All of my company’s clients, that is, 100% of them, are attorneys. Although I am a psychologist, I have spent far more time during my career with attorneys than with my colleagues in psychology. Early in my career as a trial/jury consultant, I learned the expression, “quid pro quo” from one of the attorneys with whom I worked on a regular basis. “Quid pro quo” is defined as “an equal exchange.” In laypersons’ terms, it means, “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” Or, in social psychological terms, quid pro quo is the law of reciprocity, meaning that, if I do something nice for someone, the law of reciprocity dictates this person will do something nice for me sometime. Unfortunately, most of the employees who have worked for my partner and me do not have a basic understanding of quid pro quo and the law of reciprocity. All too often, they expect to be given things, including time off, bonuses, free meals, etc. but when it comes to doing something for my partner and me, the tables quickly turn. We recently had a noisy neighbor with a barking dog near our office and it was impossible for me to work as a result of all the noise. Upon contacting animal control about the problem, I was told everyone in our office needed to write a letter to the county prosecutor to explain how the dog was causing lost productivity in our workplace. Instead of rising to the occasion to help me, the owner of the company (who was having to work at home due to the noise), two of our employees refused to help, saying they did not care in the least if I was disturbed and unable to work. Wow! And these were the same employees who had been given many things, tangible and intangible, by my partner and me. Needless to say, the law of reciprocity does not apply to everyone, but life is difficult when people do not play by the customary rules within our culture.
Quid pro quo typically is a 1 to 1 exchange – and sometimes it is understood in a negative context of sexual harassment or even public corruption. But, it is not really a negative concept especially in the broader sense of the law of reciprocity. I suppose the issue is that such laws of reciprocity are not, in fact, laws, but rather cultural or generational norms. In the case Melissa described, the 2 employees were different from us both in culture and generation. I would like to attribute our experience in that situation to these factors or just to these 2 individuals. But, I’m not sure. I am afraid that perhaps it is largely a generational norm and perhaps a lack of experience that caused them not to realize that they needed to help us in ways perhaps different than we had helped them, but to our mutual benefit and gain. For employees not to “watch the boss’ back” is a serious problem. For employees who had been given not only a chance at employment, but over their time with us, been given other things beyond a paycheck (e.g., excursions when traveling, gift certificates, or other presents, etc.), their behavior was shocking. The realization that reciprocity was not an understood “law” was disappointing. It is not as if those “gifts” were given to get something in return; they were not. But, when in an employment situation an employer provides more than just a paycheck, employees should reciprocate and help where they can. For employers the message is, unfortunately, perhaps we cannot expect such reciprocation. For employees, consider the big picture, your career success depends on more than doing only what is in your job description.
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