We’ve blogged a lot in the past about the psychological contract. The psychological contract is a way in which we can try to understand the relationship between staff and their employer. It acknowledges the presence of the legal contract but extends this to include all the unwritten expectations that both parties have of one another. All firms should ensure that they develop a strong positive psychological contract in order to maximise commitment from staff.
But how does the psychological contract link to the careers of the staff in an organisation?
In the Days of Dinosaurs
There was a time when we all worked for large companies and the company managed the careers of its people. It provided in-house training and opportunities for advancement. If we go back far enough, careers were played out in one organisation without thought of the need to leave. Today 50% of the working population are employed by themselves or in small or medium-sized companies. For this group the opportunities for advancement within one firm are somewhat restricted. In government and in large firms (the remaining 50%), delayering in search of lean operations has removed many of the traditional roles that formed the stepping stones of advancement. Here too many people feel that they must move from one organisation to another in order to achieve their career goals.
It’s reasonable now to conclude that for many, careers must be self-managed. The days of organisational careers are over.
Self-managed careers are of course organised within the scope of the firm that the individual is with at that point in time. They manage their careers based on the psychological contract between employer and employee. This leads us to conclude that in order to secure the essential positive psychological contract, managers must take responsibility for facilitating the careers of those who work for them.
Like Charlie Mullins, the boss of Pimlico Plumbers, commented in a recent publication, “we’re all drinking from the same teapot”. Managers want commitment to the firm. Staff want commitment to their careers. And successful careers are built in successful firms.
So to help staff manage their careers what approach should managers take?
Take a Long-term View
The first essential approach is for management to take a long-term view. A career is a person’s progress through employment life in which they seek opportunity for progress or advancement. It’s an evolving sequence of person’s work experience over time. It’s a long-term project.
We also argue in past TimelessTime blogs that management should take a long-term view in all other aspects of developments of the firm. Taking a long-term approach in dealing with staff and their careers fits well with other developmental requirements and creates long-term sustainability for the firm.
The second approach is to build the human resource management and general management practices necessary to build trust and mutual commitment between staff and the firm. This begins with giving meaningful work and continues through all management practices such as job design, performance management and rewards. But most important is to be sure that staff will perceive procedural and differential justice in these practices.
And finally management must facilitate staff careers through a genuine interest in the future of those staff – however humble these careers are.
Staff Careers: your problem or theirs?
So why should management be interested in the careers of their staff? Research shows that the support that employees perceive that they receive is positively related to their feeling of obligation to care about the firm’s welfare. There is an idea here of reciprocity – “if you care about me and my career then I’ll care about you and your firm”.
Managers need to work genuinely with their staff in developing their careers even if ultimately those careers may not continue long term with that firm. In return managers will win staff commitment, benefiting from increased motivation and improved performance in the short term and increased competency in the long term. It’s a win-win situation.