This study investigated employees’ choice of social referents and the impact of social influence on their beliefs of psychological contract fulfillment. Using data from a field study conducted with 99 employees in a research organization, we found that one’s referent choice varied with the domain of promise evaluated. When evaluating the organization’s fulfillment of organization-wide promises, employees’ referents were primarily coworkers with whom they had close direct ties, namely, friends and advice givers. On the other hand, when evaluating the fulfillment of job-related promises, employees’ referents were mainly fellow workers who could substitute for them and people with whom they had multiple relationships.

The effects of social influence also varied with the domain of promise evaluated. For organization-wide promises, employees’ fulfillment evaluations were similar to those of their friends. However, for job-related promises, their fulfillment evaluations were dissimilar to those of coworkers who played the dual roles of friends and substitutes.

This study advances psychological contracts research by demonstrating that third parties to the psychological contract can influence fulfillment evaluations. In turn, the effect of such influence is contingent on the domain of promises being evaluated and the nature of the networks. We discuss implications for research in psychological contracts, social networks and influence, and referent choice.

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Copyright © 2005 INFORMS. This article first appeared in Organization Science 16, no. 3 (May/June 2005): 275-89. doi:10.1287/orsc.1050.0121.

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