Doctoral dissertation: Young engineers don't really think about their employer's expectations: if I don't get varied tasks, I'll leave

Posted on 03/12/19.

Roger Nylund will defend his doctoral dissertation on Thursday, 12th of December at the University of Vaasa.

What's in it for me? The question describes well what young engineers think about their rights and obligations towards their employer. This emerges from Roger Nylund's doctoral dissertation in the field of management, where he explored the thoughts of young engineers in relation to their work and their employer from a psychological contract perspective.

“The answers given by the young engineers I interviewed for the study show that they perceive their rights and obligations towards their employer very much from their own point of view. This 'What’s in it for me' thinking is reflected e.g. in the non-commitment rhetoric: 'If I don't get challenges and varied tasks, I'll leave.' On the other hand, they don't usually leave, at least not the company,” says Nylund, who is completing his doctoral dissertation at the University of Vaasa.

Engineers are an important group in a small export-dependent country like Finland. They contribute to building the export industry, which should provide the financial basis of our well-being. Nylund studied young engineers at four major companies in the Vaasa energy cluster.

Challenging tasks mean different things to young engineers and their supervisors

The results showed that the psychological contracts of young engineers were quite unstructured and one-sided. The youths seemed to be committed mainly to their own life projects and had little to say about their employers' expectations of them.

“They were ready to commit to employer companies – at least as long as they were offered variation, challenges and opportunities for development. In practical terms, these concepts are perhaps the most interesting findings of the study,” reveals Nylund.

When young engineers and their supervisors described development and other concepts, the descriptions were, in part, quite opposite. For example, “challenging tasks” seemed to mean to youths that, on the one hand, they would get to perform clearly limited but difficult tasks and, on the other hand, do something that had not been done before. From supervisors' point of view, the same concept meant taking responsibility for an area of expertise that had already been practiced and learned. This seems to be one of the difficulties identified in the study. Another difficulty is that it seems challenging to attract young people to management positions.

“This could probably also be influenced by strengthening psychological contracts,” says Nylund.

Psychological contracts can affect commitment and motivation

The concept of psychological contract refers to the individual's perceptions of the mutual rights and obligations in an employment relationship. It is about the mutual, spoken and silent expectations of the employee and employer towards each other. Fulfilment of expectations affects the employee's commitment and motivation at work, and thus the results of the work and the company. Research shows that many good things, such as motivation and commitment, can be achieved by strengthening psychological contracts. This is in the interest of both the individual and the employer organisation.

Earlier research on psychological contracts started in America and has spread around the world. The concept has been studied most in the public and service sectors. Psychological contracts have proven to be bound to time, culture and location. They are also dynamic and therefore need to be studied again in different contexts and from the perspective of different personnel groups. According to Nylund's dissertation, there were some differences in the psychological contracts of young Finnish engineers compared to previous studies.

“There seems to be a strong emphasis on autonomy, variation, opportunities for self-development and learning. Challenges appeared to outweigh perceived security. Young people seemed ready to commit, but not necessarily for long,” says Nylund.

Further information

Roger Nylund, tel. +358 50 527 2281, roger.nylund(at)novia.fi

Nylund, Roger (2019) Unga ingenjörers psykologiska kontrakt inom teknologi-industrin: en tematisk analys av drivkrafter, relationer och framtidsvisioner. Acta Wasaensia 433. Doctoral dissertation. The University of Vaasa.

Publication in pdf: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-476-888-7

Details of the doctoral candidate

Roger Nylund was born in the municipality of Pohja, in Western Uusimaa, in 1958. He graduated from Vasa Tekniska läroanstalt as a civil engineer in 1983 and completed a master's degree in philosophy in Åbo Akademi in 2007. In addition, Nylund holds a professional teacher qualification from Tampere University of Applied Sciences, completed in 2009. Nylund has worked in management positions in the prefab house and sawmill industries for about 25 years. He lives in Vaasa and currently works as Head of Degree Programme and International Coordinator at the Yrkeshögskola Novia Technology unit.

Public examination

Master of Philosophy Roger Nylund's doctoral dissertation in the field of management, “Unga ingenjörers psykologiska kontrakt inom teknologi-industrin - en tematisk analys av drivkrafter, relationer och framtidsvisioner” will be examined on Thursday, 12 December 2019 at 12 pm in the Kurtén auditorium of the University of Vaasa main building

The opponent will be Professor Anette Hallin (Åbo Akademi) and the thesis supervisor will be Docent, Associate Professor Niina Koivunen. The public examination will be held in Swedish.

 

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