Newsletter 52 School - The psychological contract


"If kids come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job easier. If they do not come to us from strong, healthy functioning families, it makes our job more important" Barbara Colorose.

Cooper ask the question whether the job description which act as a binding contract is “enough”. Cooper et al states that one has to “think about certain behaviours and attitudes you may expect from the employer that are not spelled out”.

“Work psychologists call these unsaid or implicit contractual expectations between you and your employer the psychological contract. This contract is important because it can affect your impression of your employer and as a result your behavior at work which in turn affects your employer.”

The author argues that understanding and appreciating the unwritten agreement as implied “is important for managers because recent research” suggests a strong link to employee motivation, productivity and performance.

This unwritten agreement between employer and employee recognizes a duty on both parties to make it work. Copper et al has identified two types of psychological contracts namely transactional [“If I give you things, you give me things”] and relational [“If I am good to you, you will be good to me”].

The greatest challenge or danger to this implicit unwritten contract is the unilateral violation or breakdown by one party. Research has shown that this violation “can result in”;

  • Desire for revenge or retribution
  • Higher levels of stress
  • Increased absenteeism
  • Lower employee commitment, motivation and job satisfaction
  • Reduced performance.

The authors helps us with a few tips how to manage the psychological contract

  • Talk openly to your principal about your expectations and ambitions, hopes and fears
  • When something happens to you that seems not fair speak to your principal immediately and find out why – do not let it fester
  • Do not assume the school is out to get you
  • Cut your principal some slack – he/she cannot do everything right all the time.

The school is a highly bureaucratic and very complex organization and these tips to manage the psychological contract must be viewed in that light.

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