The Psychological Contract in Working Relationships

An unclear contract underlies victimization

Before being a social and even a sociological position, victimization is a psychological position that must be understood. In the dramatic triangle of the transactional analysis, the victim feels helpless, powerless (whether he/she really is or imagines that), waiting for a savior and (possibly) screams from the top of their lungs, pointing their finger: “The aggressor! The aggressor! (s)he oppresses me! “When you are the victim, you give another person the right to intervene in your stead. This kind of behavior is one that cedes independence, responsibility and, from a more extended level, sovereignty. This may be a reality or it may be just a perception. I will give you an example.

Let’s say X accuses Y of something he did. If there is a dialogue between the alleged victim and the alleged aggressor, things may not escalate. However, in this position, one more essential thing must be emphasizedan unclear contract underlies any dramatic triangle.

A CLEAR contract is phrased the following way: “If you do that, then I have the right to do that,” and often negotiating in such a situation is not about literally complying with the conditions and banging one’s fist on the table for the acknowledgment of one’s rights but about giving the benefit of the doubt, tolerance (including in the case of a mistake) and understanding.

So, three key-words: a juridical one (innocence), a political one (tolerance) and a psychological one (understanding). All of them, transposed into the amicable idea: “If we have different perspectives, let’s see how we can settle accounts peacefully,” not into the idea: “If we have different perspectives, let’s see who is right.” It’s not relevant who’s right. Who must compensate is relevant. By paying, working or other forms of “official settlement of accounts”.

Well, when besides the juridical and commercial fields, in which the psychological field already exists, the political field also occurs, things become complicated, but their essence is still the victim-aggressor-savior dynamic, and the metamorphosis from one hypostasis to another can occur quite quickly.

All processes and disputes actually originate from the victim-aggressor-savior triangleAnd precisely because the citizen is not allowed to take the law into his own hands, he resorts to a system that claims to be able of doing justice. In order to prevent an escalation till there, a clearly phrased contract must exist in any relation (whether personal, professional, commercial or juridical): “if you do that, then I have the right to do that.” Many romantic relations (I dare hallucinate, quite the majority) get broken because of an unclear contract. Many lawsuits between the employer and the employee are occurring because of an unclear contract, i.e. insufficiently phrased.

The psychological contract in human resources

The 2011 Romanian Labor Code, as booed as it was, introduced the concept of “key performance indicators (KPIs) in the employer-employee relations, that must be specified in the contractual relations and matter the most … guess when? At the time of dismissal, that is “if you as an employee do this and/or that, then I as an employer have the right to fire you”. The vast majority of lawsuits filed by employees against employers in Romania are won because, in the case of dismissal, it has not been made according to contract regulations. Any regulation, any law, is a contract that can be summarized to: “IF you do this, THEN this gives me the right to do that.”

Romania is a society where contracts are not complied with. And this is only partly related to the fact that they are usually poorly phrased. As an important transactional analysis trainer, John Parr, also said during one of his training sessions held in Romania: “in Romania, laws are formulated as a patch over another patch on top of another patch.” And because contracts are not complied with, a lot of people feel somehow red-handed. And if they feel red-handed, that means that they are easy to blackmail, easy to manipulate, easy to victimize, easy to aggress.

In the desire to “equalize” things, more or less in a communist manner, almost everyone has come to steal directly or indirectly from everybody: the employer steals indirectly from the employee by making him work overtime without being paid, the employee steals directly or indirectly from the employer paper, pens and phones, for his personal interest, the employer steals himself or in collaboration with the employee from the state by avoiding taxes and fees, and the state steals indirectly from everyone by means of excessive taxation and corruption.

In the written contract, we all agree to be fair to each other. In the psychological contract, very many people understand (as it is socially acceptable) to steal from each other.

The attempts of some to educate employees and employers in the psychological contract are illusory because in fact there is a clear psychological contract between most Romanians that says:if you steal, then I also have the right to steal“. The only misunderstandings occur when the parties do not agree on HOW MUCH each would steal. That’s why what is written doesn’t matter so much anymore, and the written contract loses its legitimacy, thus allowing large corporations to exploit by writing their contracts on a lot of pages with 7-8 font sizes at best.



Negotiating contracts

Have you, by any chance, got used to signing contracts without reading them? Large corporations, in particular corporations, do not negotiate the contracts they sign with small users, consumers or customers, and try to do the same with their employees who do not dare negotiate because they do not know their rights and unfortunately many do not think it would be too important, since they adopt the fatalist position according to which “they will be violated anyway.” Thus, morality, integrity, ethics, deontology are sold together with the working hours, implied by an unclear psychological contract, which many do not dare dispute.

The solution is to clearly define what you want and what you offer in every contractual relationship you are engaging in, and then negotiate in order to get the best offer of work, products and services.

The materials on this blog are subject to this disclaimer.

Copyright (C) Marcus Victor Grant 2014-present Translation by Cristiana Boicu of the article “Contractul psihologic în relațiile de muncă published initially in Romanian at 31.5.2014 on Economia Online. Copyright (C) Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved

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