Psychological Contracts and Employment Equity Practices: A Comparative Study

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ABSTRACT

Organisations in South Africa are facing numerous challenges related to the implementation of employment equity strategies. While compliance with the relevant legislation is imperative, the successful implementation of employment equity initiatives hinges on the organisation's ability to change the expectations of employees affected by employment equity initiatives, without negatively impacting on aspects of the employment relationship such as the psychological contract. The purpose of this exploratory study is to assess the extent to which the perceived influence of employment equity practices is related to the psychological contract and intention to leave in a sample of black and white male managers. A structured questionnaire comprising standardised scales was used to explore the relationship between types of psychological contract, intention to leave, and the perceived influence of employment equity practices. A sample of 55 respondents from a financial-services organisation participated in the study. A number of statistically significant relationships between the research variables were evident for each of the two groups of respondents. This study makes an initial contribution to an area potentially rich in research opportunities, with subsequent meaningful practical implications for managers implementing employment equity strategies.

INTRODUCTION

In 1998, the Employment Equity Act (EEA) was passed in the South African parliament. The EEA (Republic of South Africa, 1998) serves to redress past discriminatory employment practices in SouthAfrica and to provide equal opportunities for all race groups, women and the disabled. More specifically, the purpose of the EEA is "to achieve equity in the workplace by promoting equal opportunity and fair treatment in employment through the elimination of unfair discrimination; and implementing affirmative action measures to redress the disadvantages in employment experienced by designated groups, in order to ensure their equitable representation in all occupational categories and levels in the workforce." (Republic of SouthAfrica, 1998: 12). All organisations are required by law to adhere to the non-discriminatory provisions of the EEA and are subject to penalties should they not comply. Furthermore, designated organisations are required to introduce affirmative action measures. Given the stipulations of the EEA, it can be argued that it is fair for organisations to provide opportunities to designated groups (women, the disabled and black people, namely Africans, Asians and Coloureds) ahead of previously advantaged groups, in particular, white males. In practice, the preferential provision of opportunities to previously disadvantaged groups means that white males could be overlooked for promotional and employment opportunities. Thus, we propose that the EEA has the potential to influence the mutual expectations of the parties (employers and employees) involved in the employment contract.

The 'psychological contract' can be defined as an individual's beliefs about the reciprocal and mutual obligations between him/herself and his/her employer (Rousseau, 1990). The contract is perceived as being mutual and implicit (Thomas and Anderson, 1998). The psychological contract, in its traditional and generic form, is the employee's beliefs that he/she owes the employer hard work, loyalty and long-term tenure, while in return the employer owes him/her job security, job satisfaction and market-related pay (Rousseau, 1990). Studies of the psychological contract have found that the psychological contract influences job satisfaction, organisational commitment, a sense of organisational security, employment relations, motivation, organisational citizenship, and the intention of employees to leave the organisation (Guest, 1998).

Most employees develop a positive and enduring psychological bond with their organisation, based on a pattern of expectations about what that organisation should offer them. …