We are expecting

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About the author: Astrid Reichel is full professor and head of the HRM group at the University of Salzburg, Austria. You can contact her at astrid.reichel@sbg.ac.at

Most people spend their careers in relationships… as employees with their employers. In the European Union about 85% of the working population is employed. The vast majority of people worldwide spend their working lives in organizations, many in very few, some even in only one organization. These relationships are characterized by mutual expectations. What organizations expect from their employees and what type of employment relationship they have in mind is highly relevant for career decisions individuals make. This is of course true for singular decisions concerning a specific work relationship (Do I apply for this job or not?…) but also on aggregate. The sum of expectations organizations, especially big, international organizations, communicate depict employment trends that shape which investments (pre-)career actors assess as worthy for their future career development (What do I study? What training do I chose? Do I invest time in volunteering? …).

The terms and conditions of employment relationships are captured in contracts. The frame (time, place, areas of responsibility, income) for the employment relationship between individual and organization is set in the formal employment contract. This contract, however, is inherently incomplete because of bounded rationality, incomplete information and the fact that human resources are inextricably linked with human beings. Because we cannot predict the future it is impossible to specify each and every potential future situation with the respective most appropriate course of action and write that down in very long contract. Also, the employers and sometimes the employees themselves do not have full information of what they actually could do. Plus, the use of the employee’s potential for the good of the organization is dependent on the employee’s will and ability to mobilize this potential.

This incomplete employment contract is thus complemented by a psychological contract, which sums up beliefs regarding the terms and conditions of the reciprocal exchange agreement over and above the formal contract. It represents all mutual expectations between the organization and the employee but not only actual – also potential future employees. Communication from employers (e.g., employer branding messages, job announcements) shape beliefs about expected employment relationships. Employers signal which attitudes and behaviors they expect to see from their (future) employees and what they are willing to offer in return. Psychological contracts can be mainly transactional, capturing short term, extrinsic, quid-pro-quo relationships (skills for money), relational, longer term, based on socio-emotional and cultural features (trust, fairness, loyalty) or ideological, providing and committing to a valued cause.

In an attempt to grasp the expectations and the nature of relationships organizations signal to (potential) employees, and to get an idea about currents trends in work relationships we analyzed 13.340 employer branding messages found on the Facebook career pages of 30 major multinational companies headquartered in the US, UK, and Germany. Integrating text-mining techniques and coding based on Grounded Theory we found the following.

Overall the dominant relationship offered was a relational one. Organizations tend to emphasize development opportunities for their future employees and try to create a feeling of wanting to belong. In order to spark this feeling in their employer branding messages the organizations showcase the positive experiences of those who are already part of this “in-group” of organizational members. They portray selected employees’ exciting work experiences or the lifestyle that comes with working for the organization. For future employees these messages hint at expectations about willingness to continuously learn and develop competencies and about readiness for full commitment and “bringing their whole self to work”.

Messages signaling a transactional relationship expect certificates proving formal education. They mainly offer workplace safety by showing respective company sites and business processes. Monetary rewards are hardly mentioned in employer branding messages.

When it comes to ideological contents organizations commonly offer nothing less than changing the world for the better by showing how their products themselves or at least philanthropic use of the money earned makes the world a better place. The terms “women” and “diversity” are very often found in the messages stressing the high relevance of signaling equal opportunities for traditionally disadvantaged groups.

While there are clearly general trends we also found home-country specificities like a strong focus on giving veterans a chance (ideological) in the US and a much stronger focus on expected formal education in Germany and UK headquartered organizations than in US companies.

Findings are based on the working paper:

Ellmer, Markus, Naderer, Sebastian T., Reichel, Astrid (2018). What do MNCs promise to their (future) employees? An analysis of employer branding messages of 30 major MNCs on Facebook

Further readings:

Rosseau, D. M., & McLean Parks, J. (1993). The contract of individuals and organizations. Research in Organizational Behavior, 15, 1–43.

Thompson, J. A., & Bunderson, J. S. (2003). Violations of principle: Ideological currency in the psychological contract. Academy of Management Review, 28(4), 571–586.

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