The Psychological Contract is Formed When You Hear “Hired!”

The term, ‘psychological contract’ is not a new concept but is one that needs revisited.  I think it can give a better understanding to what happens from the time one gets hired by an organization and those often unexplained assumptions that sometimes can lead to some type of conflict between the two.  The psychological contract is the set of expectations that occurs between an employer and the employee regarding what each will do in their respective positions, as well as how they will perform them and how the employee is expected to behave within the work setting.

While that sounds as if it should be a given,  it is not as there is often a disconnect when an employee begins working and the next few months after.  I have spoken with numerous individuals who are looking for a new position but who have started the job fairly recently.  Their reason is always, “I feel duped – they told me something different than what the job was.”  Employers feel duped as well in that they hired on the individual at face-value but things began to fall apart.  Why does this happen?  It is really due to an unclear and unspoken psychological contract, with the both sides expecting certain behaviors, activities, duties, results, etc. but not being clear and open about them prior to on-boarding.

Usually, both sides are trying to present themselves in the best light; employers want to be seen as a ‘best business to work at,’ while the potential candidate wants to be seen as the person who will help them get there.  While those skills and qualities look good on paper, in reality there is always a silent expectation of how things will be which may or may not jive.  For the new hire, they are coming in to a culture that is already established; if this is not openly discussed with the potential candidate, as to how they will be acclimated in and how they can transition successfully, disaster will occur.  One side, or the other, will soon become disillusioned and the employee will leave, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

My suggestion is for both sides to be open and transparent.  For organizations, hiring personnel need to be very direct in how they view their current culture – even admitting shortcomings, such as fast-paced, conflicted, stressful, etc. – and how they will help the new hire to transition in and become successful as part of the new team.  For potential candidates, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions, even if it might mean you don’t get the job; there is nothing more miserable than being in an environment you hate, even if you love the job itself.  You will become stressed, angry, and your performance will suffer.

Being really clear on the psychological contract upfront will ensure right candidates, right fits, right minds, and right performance.


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