When Workplace Trust Becomes Inevitable

Jonny, an ambitious young man got a job in a travel and tours agency eight years after graduation from the university. Upon resumption, he was assigned to head a new department created by management of the company. He set out to deliver his best in his new found employment.
  Initially, everything appeared to be working out fine, but in a matter of time he realised that the conduct of the chief executive officer was far afield from the company’s policies. He noticed that there was high dishonesty from the boss, harassment of female colleagues, and high gossip environment encouraged by the boss.
  He also observed there was divide and rule structure – situation where staff are being set up to fight themselves. In addition, the company suffered from weak decision making units, and misappropriation of funds amongst others.
  These issues resulted to high employee turnover in the company and in just six months, 60 percent of the employee had resigned. A cumulative of these unresolved issues made Jonny felt his position was threatened and decided to quit the job even when there was no alternative.
  Worried by the high rate of employees’ turnover, management of the company set up a committee to look into the allegations of harassment and misconduct. The situation was such that Even if the allegations were true, there was no amount of persuasion and appeal by management that would restore employees’ confidence that the event will not reoccur again.
  For workplace experts, the key ingredient that will restore employee's confidence in the above scenario is management's daily conduct that would engender trust in all levels of the organisation.
  Trust is very crucial for organisational success and a perceived damage to it can have far reaching consequences on the growth of an establishment. In today’s workplace, there have been crises of trust, which, according to workplace experts, have been caused by two common factors – globalisation and recurring economic recessions, with the latter being  adjudged as having the most impact in creating chaos in organisations.
  A professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, United States, Jerald Robinson, argues that globalisation has damaged the social contract in the workplace – an element that for decades was a magnetic force attracting employees and employers.
  He observed that during the last 25 years fewer companies have been able to uphold their contractual responsibilities, noting that businesses have suddenly closed and/or transferred operations offshore while affected employees feel damaged.
  Moreso, the impact of the global economic recession has resulted to job losses, financial and credit crunch and leading to enormous challenges for human resource practitioners across the globe. The situation is not different in Nigeria where job losses in the country have more than doubled in the last few years, with figures jumping as high as 25 percent (World Bank report) though analysts believe the figure may be higher.
  Virtually all sectors of the nation’s economy are undergoing what could be described as an endless season of job losses. From the manufacturing sector to telecoms down to the oil and even the financial services sector, the story is the same. It is job cuts resulting from either restructuring, transformation strategy, or downsizing/rightsizing. The bitter truth is that employers are cutting jobs on daily basis in a bid to cut costs. In the process, the very underpinnings of trust were upended.
According to Robinson, in businesses affected by globalisation and more recently by a global downturn, employees who remain after a downsising feel taken advantage of because they have had to pick up additional work — and at times at reduced pay.
  He said: “Yes, they have a job, but the trust level has been significantly reduced."
  Today, studies show that one-third of working Americans plan to look for a new job when the economy gets better and, of this group, 48 percent cite a loss of trust in their employer as the reason. This figure might even be higher in Nigeria especially when you factor that Nigeria labour laws are hardly adhered to by employers and hardly implemented by regulators.
  Rebuilding trust
Trust is a critical issue because it is at the very foundation of any organisation, government or business. To this end, organisational leaders must be seen as people that can be trusted, so that their respective institutions can have a motivated work force and uphold a team approach to business operations.
Many experts often argue that trust is perhaps the most important element of a harmonious and effective work environment. Organisations that have trust among employees are usually successful while those that do not perform below par.
Michelle and Dennis Reina co-authors of "Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace: Seven Steps to Renew Confidence, Commitment, and Energy” observed that a leader’s vision and objectives are irrelevant if employees are not ready to embrace change, if they are not confident, committed and engaged, and if they lack the energy and passion to work together to create results. Those qualities they say and many more, require trust.
