Perception Versus Reality

You’ve seen those infomercials that tout the latest gizmo that will revolutionize the way you _____(fill in the blank). They made it sound so good that you quickly plop down your credit card for 17 installments at $3.99 plus shipping and handling.  The item arrives 5-7 business days later, you unwrap it, plug it up, and realize you’ve spent a good deal of money on something that didn’t live up to the hype.  You’d thought you would save time and energy using the product and you’ve wasted more time trying to figure out the instructions than you did on getting it to do some work.  You’re disappointed, angry, and feeling like a fool.  You promptly box, bag, or kick it to the garage, attic, basement and place it in the pile of disappointing items.  You can’t throw it out, it would be a waste of money.  So you’ll sell it at the next yard sale, or maybe on Ebay.

What does this have to do with Employee Relations?  Well hang in there and I will make it plain in a few moments.

An applicant sits in the interview, answers our questions, we provide information (hopefully a realistic preview), we extol the virtues of working for our organization, parade them past smiling employees, top of the line technology, and walk them out of our corporate office.  We send a snazzy commitment letter with dozens of forms including our benefit package which includes work-life balance,  professional development, and flexible work schedules.

The employee joins our organization based on the information we provided and on their expectations of how the job will enrich their lives.  This individual is basing his future on a conversation that lasted less time than his last oil change.  But his/her instincts have never failed them so he/she is willing to take this step.  The new employee looks back at the parking lot, takes a deep breath, and pushes the door open to the future.

On the other side of the door, just beyond the lobby is the supervisor waiting for the new employee.  The supervisor has read the resume several times hoping there was nothing missed in translation.  The references were done and all gave excellent referrals.  But wait, did they do so in hopes that this person would leave?   The supervisor does a gut check and thinks of the times he/she has given glowing referrals for problem employees so the problem would go away.  The supervisor reviews the interview responses again.  The performance based questions were designed to weed out the exaggerators and bold face liars.  The supervisor puts the paperwork down and rises to meet the new employee.

The supervisor welcomes the new employee, discusses the expectations,  review job descriptions,  answers questions, and walks the employee out to meet the new co-workers.  The new employee shares his/her expectations, asks pertinent questions about schedules, breaks, benefits, and work-life balance.  The supervisor reassures the employee the questions will be answered before the end of the week.

The employee is walked down to the assigned space, given computer access, an employee handbook, policies, training information, payroll paperwork.  Seven and a half hours later the employee walks out of the door unsure if this was the right move.

Ninety days later, the employee is sitting with the supervisor discussing performance and failure to perform adequately.   The supervisor is frustrated because it appears the employee isn’t trying hard enough to make it. The employee is frustrated because the supervisor didn’t provide the training needed to be successful.  Both were wondering if this relationship was salvageable.

According to Business, a psychological contract is “the unwritten understandings and informal obligations between an employer and its employees regarding their mutual expectations of how each will perform their respective roles. Within a typical business, the psychological contract might include such things as the levels of employee commitment, job satisfaction and the quality of working conditions.”
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This is known as a psychological contract gone bad.  The employee isn’t living up to the hype generated at the interview.

When Employee Relations gets involved at this stage, we ask the manager some hard questions.  How often did you meet with the employee?  What specific information did you provide in the meetings?  When did you first notice there was an issue?  Did you ask the employee what happened?  What did the employee say?  Then what did you do?

This employee was the best candidate, the supervisor was excited to get the employee, the employee was excited to be there.  Somewhere along the way a breakdown occurred and we need to fix it somehow before the employee ends up in the pile of unwanted items.

We will continue this conversation later…

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