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Unmet Expectations - 4 March 2014

Prior to new employees joining your organisation, one of the first things they do is sign a formal contract, often dozens of pages in length.  But that formal contract shrinks in importance when compared to the psychological contract that employees mentally sign upon being offered a job.

A psychological contract exists between you and each one of your employees.  It’s an unspoken agreement that details what they think they’ll get from you as their boss, from the organisation, from their colleagues, and from their job.  In essence, the psychological contract is a summary of your employees' expectations.  The problem, though, is that since those expectations are intangible and rarely spoken about, it’s common for them to be broken. 

Two months ago, the Journal of Human Resource Management published the first ever study on the impact that unmet expectations have on employee engagement.  The results were predictable: when expectations are unmet, there's a drop in engagement.  The solution is to reverse that effect by making the psychological contract something you openly discuss.

Here’s why.  Your employees’ expectations might be unrealistic.  By at least having a conversation about what they expect, you’re able to adjust those expectations to something more reasonable.  Or conversely, you might discover their expectations are totally achievable, in which case you’re able to help them attain what they desire at work.

Neither of those options is possible unless you first bring the psychological contract out into the open.  You can do so by asking the following questions early in the employment relationship and, where appropriate, every six months thereafter:

  -  What promises were made to you during the recruitment process?
  -  How do you like to be managed?
  -  What type of work do you think you’ll be doing?
  -  How do you think your performance will be measured and rewarded?
  -  What training and development do you need?
  -  Where would you like to be in two years’ time?
  -  If we could change one thing in this team that'd make you happier, what would it be?

Remember: you don’t need to fulfil all their expectations.  Your responsibility is simply to correct those that are unrealistic and to supply those that are within reason.  It may not require a handwritten signature, but the psychological contract is one of the most vital you’ll sign.



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