Psychological contracts

What is a Psychological Contract?

The most common notion of it is: the implicit promises (expectations and inferences) within relationships. It is a 2-way contract "locking you into the dynamic" (Conway & Briner, 2009).

How is it Established?

As it is based on expectations it can start to be established long before two people meet (i.e. it could be influenced by what has been heard about the other or the place they work etc). It is not a static thing. There is ongoing re-negotiation of the psychological contract.

What Happens when there is a Psychological Contract Breach?

When an implicit contract is broken there is likely to be an emotional response (e.g. feeling let down/threatened). This may well lead to a shift in how the person that feels there has been a breach contributes to the relationship (e.g. withdrawing, discussing breach) which feeds back into the dynamic.

Do we want to stop Psychological Contract Breaches?

No. That is not possible. Broken implicit promises are bound to happen in all relationships. What matters is the repair after the rupture.

So, why do we use written Psychological Contracts?

One way to try and manage a psychological contract is to make the implicit, explicit e.g. by writing down expectations. However, research from organisational psychology has shown that this can lead to a greater sense of broken promises.

So, how can we use Psychological Contracts most effectively during training and should they be mandatory?

The advantage of making psychological contracts mandatory is that it indicates to trainees and supervisors the importance that we place on thinking about the supervisory relationship. The challenge is avoiding it becoming another tick box exercise.

Ideas to keep the Psychological Contract 'live'

  • Change the Medium - recording a conversation about the psychological contract in supervision at some point between the beginning of placement and MPV.
  • Change the Timing when requested - trainees/supervisor to share with the visiting tutor at MPV so the focus can be looking at how the contract has changed over time (rather than it being a static document)
  • Develop prompt questions that focus on reviewing the psychological contract - e.g. What has worked well in the supervisory relationship? What would we like to be different? When have there been ruptures/misunderstandings/challenges to the relationship? Have we been able to repair these and if so, how? What could we try in future?
  • Change placement contract - have a tick box on the placement contract that says a psychological contract has been produced and review times booked in
  • Change PAF - include space for trainee to reflect on psychological contract
  • Using an evaluative tool (e.g. the Leeds Supervisory Alliance Scale) - using this regularly in supervision could help to keep the conversation alive about the relationship/psychological contract

Issues to Consider

Do we as course staff need to know the 'details' of any psychological contract? Is it enough to know that those conversations are taking place?

Sample psychological contract