The psychological contract: How to be happy at work

A healthy relationship with your employer is critical to your performance in the workplace.

While a formal contract focuses on your obligations, a psychological contract is a set of unwritten expectations between and employer and employee – as well as between workers.

Dr Linda Ronnie, is a Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behavior and People Management at UCT's Graduate School of Business.

She speaks to Eusebius McKaiser about the implications of working in an unconducive environment.

She also explains why it is important for middle management to nurture a relationship of trust between workers and themselves.

Middle management is crucial to the overall productivity of an organisation.

Dr Linda Ronnie, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management

Typically it's thought of between us and the organisation, but of course the organisation is not an amorphous thing. You have a relationship with your direct manager typically and also the people around you, so those are the key two parties that kind of shape your connection with an organisation.

Dr Linda Ronnie, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management

Its kind of the complicit contract. Lets think of you arriving at a workplace for the for the time, you coming with a set of unwritten, unspoken expectations of what you are expecting to find for example a space to work and resources to do your job....on a transactional level.

Dr Linda Ronnie, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management

On a more relational level you wanting people to value your contributions, fair treatment, developmental opportunities...

Dr Linda Ronnie, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management

We all go into organisations with our baggage, it's not as if the psychological contract starts at that moment... typically people leave because they are unhappy at a job...

Dr Linda Ronnie, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management

When arriving at a new place of work, we are shaped by our previous experiences and now you become further shaped by what happens in the new environment.

Ronnie says employees are more likely to become disengaged when an organisation does not live up to it's espoused values.

There is a difference between espoused values and their practical application.

Those things that we see in the organisation, the visible part of it, those are their espoused values, things that the organisation sends a message about in a public space. But, in fact, we don't assess as employees the satisfaction of our job or work environment by those espoused values, we look at the enacted stuff....

Dr Linda Ronnie, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management

How should one go about negotiating a contract that works for you?

The psychological contract, while it may be heavily influenced by leadership and management, it is also our responsibility as employees to raise issues.

Dr Linda Ronnie, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management

The middle management group needs to become more aware that the relationship between themselves and their immediate subordinates is absolutely crucial to the productivity of the overall organisation.... that is premised on things like fairness and trust.

Dr Linda Ronnie, Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management

Click below to listen to the full interview and how issues of race and gender presents a set of unique challenges in the workplace and how companies should develop a better organisational culture to address this...


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