The ties that bond us

There are so many layers to an employee-employer relationship. Some are very obvious and easily referenced – you will do XYZ from Monday to Friday and we will pay you. There are likely some picky little details like…if you don’t do XYZ the way that we expect, and then we may penalize you. Or if you have to work beyond the 40-hour work week, we may pay you extra…or let you take your lunch breaks.

Another layer, a less visible and less obvious one, is the psychological contract. Although not as formal, it is no less powerful than the employment agreement that people sign. Why? Because it’s based on unwritten perceptions and expectations of the business relationship.  It’s founded in the idea that if I work my ass for 60-hours to get a project done, then my employer is going to remember that and reward me…in some way…at some point. The principle is equity.

So what happens when this psychological contract is broken? The result can be devastating to an employee – there is a sense that they have been betrayed, used, and disregarded. Responses can vary but include resistance, disengagement, lack of productivity, and even sabotage.

I really hate hearing that employees (en masse, not just Gen-Y) have too much of a sense of entitlement…”employees expect to be given everything and don’t want to reciprocate”.

This is bullshit.

Oh of course there are people who fall into this category – there always will be. However they are not representative of the majority.

What I see are people who are giving up their family time, physically and emotionally draining themselves, and “sucking it up” to do what needs to be done.

And sometimes they hit a wall and complain. But that’s okay, we specifically didn’t hire martyrs…we wanted people who would challenge and push back.


I certainly do.

However, when business decisions are made there are often significant impacts on the people. What some fail to remember is that for most employees, the first reaction is not to pull out that black & white agreement that says, yes…we are entitled to do this to you. What they typically do is reference that psychological handshake that was made that said – if you are loyal to us, then we will be to you.

And unlike a paper contract, a torn and damaged psychological contract cannot just be reprinted or taped back together.

Sure it may be the soft and mushy side of business, and maybe it’s the last thing on your mind when you are making hard choices, but that intangible and invisible bond is as important as any legal document and no amount of tape can put it back together when it’s ripped.


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