Lower level workers, earning on a low salary band and with limited formal education, form the largest part of the South African workforce today. Organisations are to an extent dependent on these workers, since they provide organisations with readily available and affordable labour as well as perform essential jobs at the ‘bottom of the hierarchy’. Lower-echelon workers, as they are referred to in this study, should therefore be regarded as valuable human resources by their employers as they are essential to the business’ success. Organisations should see it as vital to be aware of and understand the needs of these employees. The needs and expectations of lower-echelon employees as well as what they are willing to do for the organisation, are enclosed in the phenomenon called the “psychological contract”. In as much as it is true that organisations should be aware of it, literature searches revealed that little research had been previously conducted on specifically lower-echelon employees and their psychological contracts.
An understanding of the psychological contract is crucial in defining the nature of the relationship between organisations and their employees. This can eliminate incorrect interpretations of tasks, increase job performance, reduce workforce turnover and increase job satisfaction for both management and lower-echelon workers.
The purpose of this study was to determine and understand the content of the psychological contract from the perspective of lower-echelon employees and to determine what managers believe its content to be. Specifically the lower-echelon employees’ expectations from and perceived obligations towards their organisation were assessed in relation to what their managers believe their expectations and obligations to be.
A qualitative study was conducted with focus groups being conducted with lower-echelon employee participants and individual interviews with managers. A qualitative research design allowed the researcher to gain an in-depth understanding of the psychological contract content of lower-echelon employees and to what extent their managers are aware of that content.
A representative sample of lower-echelon employees consisted of 18 employees working in the hospitality industry. These participants participated in three similar focus groups held at different time intervals. Also, a purposefully selected sample of five managers who had a working relationship with the lower-echelon employees, partook in individual semi-structured interviews. Both the focus groups and interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed and coded as themes emerged.
The results indicated that managers do not have a thorough understanding of the psychological contract content as it pertains specifically to lower-echelon employees. A discrepancy was found in the expectations and obligations of lower-echelon employees and what managers perceive it to be. Further incongruity was found in respect of how management rank the level of importance that these lower-level workers attach to the elements of their psychological contracts. Managers assume that money is the main expectation and driving factor behind their psychological contract agreement with the organisation. This was disproved by the findings of this study. It was moreover revealed that managers totally underestimate the value that employees attach to recognition and acknowledgement. Managers also seem to expect less from employees than what these employees are willing to do for the organisation.
Dissertation (MCom)--University of Pretoria, 2014.