Operationalalizing social contract: application of relational contract theory to exploration of constraints on implementation of an employee assistance program

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Virginia Tech

The purpose of this study was two-fold. First, it sought to identify constraints on program implementation by exploring the nature of contractual relations in the construction industry. The program of interest was the Laborers’ Membership Assistance Program. Second, it sought to operationalize behavioral norms identified by Macneil in his work on relational contract. The underlying intent was to assess the usefulness of relational contract theory in explaining observed behaviors among parties potentially affected by program implementation.

The research strategy chosen for study of the Laborers’ Membership Assistance Program was the embedded case study. Multiple projects were embedded within the overall design, and analyses incorporated outcomes from these multiple projects. Results were then used collectively to propose a grounded theory framework for systematically evaluating relational contract. This was accomplished by comparing ideas growing out of Macneil’s work to empirical evidence.

Data were collected from three distinct groups. Each group was potentially affected by the program being implemented -- union stewards and foremen, union business leaders, and signatory employers. Mechanisms for data collection were the semi-structured interview, focus group interview, and questionnaire. Data collection was accomplished through researcher visits to hiring hall premises, focus group interviews at selected hiring halls, and mail surveys. Multiple analytical techniques were used to analyze the data including conceptual correlation matrix analysis, frequencies, correlations, multidimensional scaling, and cluster score analysis.

The study was exploratory and the results descriptive. Its theoretical significance lay in its use as a means for assessing the usefulness of Macneil’s work on relational contract as a viable approach to study of workplace relationships and to study of social contract. Its practical Significance lay in its applicability to decisions by unions as to what factors should be considered when designing implementation strategies.