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An exploration of graduate trainee’s perceptions of their psychological contract in a South African organisation.

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While research on the Psychological Contract has received much attention in aiding a better understanding of employment arrangements, few empirical studies have sought to understand how Graduate employees in their first year of employment create their psychological contract using Schema Theory as the Theoretical Framework particularly in the context of South Africa. To address this, the aim of the present study sought to understand the pre-entry expectations that Graduate Trainees held about employer-employee obligations and the extent to which these expectations informed how they experienced their psychological contract within the first year of joining the Nestlé Future Talent (NFT) Graduate Development Programme in a South African-based organisation (Nestlé South Africa). In doing so, the study adopted a qualitative research approach, rooted within an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) paradigm. Six Graduate Trainees were purposively sampled from the company’s Graduate Development Programme and in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant. These interviews were individually audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed using the six stages of IPA. From the research findings the following five themes emerged: (1) Graduate Trainee’s pre-entry expectation of employers, (2) Graduate Trainees’ perceptions of anticipated Employer’s expectations of them, (3) Graduate Trainees’ post-entry experiences in Nestlé South Africa, (4) Graduate Trainees’ socialisation processes and sources of information and (5) Graduate Trainee’s perceptions of unmet expectations. Findings revealed that Graduates Trainees held a rudimentary anticipatory psychological contract shaped by social and professional norms before being hired into the company’s graduate development programme. The findings also suggest that pre-entry encounters with the organisation in the form of campus recruitment initiatives seem to shape organisation-specific expectations in which some graduates note how information gleaned from these initiatives seemed to be inconsistent when compared with their experiences of employment since joining the organisation. Another finding, spoke to Graduate Trainees early encounters with Senior Graduates in the business and revealed the complex cognitive process of sense-making in which they sought information to better understand themselves as novice employees hired in the same graduate development programme.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.