Mending the Psychological Contract

At the core of our relationship with work is the psychological contract — comprised of our perceptions and beliefs concerning the exchange agreement that exists between ourselves and our employer. Unfortunately, when balance is not achieved, perceived breaches of this contract do occur. This appears to be quite common and can ultimately result in lowered levels of trust, job satisfaction and performance. When we express feeling "let down" in the workplace in some way (and this leads to significant distress), it is important to examine the the underlying dynamic which may be operating. In many cases, damage to the psychological contract has occurred — and attempting to repair its viability is a vital priority. But, where do we begin?

Breaches of trust, or unfulfilled promises, can have far-reaching consequences upon our relationship with work. A breach may stem from a sudden realization that a promotion will never materialize — or the frustration with the supervisor who continually fails to value our contribution. In other cases, organizational changes can negatively impact how we carry out our roles, negatively affecting the "give" and "take" of the exchange. While the scenarios may be varied — the resulting effects can be quite similar.

One aspect of this dynamic to consider, is the evaluation as to whether our efforts are met with valued rewards. Equity theory, an applicable theory of motivation, explains that there is an ever-changing calculation concerning inputs (our time and energy) in relation to eventual outputs (outcomes and rewards) as measured against a comparison other. If we feel that our devoted energy does not transact into valued rewards, we might respond by reducing inputs in response. This "input restriction" can manifest as lowered energy, less commitment to the organization or a reduced level of engagement.

Psychological contracts between an employer and an employee do matter. However, the "state" of the psychological contract is rarely explored and is often left addressed in the workplace. In most cases, these contracts are never discussed openly — as a communication mechanism is not in place to do so comfortably. We may feel that discussing our perceptions is simply not an appropriate or an accepted topic of discussion — but addressing them, none the less, is vital. As described by Allison Rimm, coach and strategy consultant:

"As a senior executive and management consultant, I am astonished that more leaders do not pay close attention to how their employees feel about their work, or at least they do not do this formally."

Exploring the health of these contracts may provide a path to explain the relatively low levels of engagement present in our workplaces. It is possible, that the psychological contract itself, impacts engagement and overall happiness at work. Numerous studies tell us that an engaged workforce can contribute to the success of an organization. On a very basic level, engaged employees are happier. They smile more, laugh more and even find Mondays easier to handle. In turn, happier employees can learn more (courtesy of increased dopamine) — organizations with a greater percentage of engaged employees appear safer and more profitable.

We can address this dynamic effectively. One imperative, is bringing the existence of the psychological contract to the workplace conversation — as we cannot impact what we fail to acknowledge. This would require managers to have the foresight to begin discussing the dynamic with their staff, and for employees to share their perspectives freely. Ultimately, we cannot build healthier organizations, until we become more transparent about the authentic relationship we are having with our work.

Some other points to consider:

Building trust. The viability of the manager-employee relationship is central to the health of the psychological contract — and demands adequate levels of trust. This can be enhanced by providing work environments that include overall career support, behavioral consistency and integrity of action.

Communication. The psychological contract is continually re-calibrated during the course of an employment relationship. A key element to maintaining balance is an environment which allows an open discussion of the employment relationship, which helps us to gain a shared understanding of the contract.

Practicing transparency. Organizations must strive to become transparent from the very inception of the employment relationship — especially when addressing areas such as future training, development and promotions. Key elements of the contract are often formed early in the employer-employee relationship, possibly during recruitment.

Feedback and recognition. Adequate feedback concerning performance is an essential component to work life, and can help elucidate aspects of the employee-employer contract. Furthermore, we often recognize organizational goals, but often fail to do the same for individual contributions. As a result, an erosion of the contract can occur.

Aligning work with strengths. One potential contributor, critical to the health of a psychological contract is carefully matching individual contributors with the tasks at hand. If we are assigned to tasks that are beyond our expertise or scope (possibly setting us up to fail), the contract can become irreparably damaged.

Hopefully, the future will bring an increased awareness of the psychological contract and the mechanisms that contribute to their formation, viability and success. However, to fully mend a damaged contract, there may be an element of letting go of ill-will, to help us move forward. When we begin to explore further, we may find that a breach may not have been caused with purpose or malice — but by a lack of shared understanding.

Author: Marla Gottschalk

Article was used from the LinkedIn website click here

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