations. Twenty-nine categories of expectation were identified through content analysis. The study proper, employed a survey developed on the basis of results from the pilot study to identify contract profiles among 223 nurses from three London/South-east NHS hospitals, using the Q-sort method. Type of contract held (relational/transactional), satisfaction (job and organization), and leaving intentions were also examined.

Results: Q-analysis yielded four contract profiles among the nurses sampled: 'self-development and achievement'; 'belonging and development'; 'competence and collegiality' and 'autonomy and development'. Correlation analysis demonstrated that leaving intentions were associated with a need for personal autonomy and development, and the violation of expectations for being appreciated, valued, recognized and rewarded for effort, loyalty, hard-work and achievement, negative endorsement of a relational contract, positive endorsement of a transactional contract, and job and organizational dissatisfaction.

Conclusion: Findings illustrate the diagnostic utility of the term psychological contract for understanding the expectations of NHS nurses. The potential significance of these findings for managing nurse retention is highlighted.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Career Mobility
  • Female
  • Goals
  • Hospitals, Teaching
  • Humans
  • Job Satisfaction*
  • London
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motivation
  • Nursing Administration Research
  • Nursing Methodology Research
  • Nursing Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Personnel Loyalty*
  • Personnel Turnover*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Q-Sort
  • State Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom