Psychological Contract or Covenant: The Coaching Challenges

William Bergquist July 1, 2016 1
Psychological Contract or Covenant: The Coaching Challenges

At the heart of the notion of psychological contract is an economic metaphor. Employees are, in essence, exchanging their services, commitments and attitudes for certain benefits, that are to be derived from the organization. This metaphor is certainly appropriate to modern organizations, for work is defined in economic terms by these organizations. Groups of employees become “cost centers” for modern institutions and they produce services and goods that yield “income centers” to offset these costs. The psychological contract, however, also speaks to the limitations of the economic metaphor, for many aspects of the psychological contract relate to issues other than money and economics. Workers are interested in the meaning of their work and in the recognition they receive for their work.

Furthermore, the work place has often become the primary neighborhood for many employees and the primary source of friendships. The work place has become the primary neighborhood primarily because workers frequently move, commute long distances to their job, and find little time (as members of a dual career family) to interact with people living in their own local neighbor. Many of us do not even know the names of our neighbors, looking instead to our colleagues at work (along with our spouses and immediate family) as the primary source of meaningful interpersonal relationships. And what happens, therefore, for those of us who work via a computer and the Internet (rarely going physically into an office to meet in-person with other employees).

As coaches working inside organizations, we can help our clients surface their own psychological contract and explore the implications of this contract for their current work and sustained commitment to their organization. We can ask probing (and important) questions: (1) is the psychological contract based on a realistic assessment of your own expectations for the organization (and the organization’s expectations regarding your work)? Was the contract ever realistic and will it be realistic in the future? (2) what do you really want from your organization—at many different levels (both realistic and unrealistic, mature and immature)? (3) how and where do you find a safe and supportive place to speak about your expectations and the contract – can you share your own insights with colleagues, your supervisor, leaders of this organization?

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1 Comment on "Psychological Contract or Covenant: The Coaching Challenges"

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Rey Carr
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It would seem that the more articulated, visible, and transparent the covenant can become, the greater the satisfaction the parties to the agreement will experience? I hesitate to say it, but is it a coach’s job to make the unconscious elements of the covenant more conscious for both the employee and the organization?

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