Testing times: the development and sustainability of partnership relationships

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Partnership literature in the UK fails to adequately develop theory. This study utilises social exchange theory as a theoretical lens and moves beyond rationale models of exchange to capture the conditions that foster reciprocity and how relations between the actors contribute to the sustainability of partnership or its collapse. By examining relationships at the individual level, this work provides evidence of the mechanisms that generate and drive partnerships. At the same time, the context, in this instance the National Health Service (NHS), demonstrates the significance of the interdependency between structural- (macro) and individual- (micro) level processes. The study followed a mixed-method case study design in four NHS acute trusts, drawing on in-depth interviews, focus groups, survey and documentary evidence. To enable a comparative analysis, views were sought from 31 management and trade union representatives and 543 employees were surveyed on their experiences of partnership. The study found that while the political will for partnership instigated the development of relationships, it was the commitment and enthusiasm of the key players and the perceived quality of relationships that developed and maintained partnership. Moreover, it concludes that without formalising these individual arrangements partnership would not be sustained over time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)852-878
Number of pages27
JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
Issue number6
Early online date5 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • mutual gains
  • National Health Service
  • partnership
  • social exchange theory
  • trade unions

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