For many, the return to work will feel tentative. Having spent time in festive mode, enjoying the comfort of home, the safety of all that is familiar and traditional, stepping back in the uncertain landscape of 2023 weighs on us. Dare we exhale. Have our thoughts about our career shifted? Are we uncertain about our new capacities?
The psychological contracts in place in the workplace can feel like they have changed. A psychological contract is a kind of unspoken agreement between an employer and an employee. It outlines what each party expects from the other, as well as their responsibilities and obligations. This contract is shaped by the employee’s interactions and experiences with their employer, and can be influenced by factors like company culture, management style, and individual values. When first engaged – the contract may have felt like a gift, a welcome enhancement to one’s career. With all that has taken place in the last two years, many employees are re-thinking their priorities, and therefore re-thinking the psychological contracts in place.
The psychological contract can have a big impact on an employee’s job satisfaction, commitment to the company, and overall performance. When the contract is seen as fair and fulfilling, it can lead to positive outcomes for both the employee and the employer. But if the contract is perceived as unfair or unfulfilling, it can cause problems like low motivation and high turnover, like a grenade waiting to explode.
The pandemic has had a significant impact on the psychological contracts at work for many organisations and employees. Some of the ways in which the pandemic may have changed psychological contracts include:
- Changes in job roles and responsibilities: Many employees have had to adapt to new roles and responsibilities due to the pandemic, such as transitioning to remote work or taking on additional tasks. After the festive period, there can be a greater desire to capture the closeness and familiarity of home. This can alter the expectations and obligations outlined in the psychological contract.
- Increased stress and uncertainty: The pandemic has brought about increased stress and uncertainty for many employees, which can affect the psychological contract. Being closer in contact with family and friends this holiday period may have brought a deeper awareness of the fragility of life and relationships. Employers may need to offer additional support and resources to help employees cope with the conflicting dynamics of returning to work.
- Changes in company policies: The pandemic has also led to changes in company policies, such as leave policies and health and safety protocols. These changes can alter the expectations and obligations outlined in the psychological contract. Having a break from the work space may have created an awareness of uncertainty or dissatisfaction with these changes.
It can be tempting to let time erode these uncertainties. However, as deeply psychological beings, the organisation that promotes opportunity to listen and elicit feedback, will win trust and belonging in their teams. Leaders can think about:
- Communicating openly and transparently: how have you navigated these dynamics yourself? What have you found to help?
- Offer support and resources: Leaders can provide support and resources to help employees navigate the return to work, such as regular check-ins, eliciting feedback and welcoming requests for support.
- Encourage open communication and feedback: Leaders an encourage open communication and feedback from employees and be open to negotiating changes to the psychological contract as needed.
By implementing these strategies, companies can help employees feel more supported and valued as they navigate the return to work and any changes to the psychological contract. This can foster a positive and productive work environment and help build trust and commitment from employees.