Why a new psychological contract is needed to create change in the workplace

At first hybrid work may feel like a progressive step forward. But, in reality, a model in which all employees have a set number of days in the office is, at best, short-sighted, and, at worst, inflexible with employers clinging desperately to an old model of the world.

There is an opportunity for organisations to strike a new deal with their people that enables improved outcomes for the individual, the team, the shareholder and society.

At the heart of this new deal will need to be a new psychological contract that takes into account the pandemic’s impact on employees, their expectations and needs, and the effect of the upheaval and change.

The new arrangements will push more responsibility for effective self management to the individual, who will need to proactively manage the trust their colleagues place in them and the relationships they have with colleagues and their leaders.

It will also require leaders to evolve to a more transformational model of leadership in which they set clear goals and provide support for their employees, acting more as a coach than a supervisor.  

Adapting to the new normal:

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Putting mental health first

We resist change because it disrupts our natural patterns. The brain is programmed to protect us from the unknown, scanning our environment for new threats.

In the short term, then, employers will need to manage the transition to new working models with care.

If they want employees to spend any time in the office, a new psychological contract must factor in every individual’s perception of risk, which depends on numerous factors including health, age, background and more.  

The virus is still a threat despite the vaccine rollout, with new variants forcing the government to postpone ‘Freedom Day’. As a result, employers should be asking themselves one crucial question: does the value of going to the office outweigh the risk of travelling on public transport?


Managing new expectations and behaviours

Longer term, employers will need to draw up new working arrangements that take into account where and how people want to work in the future, and the various ways that pandemic has shifted their expectations.

Organisations that choose to transition to more flexible working models will require their leaders at all levels to facilitate new conversations with their people.

These conversations must marry the personal and professional needs of the individual with  the needs of the team and company priorities.

All of these conversations need to be placed within a framework that allows consistency across the organisation to enable a sense of fairness.

The creation of new working together agreements must be facilitated by leaders and teams, nailing down the details of how they will all work together. It’s all about easing the transition into a new working model, and these agreements will be the first step in building both confidence and consensus.


Andrew Mawson is founder of Advanced Workplace Associates