Author(s), Title and Publication
Obushenkova, E., Plester, B., & Haworth, N. (2018). Manager-employee psychological contracts: Enter the smartphone. Employee Relations, 40(2), 193-207.

When an organization adopts communication technology, or provides devices to employees, it can change expectations regarding communication, flexibility and connectivity – and by extension, the psychological contract. Ideally employees can maintain an appropriate level of connectivity, deciding when to disengage with work through a device. However, technology developments are generating pressure on individuals to remain connected to work during non-work times creating overload which can lead to distraction and burnout. On the smartphone, the authors note, many individuals have such an attachment, they see it as essential to their daily functioning. To evaluate the impact of the smartphone on the employment relationship, the authors suggest a broader look at the relationship between individuals and their devices. Twenty employee and eight manager interviews facilitated a two-fold investigation of the user-attachment relationship; first to understand perceptions and expectations about connectivity for managers and employees, and second to understand the impact in terms of connectivity outcomes.

Findings revealed three key themes; user-device relationship, changing and perceived expectations and being constantly connected. User-device relationship: Most respondents, regardless of how attached they are to their smartphone, stated they feel they are expected to be accessible, available, and responsive to the other party in the psychological contract. However, individuals with different levels of user-device attachment indicated different expectations. For example, individuals who are “not attached” to their smartphones stated that they do not expect others to be constantly available and responsive, whereas attached individuals expected others to be responsive. Changing and perceived expectations: Despite learning expectations through different means, (the majority of employees indicated they learn expectations through experience or “just knowing,” followed by the job description) almost all participants perceived an expectation to be constantly “connected” to work, most felt an expectation to be connected to their managers through their smartphone. Notedly, while most employees do not expect their managers to be connected, managers expect employees to be connected. Constantly connected: Almost all respondents indicated they feel they are constantly connected to work because of their company-provided smartphones. Employees and managers identified negative perceptions, behaviors, and outcomes, from feeling expected to respond, “no matter where you are and no matter when,” to sleeping with phones, and ultimately having little work-life balance.

Implications for Practice
Organizations should (1) communicate connectedness expectations when delivering company provided smartphones, as feelings of constant connectedness (whether perceived or actual) can result in stress and burnout, (2) limit extensive use of smartphones, to help maintain employees’ connection and engagement to coworkers and immediate surroundings, and reduce competition for their attention, (3) frequently and openly engage in dialogue about productivity expectations as constant connectivity creates the potential for constant interruptions, which reduces concentration, and personal downtime.

Location of Article
This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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