Psychological Contract or Covenant: The Coaching Challenges

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

When you are coaching a client who works inside an organization how do you explore with this person the nature of their own hygiene and motivating factors? Where do they find “flow” in their own work and how do they discover or create this more often in their daily work life? What is of real interest to your client—does the real motivating force in their life reside inside the organization (or are they looking for the organization to provide them with their own rock-climbing or wood-working experience)? What is the measure of success in their own life? With these questions, we are often effectively blending personal and life coaching with organizational coaching and executive coaching.

Economic Man/Woman and the Psychological Covenant

Whether speaking of hygiene or motivating factors, the modern emphasis on contracted exchange of services and benefits between the organization and employee is built on an economic model of man/woman. Both parties look to the fulfillment of specific needs that they hold independent of the other party. A manufacturing company needs skilled technicians who will remain loyal to the company for at least ten years, and skilled technicians need adequate salaries, decent medical health and retirement plans, and a setting that is conducive to gratifying work. A hospital needs dedicated and highly trained nurses, and nurses need job security, good salaries, decent childcare facilities, and an institutional commitment to continuing education and professional development services. Each party makes an independent assessment of the capacity of the other party to meet his, her or its needs. While the notion of psychological contract may accurately portray modern day organizations, it also contains the flaws that are inherent in the highly secularized, economically driven world of modern organizations.

First, a contract can be broken by either party; thus, there is no commitment (as there was in premodern times) to the ultimate welfare of the employee (on the part of the organization) or the ultimate welfare of the organization (on the part of the employee). Everyone is in it for himself or herself. This leads to the dissolution of community in existing organization and to the absence of community in newly formed organizations. There is no glue. There is no commitment that holds everything together, especially during difficult times. Given the accompanying tendency of modern organizations to become large and complex, it is no wonder that these institutions are now in trouble. These organizations must move away from the secular and economically-driven notions of work to a model of work that is both secular and sacred. Such a model would embrace and more fully explore the notion of a psychological covenant rather than psychological contract.

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One Comment »

  1. Rey Carr July 1, 2016 at 3:18 pm - Reply

    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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