Employee Retention... It's Not About The Money, Money, Money...: AKA how healthy is your psychological contract?


And, guess what, it’s almost never about money…

Sure, money is a factor but as human beings what’s deep down important to us is that we do a great job and that we’re recognised and appreciated for it. And, with increased responsibilities and pressures in the workplace, leaner departments, longer hours and bigger workloads, recognition and positive relationships have never had so much of an impact on employee commitment.

“The only way you can keep great employees in the company

is by treating them like great employees.”


Lets face it, high staff turnover is not only expensive but it’s also very damaging to morale and brand perception. And, with increasing competition, it remains a constant challenge.

So, how can we retain the best talent, motivate the most productive and efficient workforce and increase trust and loyalty, so that we don’t send our best and brightest hot footing it to our competitors?

Introducing our new friend The Psychological Contract 

Employee engagement relies and depends on a clear psychological contract. To put this is plain English, there must be a clear understanding, a deal if you like, between employer and employee about their mutual obligations to each other. Employees must know what they are required to do in order to meet their side of the `bargain’ and also what they can expect from their role. This agreement, which often has a far greater impact on day-to-day behaviour than the official employment contract, might include things such as levels of employee commitment, job satisfaction and the quality of working conditions.

“ Look after your people and they will look after your business”

 Richard Branson

But we mustn’t fall into the trap of empty promises; it’s crucial that a business keeps to their end of the deal because a sure fire way to lose faith, damage trust and de-motivate employees is to over promise and under deliver. Feelings of self-worth rest heavily on this deal, between an employee and the organisation, and therefore directly impact on workplace behaviour. Negative feelings fester and spread and before you know it you’ve got a negative epidemic on your hands. Great for your competitors but not so hot for you!

Invest in your employees however, with delivered promises, deserved recognition and appreciation, and they subconsciously take ownership to fulfil their role, to develop and learn new skills to support your business, to be flexible and more prepared to adapt to change, to lead by example and encourage their peers. No chance they’re going anywhere soon!

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.” Plato

So, let’s think about that shiny new employee, when they walk in all fresh faced and keen for their first day. From this day forward, both they as employee and you as employer are now measured against any grand claims and expectations made at the interview stage. Sometimes guilty of unwritten or poorly communicated expectations from the on-set, employers’ can end up simply re-enforcing negative behaviours. And here’s where the mistrust, de-motivation and a shaky psychological contract can quickly take effect. 

Fundamental to high levels of retention, of course, is the recognition paid to your already loyal, long-term staff. If these employees perceive (rightly or wrongly) that you have failed to deliver on your promises, the response will be a negative one, morale will be damaged and a ripple effect can often follow. Effects include a sudden lack of commitment and a drop in performance and service; a damaging combination for any organisation! 

Partnerships of mutual trust and respect

A healthy psychological contract, on the other hand, is a philosophy. One that sees mangers and employees working together, delivering on their mutual promises and resulting in an engaged workforce who all feel part of the company. And, guess what, it’s up to the business to ensure that they lead, motivate, encourage and reward employees without empty verbal promises. It’s what we call leading by example and there’s really nothing better.

 “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” Aristotle

Let’s keep things real here, most people are happiest at the end of a busy Friday than the average Monday morning, but there’s so much we can do to enable engagement for the rest of the working week. We must ask ourselves if, as employers, we are truly recognising and appreciating the importance of the psychological contract?

Is yours a culture of mutual trust and respect? Do you lead where others falter? Are your employees engaged? Does your company have a good self-image? Do you listen to your employees? Do you know them?

True leadership, empathy, awareness and openness are reflected in a healthy psychological contract. Health is synonymous with collaboration; people who work well together wins, it’s that simple.

So, how healthy is your psychological contract? 'Full of beans' fit or a bit patched up here and there?

Here’s to health!

Thanks for reading, Tracey