Psychological Contracts

by Bob MacKenzie

Prioritising contracts for special attention

Of course, you will need to be aware of the state of the psychological contract of each of your team members. But at certain times this may not be possible, and you will need to concentrate on the psychological contracts of particular individuals or groups. How do you decide whose psychological contracts to prioritise?

Key members of staff

In addition to generational considerations, you will also need to monitor carefully the psychological contracts of those members of your team who are performing higher-paid, business-critical or specialised professional roles (if they are different from the previous group). If you fail to do this, you may end up losing their essential services just when you need them most, as we saw in the case of Fusion Control Inc.

Generations – cohorts or individuals?

While it helps in some respects, to talk purely of generational differences can be misleading. For one thing, different people define the term ‘generation’ differently. Also, some people vehemently resist being labelled, classed or lumped together as such an anonymous grouping, preferring instead to be acknowledged for their uniqueness and individuality.

The precise definitions and dates for each of the generations is open to dispute, especially because diversity of ethnic, national and cultural identity is as important as chronology in defining differences between ‘generations’. So chronology is only one measure. But at least it offers a starting point. On this basis, we can distinguish at least three broad sets of ‘generations’ who are active in the workplace.

  • Baby Boomers - the generation born immediately after World War II
  • Gen X - born 1965-1980
  • Gen Y or ‘Millenials’ or Net Gen = born 1980-1994, and reputed to be dependent on digital technology.

To which we will soon be adding Generation Z - born between 1995 and the present day.

... with their [generation Y’s] technological prowess comes a potential challenge. They’ve been weaned on Internet chat services such as ICQ and MSN, have mastered Nintendo and Xbox from an early age, and have never known a world that has less than a few hundred TV channels. This brings to them a certain scatter-shot approach to things and an attention span that can be easily challenged.

... they are certainly capable of multi-tasking. And that brings a unique challenge that the corporate sector hasn’t really had to deal with before – a generation of workers who can become extremely bored, extremely quickly! Because they are used to a world in which they can be doing multiple things at once, and which their minds are always very active, they’ll come to expect the same degree of heightened stimulation in the workplace.

Jim Carroll

In this context, it’s interesting to note the following observation: in every family and employing organisation, younger generations tend to react negatively – or at least differently – to certain aspects of the life styles, values, attitudes and behaviours of older generations. So you will need to pay particular attention to the state of the psychological contracts of your younger staff. This is because their psychological contracts are likely to be significantly different from your own (unless you are of the same age as them). If you fail to bear this in mind, you may find their actions unpredictable and even incomprehensible.

As a generalisation, younger members of your team are likely to be particularly concerned with issues such as dual career families, juggling their work/life balance, responding to demands for greater social responsibility from customers and society, a desire to be seen to be ethical in the wake of recent business scandals and wanting to remain competitive and marketable in a global economy.