Talent Retention

What most employers miss in their contracts with their employees

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit
November 17, 2022
11 min read

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He left a job he loved because of a Slurpee.  

Mark* was a talented IT professional who was loved and appreciated by his coworkers and provided a valuable service to the organization. Many in leadership had expressed how grateful they were to have him on the team, and he always seemed happy in his role.  

 So, when he announced he had accepted an offer to work for a competitor, it was a shock to all of us. We knew he had career aspirations and were working with him on identifying some growth opportunities through his current role, but none of us knew he was so close to leaving.  

When I asked him why he had taken this new role, I was expecting to hear about a juicy compensation offer or an exciting opportunity for advancement, but it turns out it was a lateral move. His reason for pursuing this opportunity? His manager (the COO) was a no-show for their one-to-one and, on his way back to his office, Mark saw the COO parking his car with a Slurpee in hand. The message Mark received was that the COO’s Slurpee was more important than his one-to-one with him.  

Most of us have had similar things happen in our work or personal lives. We hear words like, “It was the last straw,” or “out of nowhere” someone does something drastic or responds in an uncharacteristic way. In Mark’s case, he didn’t leave a job he loved because of a Slurpee. Mark left because the “psychological contract” with his leader was broken. 

What is a psychological contract?  

A psychological contract refers to "individuals’ expectations, beliefs, ambitions, and obligations, as perceived by the employer and the worker.” Unlike the legal employment contract, where the exact terms of the agreements are clearly itemized, defined, described, and signed by both parties, the psychological contract is often implicit, inferred and assumed. Examples of what may be included in a psychological contract are: job security, career growth opportunities, perceived fairness, and trust.  

To explore this concept in more depth, I reached out to Dr. Laura Hambley, Work & Career Psychologist, speaker, author and thought leader for insights on this topic.

“Every single employee has a psychological agreement in place. They have certain expectations for what they need to give and do in their job for their employer, and in return, what they will get and receive in return. These unwritten expectations are not in the actual employment contract yet are important to the person. They're more subjective.” 

“They’re more subjective.”  So, in addition to ensuring that we’re fulfilling the legal aspects of our employment agreement, we also need to know what’s happening in employees’ minds – a feat challenging enough for the savviest of leaders but made more challenging when many of us are working in remote or hybrid organizations.  

In a co-located work environment, we can often get more clues as to how a person is feeling about their work. We may notice that they are socializing more or less, or even notice changes in physical appearance. But, in hybrid or distributed environments, we don’t have the same access to observable data that can support awareness of what’s happening at a psychological level, which means the leader needs to be even more intentional in attending to what the “subjective” experience is for their employees.  

What leaders can do to support their team

As a pioneering researcher in the study of leadership capabilities in distributed and remote environments, Dr. Hambley had the following suggestions for leaders: 

  1. Understand the person and what they need and expect from work. To retain talent, you need to have open dialogue beyond annual performance reviews. 
  2. Ask the person what motivates them and what de-motivates them.  

  3. When you have a virtual meeting, shut off all notifications from email or Slack and put your phone away. Do everything you can to ensure you are completely present and focused on the person in front of you.   

  4. Ask questions that will help you to understand what their experience is, how they’re feeling about their job and the relationship they have with you. Some questions to consider: 
    • You’ve been working with us for X years, what would make you want to work here another X years with myself and our team?  
    • What's going well for you? 
    • How are you feeling about the job, the work, your growth, your progression?  
    • What would make you stay here?  
  5. Listen deeply. Listen to the words they’re using, the tone of their voice and seek to understand what they want and desire in their career growth with your company. 

  6. Prioritize making time and keeping appointments. If a meeting needs to move, make it a practice to reschedule and not cancel unless there is very good reason. 
  7. Do what you say you will do. Once trust is damaged, it can be difficult to rebuild, especially remotely.  

  8. Thank, appreciate and recognize the work each employee is doing and ensure every one-to-one has a human focus, in addition to the tasks that need to be attended to. 

  9. Lead and encourage open dialogues when things aren’t going well or if there aren’t opportunities for growth in their role. They may leave, but they will leave speaking positively about your workplace and about you as a leader. “If people feel heard, appreciated and understood, then you've done a fabulous job, whether they stay or go.” 

Attracting and retaining top talent is more important than ever. To learn more about this topic and to hear the full conversation with Dr. Hambley, watch the video below.  

About Dr. Laura Hambley

dr lauraDr. Laura Hambley is a work and career psychologist and thought leader on the evolution of work. She's always been fascinated by how work intersects with life and Ioves to use her expertise to improve organizations and help people thrive. She shares her expertise through keynote speaking, the Where Work Meets LifeTM podcast, strategic career coaching, and writing articles and books. Dr. Laura Hambley was also selected as the Woman of Distinction in Canada in 2014 and received a Canadian Woman of Inspiration Award as a Global Influencer in 2018.

While completing her Doctorate in 2002, she focused on remote leadership and predicted the world of work would change to become more flexible and mobile. Dr. Laura Hambley continues to write and innovate on the topic as a future of work pioneer.

Visit drlaura.live to learn more about Dr. Laura Hambley or connect on LinkedIn

About the author

Candace Giesbrecht | Director, Talent Strategy at Teamit

Candace’s passion for connecting people and building stronger teams and communities has been her “why” for over 20 years. As a Chartered Human Resources Professional, with a social work, mental health and fintech background, she has a large and varied toolbox to draw on to serve clients and to support the pursuit of healthy workplaces and great candidate experiences. She is values-driven and a consummate professional unless you’re with her during an NBA playoff game. She lives in Kelowna, BC with her husband, son, motorbikes and two rescue dogs, Wylie and Lucy.