Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to develop a model on how business managers perceive that an employee's psychological contract influences his or her attitude toward an organizational change. More specifically, it aims to provide insight into the managerial views on: first, the affective, behavioral and cognitive responses of employees toward organizational change; second, the pre-change and change antecedents of these responses; and third, the role of the psychological contract as a pre-change antecedent. Design/methodology/approach - Data were collected from in-depth interviews with 39 human resource directors, change managers andmanagement consultants in eight European countries. Based on detailed grounded theory-driven analyses of the qualitative data, a conceptual model was developed. Findings - Based on the grounded theory analysis, a model emerged that positions the individual change perception and individual answer to the "what's in it for me?" question as central determinants of an employee's attitude toward change. Moreover, the model distinguishes between "influencing" variables that shape the employees' change perception, and "overruling" variables that can potentially reverse the change perceptions. Practical implications - A strong emphasis on managing the employment relationship by fulfilling mutual obligations and by creating trust will yield more constructive responses to organizational change than focussing on managing an organizational change as an independent event. Originality/value - As one of the first in its field, this study provides insight in the sense-making processes during organizational change, while adopting a managerial perspective. A grounded theory approach by means of interviewing, serves as a first step toward better understanding of the development of employees' affective, behavioral and cognitive responses to organizational change.