  “Our research has shown that nine of every 10 employees experience some kind of breach of trust in the workplace on a regular basis. When trust erodes, morale declines, performance plummets and employees become disengaged and leave. We believe that trust-building behaviors are linked to strategic business results," adding that change in itself does not necessarily break trust but how it is managed that causes uncertainty and often leads people to question the intentions of their leaders.
  Citing example of a recent University of British Columbia report, where economists found that trust in management is the most valued determinant of job satisfaction, they stated that a small increase in trust of management is like getting a 36 percent pay increase. Conversely, they added that if that same amount of trust is lost, the decline in employee job satisfaction is like taking a 36 percent pay cut.
  Speaking further, they maintained that organisations with trustworthy management do not experience the high cost of turnover. “Their employees stay”.
“Trust makes organisations work. In a trusting environment, employees have more energy, take risks, innovate more frequently, collaborate with co-workers, are responsible, treat customers better and drive business results. Simply put, organizations that foster trust are more profitable.
A Watson Wyatt Worldwide study found that organizations in which front-line employees trusted senior leadership posted a 42 percent higher return on shareholder investment than those firms in which distrust was the norm.
“These examples point to the value of a trusting environment and the competitive advantage it yields. Yet, trust is complex and hard to earn. There is only one thing that builds trust: the way people behave. To earn and sustain trust, leaders must become aware of the behaviours that build and break trust — and know how to rebuild it again and again,” they added.
  Though studies suggest that repairing trust should be a collective process across all levels of an organisation, supported by HR policies and practices, it is not enough simply for leaders to apologise for past mistakes – they need to ensure 'buy-in' from everyone else by showing their determination to learn from past mistakes.
  While management has a key role to play in re-establishing trust between staff and leaders, it is also important for employees to demonstrate their faith in the ability of management to rebuild trust in the workplace.
  Similarly, Stephen Paskoff, in his article titled “Restoring Workplace Trust” ephasised that “restoring broken trust is based on behavior, not words, slogans or talking points." This, he argued is because trust is breached by actions, it takes other key actions to repair it. These, according to him involve ongoing daily leadership behaviors which become the customary routine way things are done.
  “Trust is based on telling the truth, following through on commitments, and explaining when there are changes in plans or, for that matter, errors. Encouraging individuals to raise concerns and listening and responding with appreciation rather than retaliation when they do is also vital. Behaviors which demonstrate and spread these standards are the keys to restoring trust”.
  He listed some specific leadership actions which have to be taken for trust to take root. He noted that the actions apply to current governmental crises of trust as well as to those affecting other organizations. He added that “they extend to every person in an organization who has an influence over others”. These underlisted leadership actions are culled from
  First, leaders have to model key trustworthy behavior in their daily conduct. The more visible a leader, the more devastating the impact when he/she violates basic standards. Everyone in an organization watches leaders. How they act is seen as a measure of how to perform and what's acceptable. Individuals learn to appreciate that behaviors like honesty, and other valued standards, are important when leaders practice them daily.
  Second, leaders have to talk about the importance of trust and those actions which build it. If leaders only model key behaviors, some may see them as optional rather than necessary behavioral standards. Messages can be sincere but if they're delivered infrequently or annually they'll often be either forgotten or ignored. Here, constancy and sincerity trump canned eloquence.
  Third, leaders have to act when they see others engaging in conduct that violates organizational standards which build trust. If they don't, the message they'll communicate is: "We'll talk about stuff, but all we're going to do is talk." Conversely, when individuals do an outstanding job, their actions need to be appreciated, complimented and rewarded.
  Fourth, no matter how committed an organization is to building trustworthy operations and maintaining its values, problems will arise. Often the earliest and best way to find out about them is when individuals inside the organization report concerns. But absent extraordinary courage or frustration individuals won't come forward if they believe they will suffer harm if they do.
> To counter such fears, leaders have to continually encourage individuals to come forward with problems and listen carefully, non-judgmentally, and with appreciation when they do. How even small concerns and ideas are handled will determine how comfortable individuals feel about raising large, potentially serious matters.

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