Denise Rousseau

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Denise Rousseau is a University Professor at Carnegie Mellon University, holds H.J. Heinz II Chair in Organizational Behavior and Public Policy, Heinz College and jointly Tepper School of Business.[1]

Previously she worked on the faculties of the University of Michigan in Psychology and Institute for Social Research, Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey, and Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Rousseau held visiting appointments at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Leeds University, UK, and Dublin City University, Ireland.

Education and work[edit]

She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association, Society of Industrial-Organizational Psychology, Academy of Management, and British Academy of Management and an Academician of the Academy of Social Sciences.

Undergraduate degrees with honors in Psychology and Anthropology from University of California at Berkeley. Ph.D. Psychology University of California at Berkeley.

Rousseau's influences include Herb Simon and Stephen Laner.

Former Students: Karl Aquino, Guillermo Dabos, Violet Ho, Lai Lei, Laurie Levesque, Gearóid Ó Chaomhánach, Ranga Ranganujam, Conner Mickelson, and Sandra Robinson.

Psychological Contract Theory[edit]

Rousseau developed the concept of a psychological contract in order to better specify how employers and employees understand the employment relationship. PCT also provides a basis for developing shared understandings in employment. It also addresses how to more effectively change the nature and terms of psychological contracts.

PCT recognized the existence of cognitive schema or mental models that employees and employers use in interacting with each other. The psychological contract is a system of beliefs an individual holds regarding an exchange arrangement with another (e.g., employment, customer/supplier relationship, family tie or marriage). A fundamental feature of the psychological contract is that like cognitive schemata generally, the contract, once established, is relatively resistant to change.

Psychological contracts when first formed tend to be incomplete since fully understanding or anticipating the demands in an ongoing employment arrangement may be unrealistic. Thus psychological contracts develop over time and often in ways that diverge between one party and another, or between multiple parties to the same arrangements.

Rousseau’s 1995 book Psychological Contract in Organizations: Understanding Written and Unwritten Agreements won the George Terry Book Award for best book in management from the Academy of Management.

Idiosyncratic deals[edit]

Rousseau’s research identified the often hidden but widespread phenomenon of idiosyncratic deals, whereby individual employees bargain for employment arrangements different from their peers. Early research on the psychological contract identified an anomaly, the repeated observation that people working for the same firm and same boss can have distinctly different psychological contracts. After considering alternative explanations, this observation lead to recognition that individual workers influence the terms of their own employment arrangements. These influences take the form of bargaining and self-initiated changes. Her 2005 book I-deals: Idiosyncratic Deals Employees Bargain for Themselves also won the George Terry Book Award for best book in management from the Academy of Management.

Several distinct features characterize i-deals and differentiate them from other forms of person-specific employment arrangements (e.g., cronyism or favoritism) as described below. The principal characteristics of i-deals are as follows:

Individually negotiated: An i-deal exists when an individual worker negotiates arrangements with an employer or prospective employer that differ from the corresponding arrangements of his or her coworkers.

Heterogeneous: At least some of the specific terms included in an i-deal are specially provided to that individual, differing from conditions created for other employees in similar positions or in the same work group.

Benefiting both employer and employee: I-deals serve the interests of both employers and employees. I-deals are distinct from other forms of person-specific employment arrangements in that the negotiation is based on the value of the individual worker to the employer (Rousseau, 2005). An organization attracts, motivates, and retains the services of a valued contributor at the same time he or she receives desired resources from that organization.

Varied in scope or proportion: The i-deals individual workers enjoy may vary in scope from a single idiosyncratic element in a larger standardized employment package to a complete, entirely idiosyncratic employment arrangement. For example, one worker with an i-deal might have distinctly more flexible hours than peers but otherwise share with them the same pay, job duties, and other conditions of employment. In contrast, another worker might have a more novel, customized arrangement in which almost all employment terms are specially negotiated, from pay and hours, to duties and title. Although both these individuals may be said to have idiosyncratic features in their employment arrangements, the relative proportion of idiosyncratic to standardized conditions is greater for the second worker.

A central feature of i-deals is that the employee has had a hand in creating or negotiating some aspect of his or her employment. Idiosyncratic arrangements can make jobs more valuable to workers, especially when they involve features not easily obtained from other employers. Special opportunities for training and development in particular lead employees to believe their psychological contract with the employer as relational.

Personal life[edit]

Rousseau was married to fellow Carnegie Mellon professor and organizational psychologist Paul S. Goodman. They produced films together.[2]


  • Psychological Contract in Organizations: Understanding Written and Unwritten Agreements (1995). Newbury Park, CA: Sage
  • I-deals: Idiosyncratic Deals Employees Bargain for Themselves. (2005) Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe


  1. ^ Carnegie Mellon University - Heinz College, Denise M. Rousseau'
  2. ^ "Biography | Paul S. Goodman". Carnegie Mellon University Libraries. 2013. Archived from the original on July 9, 2015. Retrieved July 9, 2015.