According to a writer who recently contacted me about an article for the Sunday newspaper, workplace food theft is becoming a serious issue. Seriously. Apparently, employees are fed up with disappearing donuts and Twinkie tinkering suggesting that maintaining co-worker trust is no picnic.
Of faith and the unfaithful
All joking aside, workplace mistrust is a huge issue that doesn’t stop at the lunchroom door. Some employers take security device salespeople at their word that if employees aren’t ripping off pens they are passing along company secrets or at least stealing time surfing the internet. Now some IT departments have become defacto gestapo operations tracking suspicious e-mail messages and monitoring access to internet sleaze.
Instead of having faith that hiring processes screen for mostly decent people that can be trusted, organizations develop policies that suggest most people CAN’T be trusted.
Would you tell employees you are contemplating a layoff? They might bail out before you lower the guillotine, or worse yet, they might sabotage computer data! You have to tell them everything’s okay and pretend life is normal all the way to the point where you send them packing. And if they leave voluntarily, even if they give notice, the policy says to terminate them immediately just to be safe.
Who can you trust?
Not surprisingly, the trust door swings both ways. Larkin and Larkin, a firm that studies communications in organizations, points out that employees trust their first-line supervisors most. After that, the employee-manager trust curve resembles a luge run with executives planted firmly at the bottom. In fact, 20 to 50 percent of core workers say they don’t believe their senior leaders tell them the truth.
Whether it be spin, mental reservations, half-truths, or lies, employees don’t like it. They would rather take their medicine straight—forget the sugar, or Splenda for that matter.
Don’t want to get fired two weeks before quitting? Plenty of employees don’t feel they can trust management to NOT fire them before they’re ready to leave, so they keep hush about the new job until just before jumping ship.
Employees checking out a job across town rarely tell the boss. They’re afraid that if it doesn’t pan out the boss will hold it against them the next time they are up for a pay raise.
Is there a cost to all these shenanigans? Obviously, workers who leave without notice can disrupt production. Employees reacting to what they think executives know but aren’t saying could make decisions that seriously hurt the business.
I’m not so naive as to believe there aren’t at least a few ne’er-do-wells that may have slipped through the selection process. I just wonder if anybody really considers what it feels like to be treated like one before slapping the label on the entire workforce.
And does anybody look at the action-reaction effect when employees feel lied to, or mistrusted?
We hear that quality is free, but what does it cost to build trust?
TRYING IT ON FOR FIT:
Assess your policies and practices to see whether they build trust or mistrust. Consider the following questions in your assessment. 1) What’s the likelihood that the problem will occur, or recur, without a policy or some action? 2) How significant would be the impact on the organization if the problem should occur? 3) Can the issue be managed locally, or must it be addressed organization-wide? 4) How would I feel if I was a target of this policy or management action? 5) What are the actions employees might take as a result of the policy or management action? 6) Is there a way to address the problem to build greater employee trust? 7) What do others do to gain my trust and how might I apply those principles? 8) What concerns do I have about how others might respond to the truth? 9) How would I respond if I were those targeted? Send an e-mail and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!
Kevin Herring is co-author of ‘Practical Guide for Internal Consultants’, and President of Ascent Management Consulting, Ltd., a firm specializing in performance turnarounds of work groups and business units.