A psychological contract could be the most useful tool for D&I

When it comes to diversity, equality, inclusion and belonging (DEI) in the workplace, employers need to get under the skin of their employees’ needs and establish what works on an individual basis.

An informal agreement between employer and employee, known as a psychological contract, is an effective way to create agreeable conditions for both parties.

These are verbal agreements developed over time which aim to understand individual beliefs, ambitions, obligations and expectations.

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Delivered effectively, a psychological contract is an important tool for an employer’s DEI approach.

They ensure fair treatment for all and empower not only an employee’s work and productivity, but their mental health, learning and development goals, creating opportunities for long-term employability.

While a psychological contract cannot alone improve DEIB in the workplace, it’s an excellent way to open the forum for employees to discuss issues that are important to them.

But how do you implement it?

A psychological contract is the basis for employees and employers to discuss everything from workplace assessments to career coaching plans, through clear communication and open, honest dialogue.

To deliver an effective psychological contract and enhance DEIB in the workplace, employers need to remember three things:

1. One size fits one

Everybody is unique and special in their own way. By creating an atmosphere where employees feel empowered to celebrate their differences, businesses set themselves on a path to be able to attract talent from all walks of life.

Taking simple steps to understand their employees' via a psychological contract can make a huge difference. For many, this may be the first point in their career that their path is being mapped out based on individual requirements rather than a job title.

It creates the conversation for people to say ‘actually that’s not my learning style’ and ‘I prefer feedback in this format’. It means businesses can tap into areas of an employee’s reserve that neither party may have known was previously there, ultimately boosting their productivity.

2. Don’t make assumptions

The rise in remote working has made jobs more accessible, with 1.5 million more disabled people now in employment than in 2013. However, office workers are still more likely to hide their disabilities to avoid potential discrimination, when they should instead feel empowered to have their needs recognised and honoured.

In a similar vein, it can be said that while not everyone may celebrate Christmas, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be invited to the Christmas party. In other words, it’s about opening a two-way dialogue and empowering employees to define their being in a way that’s personal to them, and not based on stereotypes or assumptions.

Therefore, managers need to show that they are a safe pair of hands for an employee whether or not they wish to disclose certain things. This can be achieved in various ways and should begin as early as the interview – from demonstrating accommodations made for other employees, to asking those important questions from day one.

3. Allow for compromise

For a psychological contract to be truly effective, it must be remembered that they aren’t set in stone and are instead the start of an ever-changing process; something affected by powers both internal and external to your business.

Psychological contracts are a fundamental tool to understand thought processes and motivations – two things that will never be the same for everyone – and there must be an element of ‘give and take’.

Personally, I’ve seen it countless times when one party goes out of their way to accommodate the other, it can generate long-term loyalty and foster a more inclusive workplace.

By taking steps to understand individual motivations you are not only bolstering DEIB, but also demonstrating and instilling values into your employees to create a more human, flexible workplace.

The ongoing uncertainty in the workplace and our daily lives only adds to the level of support employees may need from their managers.

Ultimately, people will feel more included if they know that their needs and those of their peers are being considered. All of this culminates in making the psychological contract one of the most useful tools in your DEIB arsenal, acting as a key differentiator when attracting and retaining talent.

Lisa Stone is senior consultant at Right Management