So today while lying in bed recovering from a virus, I got to thinking about the psychological contract. Well in all honesty my initial thought was about the relationship contract that Sheldon established with his girlfriend in the comedy show The Big Bang Theory and how such a simple thing managed to convince an otherwise rational and highly intelligent woman that she was in fact in a relationship for many years even though what they had was stretching the definition of what a relationship should be. So my mind wandered from that particularly interesting model to the thought of the relationships that we form or enter into in our professional lives and how the relationship contract is very like the psychological contract that David Guest posited.
For those of you new to the concept of the psychological contract, this is defined by Guest et al as the perceptions of the two parties, employee and employer of what their mutual obligations are towards each other. Hmm sounds like a contract of employment doesn’t it? Well not quite, it took me some time to understand this concept and truthfully it something that is best understood by being experience. You cannot truly understand what the psychological contract is unless you have experienced it, similar to how you can never truly understand the role of a parent and all it entails unless you have children. You can read about it, babysit your friends kids all you like but you can never truly understand what it means unless you yourself have kids.
So part of any psychological contract is mutual trust and respect. As the employee I trust that my employer will do what they say, deliver what they promise and let me know if there is anything that I need to know do my job properly or anything that could affect my job. I expect my employer to be honest and upstanding in their dealings with me, to create a safe environment for me to work or mitigate the risk where possible and to invest in me. Any good employer will expect the same from their employee. They will expect their employee to trust in their vision, model their values so that they are a credit in public to the company; that they will do for the business what they say they will do, that they will let the company know anything that could interfere with that commitment that they will continue to develop their skills so they remain credible and relevant to the company.
Similar to any other type of relationship when you feel or know that the beliefs that you had have been broken you lose faith. Some quickly move on to another relationship; others try therapy; some live in denial, others move on to try other things and some stay to fight and change things back to the way they were. What this serves to remind us is like any other relationship, our professional one needs attention and work. Without this it will fail. This basic principle underlies many theories of why disengagement happens in the workplace. Relationships personal or professional are not difficult, they just need work.