Repetitive Psychological Contract Breach, Through the Lived Experiences of RBS Retail Employee Well-Being

  • Eileen O'Neil

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisProfessional Doctorate (ProfD)


In the decade prior to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008, the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) aspired to become the largest bank in the world and, for a short period in 2008, it achieved this ambition. But post-crisis, the RBS brand developed widespread social disapproval, a discrediting that yielded what Irvine Goffman in 1963 terms a “spoiled social identity” which negatively impacted upon the employer/employee relationship, the social exchange, leading to enhanced organisational risk emerging from psychological contract breach (PCB) with its employees. Prior studies in PCB failed to account for employee retrospections of the past and expectations for the future. How RBS retail employees responded to the social disapproval (the popular discourses), changes in perception of RBS bank and the decade of slow and painful recovery stimulated interest in employee resilience and well-being over a prolonged period post-crisis.

This thesis explores the lived experiences of RBS retail employees to identify the emergent nascent domain of repetitive psychological contract breach (RPCB) experienced during the 2008 global financial crisis and the prolonged recovery from it. The research strategy was fivefold: (i) a literature review to explore disparities and gaps in existing literature relating to psychological contract, breach, and violation impacting employee resilience and well-being arising from change and disruption in the exchange relationship over a prolonged period. (ii) to generate theory from the lived experiences and views of RBS retail employees by conducting interviews and adopting a constructivist grounded theory approach. (iii) identify and analyse individual and aggregated variants of psychological contract breach over the prolonged period from 2008 to 2018, capturing how the psychological contract between RBS and its retail employees changed overtime. (iv) to discover adaptations in employee perception of self and self in society in response to the changes in relationships and to the popular discourses which emerged, leading to the legitimisation of RPCB and (v) draw the findings together and develop recommendations on how RPCB over a prolonged period modifies the psychological contract within the internal, external, social, and personal environments of employees experiencing the breach.

The explanatory power of a constructivist grounded theory approach by Charmaz (2006) is adopted to enlarge the concept of PCB into RPCB. The findings explore how the core category “Through the Lived Experience of Employee Well-being” and associated categories “Doing More with Less”, “Legitimisation of RPCB” and “A Reflective Perception” are grounded in the lived experiences and interpretations of those experiencing them. The sustained multiple variants of RPCB identified within the findings highlight changes to the psychological contract which led to RBS retail employees becoming the only entity to face the full weight of customer and public dissatisfaction in the decade post-crisis. The findings make a theoretical contribution by extending existing literature within the iv field of PCB and enlarging PCB into RPCB as a nascent domain highlighting a known underdeveloped area (time-related processes involved in psychological contract change).

This research offers new insights into how the application of a risk assessment model applied at frequent intervals post change, has the potential to identify, analyse, and mitigate against RPCB arising. The opportunity is offered to pro-actively address time-related change involved in psychological contract breach by assessing impacts on organisation and employee resilience and wellbeing. The contribution to professional practice suggests organisations look beyond previously perceived boundaries of the employer-employee relationship and consider how change modifies not only the psychological contract within the internal employer/employee relationship, but how change also impacts upon the employees external, social, and personal environments.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Glasgow Caledonian University
SupervisorDavid McGuire (Supervisor), Afroditi Dalakoura (Supervisor) & Sharon Jackson (Supervisor)

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