All about the emotional contract

All about the emotional contract
Posted by: Guy on 04/09/2006 10:21:05

Recruitment Issues "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on".

A great quote from the late Samuel Goldwyn, but don't pay too much attention to it if you are serious about recruiting. The market is too competitive, recruitment mistakes too expensive, staff turnover is too costly to ignore the promises made at interview as soon as someone starts work.

Good recruitment is not about short term fixes, but long term development. Blackburn Rovers spent millions buying in players who quickly moved on, Manchester United rarely buy in anyone from outside, preferring to grow their own and integrate a few selected players into the team. I don't have to ask who got it right.

I have always said that recruitment is an inexact science. Things are getting better, however, as clients realise that what makes it so difficult is generally a lack of candidates. And bad employers might find that shortage more acute than others.

Decent candidates do not steadfastly refuse to put themselves on the market, but they might just refuse to make themselves available to you.
It therefore makes sense to save everyone a lot of time by ensuring that what you have on offer is what good employees want.

Oh, and when you've offered it, you have to deliver time and again. All the old adages about dissatisfied customers telling more people about their woes than satisfied customers apply to employees, but double them.

And you know the single most important factor in determining happiness at work?

Not money, not career prospects, not job satisfaction.

It is culture.

Or rather it is cultural fit. Do I want the same things from a job that my employer is prepared to give me? Do they see the world as I see it and do we share a common belief? Do I buy into their goals and aspirations? Do I want to work for them?

And do you know the single most quoted reason for a new recruit not lasting long - what was promised at interview never materialised. And most often out of that are the intangibles - "we are a people company", "there are plenty of chances of promotion", "you will be given all the support necessary to do the job", "you need a life outside of work".

It has been dubbed the Emotional Contract. The implicitly agreed pointers to culture in the company. Terms that are too vague to be legally binding, but indicate the way that people are expected to work, how they develop, how they interact. If you break it they may not have recourse in law (yet), but they will vote with their feet. Especially the ones you really want to keep, the ones with the "get up and go". Lie to them and they will get up and go before you even realise what you've done.

Recognise the Market

The recruitment market is not like the stock market - although some recruiters will have you believe that. Even worse, some will believe that themselves.

Unlike a stock, candidates can decide not to join their potential new master (rather annoyingly at times) and in the days of high employment they can be very picky about who they choose.

Even when they have bought the dream, if the culture is totally wrong then the placement will last at best for a few months, sometimes only days. And it is happening more.

Take a recent example - we placed two candidates with the same client. Excellent background, perfect fit. Because of very good but badly timed reasons, they had to restructure pay packages for their sales staff within the first three months. They were within the law, no doubt, but they had broken that thread of implied trust before it had been really tested. Both left within a week.
What a waste of everyone's time, money, and above all, their credibility.

Conversely there are other companies we know well who are frankly very demanding to work for. The difference is that they know it, recognise it and are honest about it. When they recruit someone, however, it often lasts a long time because everyone knows what are getting into, and they self select themselves. Early on in the recruitment process they put off anyone that will not be able to stomach them.

The future

Things are changing. Recruitment has become far more scientific, but if you study the figures, it has become far less successful. That is because Psychometric tests, Intelligence and Ability tests are all very well, but if you don't match the cultures then much recruitment will fail, and some of the rest will be ineffective.

There are now products and systems on the market that attempt to match people with companies that suit them. Success rates can be very high and help the company to be far more productive.

It will take a major change, however, for our industry to take this on board. For employers to put themselves under the microscope as much as those they seek to recruit.

As the employment relationship continues to develop far more into a two way relationship, sought after candidates are simply not gullible enough to buy all the hot air that comes out in advertising and at interview. They want to be convinced that you see things the way they do, and that you will give them the opportunities they want.

It is now quite normal for candidates to take out references on clients, to do their own background checks before accepting a job. Quite right too, we encourage it - what harm can it possibly do? Why should references be a one way process? If you expect a candidate to give you a truthful picture of their background (in some cases it is a criminal offence to lie on your CV) then you might just feel it reasonable to give them the same consideration.

After all, they want to feel comfortable with your culture. They want to make sure that the Employment and the Emotional Contracts agreed at interview are going to stick. And why not?

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