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The other contract that drives employee behaviour

Most people have a written contract that they work to but many are unaware of the invisible contract that everyone carries around in their head. It is the psychological contract which can lead to behaviour
(usually via a misplaced sense of entitlement) that can undermine a reputation and profile in a way that can be difficult to reverse.

Do you work with or supervise anyone who might say the following?:

  • ‘I’ve been on this team for 15 years and I should have been the one appointed Team Leader. Andy has only been in the organisation for 2 years. What does he know? Doesn’t seniority and loyalty mean anything any more?’
  • ‘It’s the manger’s job to make decisions. I don’t know why she keeps asking us at team meetings to give her our views on decisions that impact us. That’s what she gets paid for.’
  • ‘Do you believe my manager said I can’t take annual leave in June because everyone in Finance is needed to close the books this year because of the big merger. I am entitled to my annual leave when I want it.’
  • ‘It’s not in my job description to be on the Tea Room roster to wash mugs once every 8 weeks or to answer a team members phone when they are away from the desk. Not my problem.’
  • ‘Anyone who tries to suggest another way of doing things is challenging my authority and will be put in their place.’

What do each of the above statements reveal? The psychological contract that these people are working to. This is often an invisible contract which if unrecongised for what it is can lead managers or staff to feel like they are beating their head against a brick wall.

The psychological contract relates to the ‘unspoken’ assumptions a worker has about what the organisation is obligated to give them in terms of treatment, opportunities, working conditions and expectations in exchange for their work. Workplaces have evolved significantly in the past decade or so. Some of the changes have been to provide greater flexibility for workers; and some have been necessary to survive in the wake of changing markets, globalisation, and new external regulations.

Some workers are still working with outdated or at the very least, inappropriate pschological contracts. Clues can be:

  • A misplaced sense of entitlement to promotion, leave and other opportunities that now more than ever are based on merit and alignment with organisational priorities and requirements.
  • An outdated leadership style that says ‘my way or the highway’ with severe consequences for anyone who raises an issue or suggests alternatives. And the other side of this is disrespect for the final decision a manager has made-sometimes to the extent of undermining it.

If you feel like you are beating your head against the proverbial brick wall to get through to someone, it may be that they are working with a flawed or outdated psychological contract. Many managers have found it a relief to understand this concept and realise that the first thing that has to happen for a breakthrough with a certain employee is a mindset change before the desired behaviour or attitudes start to show up.

Maybe you are feeling frustrated or ‘hard done by’ in your organisation and realise perhaps your psychological contract has not caught up with the times in some areas.A key focus of our work is get noticed for the right reasons in the right way. Adapting your psychological contract to the current environment is one way to do that.

Ask people (or yourself) the following questions:

  • What are the benefits of not changing? This will identify the person’s current what’s in it for them.
  • What are the benefits of changing? This gives clues to areas of discontent with the current situation.
  • What would it take to make you change?

Use the responses to these questions for a dialogue about the benefits and steps that can be taken to move forward, leaving behind the disadvantages of the current situation.

What are your experiences? It would be great to hear your views.

Published inGet noticed for the right reasonsUncategorized

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