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Managing the Psychological Contract


By Brenald Chinyowa & Freemen Pasurai

Some few months ago I was invited for an interview by a leading bank in Zimbabwe. Upon my arrival at the offices I was impressed by the venue of the interview and the treatment I received not until my first six months on the job. From the onset I had admired the corporate colours of the company including its numerous vehicles that patrolled the city up and down. I had also been impressed by the office set ups and its adverts in the papers. Unfortunately the disclosure of my work and the benefits I was entitled got me disappointed as I was expecting to be paid as much as they can afford not as little as I can get away with.

This occurred to me unconsciously until I recalled the psychological contract. The psychological contract I had in mind had already turned negative without having spent a week on the job, and the employment relationship had kick-started with my disappointment. The psychological contract is defined as an unwritten contract, the sum of the mutual expectations between the organization and employees. Generally psychological contracts are mental models or schemas that develop through an individual’s experiences or interactions.

It is most commonly viewed as ‘unwritten expectations operating at all times between every member of an organisation and the various managers and others in that organisation’. It therefore typically operates at an unconscious or at least semi-conscious level. It is not written anywhere but both parties always practice it sometimes consciously or unconsciously. Employee expectations may include obvious things such as pay, as well as softer issues such as personal support or development. Organisation expectations may refer to working hard or results, as well as more subtle expectations such as loyalty or enhancing the reputation of the organisation.

In the Zimbabwean economy, the nature of the psychological contract has changed. Most graduates get the shock of their lives as they spent few months at the company. Myself I was also expecting a continuous learning opportunity, career advancement, promotion and high welfare, recognition and rewards for my contributions. The closure, restructuring of companies and economic meltdown has negatively affected the psychological contract as it has left many companies unfortified to meet the pre requisites of the psychological contract.


Though in the midst of such an environment the state of the psychological contract in an organisation is a strong determinant of employee behaviour at any given organisation hence making it an significant variable in the organisational success equation, if well managed it is a panacea to organisational industrial relations, performance, and success upheavals, but if not it can be problematic and can adversely affect the organisation indirectly. Therefore giving fastidious treatment of the psychological contract is based on the idea that the organisation can only create value and confidence for clients through outstanding solutions and services by giving the highest attention to people’s growth , satisfaction and implied expectations.

An organisation has to explicitly expose its psychological contract to evade ambiguity, because ambiguity of the contract will lead to a scenario where neither part is aware of the expected behaviour from them and hence the employee can be restricted on how to perform and behave at the work place, a partner in a relationship where parts are not open to each other on what they expect from each other , the partner will be like a blinded person sitting on the edge of a balcon of a 16 storey building, he can’t make any move as he afraid of falling down, just like an employee who is  not aware of what he is expected from him, his activities are circumscribed. This will now lead to no innovation and creativity.

Also in managing the contract it has to be noted that employees expectations change with time, that is the e the expectations of employees gradually change as they progress through their life. At a very simple level, employees’ needs from employment could be viewed as falling into three stages:

 Early work life during their 20s many people try out, experiment and explore alternative job and career options. This is done in an effort to seek and identify job and career options and paths which are most appealing and personally fulfilling, so that the individual can pursue the paths which are most in their future interests.

Development This occurs once the individual has identified a positive path from a work content, lifestyle and reward perspective. It occurs after exploring alternatives, and they then decide to develop and increase their skills and expertise in the chosen area of work, and develop their careers in the area.

Maturity Having found and developed their work niche, the individual typically seeks stability so that they can provide for their increased and continuing family responsibilities. The goal is essentially one of sustaining the chosen direction.

Let it be clear, let it be explicit because the response upon to its violation is explicitly
Brenald Chinyowa & Freemen Pasurai writes on their own capacity, for comments inbox to chinyowab@gmail.com (0777 897 586) or fripas0285@gmail.com (0776 601 610). Feel free to contact them for advice & consultation on any HR related issues in your Organisation.



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