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Who do you trust?



What does it really mean to trust and does trust have any place at work?  I was involved in a discussion on this topic this morning and I have to say, sat unusually quiet through most of the conversation.

On one side was the premise that the last 18 month has seen employees trust in their organisations decline and that organisations need to work at ways in building that trust back up.  On the other was a view that there are certain things in business that can’t be disclosed, that being open and honest is impossible and people should be grown up enough to accept that.

I’m not entirely sure I agree with either.

I think trust is an intimate emotion.  Trust is when you expose yourself to someone at your most vulnerable and believe, hope that they will not abuse you (well unless you want them to that is…..!).  Trust means you allow someone to do anything to you with the understanding that they will do no harm.  Trust has a blind quality.  Trust suggest a an imbalance of power.

I’m not sure any of those elements fit within a workplace.  Instead I believe in a healthy scepticism

I’m sure there are some organisations out there that are truly happy clappy, where every decision is taken in the best interests of the employees and the business and every day ends with back slapping and mutual masturbation.  Most aren’t like that.

Let’s face it employers need employees and employees need employers.  There is mutual benefit to be achieved.  It is a marriage of convenience.  And as long as neither party is pushing the boundaries too far, we all rub along together nicely (no pun intended).

It’s not about treating people like children, but nor is it about pretending that we are all one big happy family.  It’s about accepting that there is a need for reciprocity.

Personally I neither want to trust or distrust.  Neutral suits me fine.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 04/20/2010 11:20

    Interesting topic HaRolD (see what I did there?). Does neutral suit you as a customer? There is mutual benefit between customers and companies they choose to frequent, but I’d suggest that trust is an important part of that relationship. Personally I think it is the same with the employee/employer relationship. Trust is a critical factor in maintaining a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. Openness and honesty can go hand in hand with not telling staff stuff that is commercially sensitive. Good open and honest communications can help to create a climate where people are grown up enough to accept that there are very good reasons why some things don’t get talked about. Trust breaks down when you go all quiet or try to bullshit people.

  2. 04/20/2010 11:53

    The HR community has been banging on about employee engagement for some time now. Engagement requires an emotional connection. Trust is a fairly fundamental emotion. If there’s no trust there’s no psychological contract between employees and the employer. WIthout that there’s no “extra mile” and no relationship development. I appreciate that most HRDs I seem to meet these days are vassels for the process re-engineers and become de-sensitised to emotions in a similar way to soldiers on the frontline but is this a reflection of how things are or how they should be? The Demming lovers will have us believe that organisations are essentially 80%+ process and little else; that people are drivers of “non conformance” etc etc. So where does all the creativity and emotion go when people hang up their coats at corporate HQ? Are we giving up on loyalty; decency; fairness; ethical bevaviour; empathy etc which all rely on trust to function? I like the maverick stance you normally take, but this post smacks of defeatism and isn’t ringing any of my bells.

  3. Corporate Daycare permalink
    04/20/2010 12:16

    @HRD – This is why your blog is so much better than your “crappy” tweets….

    I do believe that there is a time for situational trust (as in, I trust that my employee will provide me with the paperwork I need to set up their pay), whether it’s an employee or employer, but implicit, undying, and overall trust..? No.

    In the workplace, I like to consider myself as ‘optimistically skeptical’. I want to believe I can trust someone, but I’m not naive enough to think it is a given or can be universally applied. It will have to be earned, proven, and even then, it will probably never hit the 100% mark.

    I believe that employers need to operate in the same manner. As you put it, the employment relationship is a “marriage of convenience”, with (hopefully) both parties benefiting for the circumstance.

    Besides, going with neutral isn’t a bad thing. It’s the in ‘colour” for the Spring of 2010,

  4. McD permalink
    04/20/2010 16:48

    My view is that blind trust and faith from either side is naive. Both parties treating the other in a mature, adult way is a better route to employee engagement. I’m reminded of the quote: “if the gate is open, they’ll stay in the yard,” which is rather cynical but illustrates that if people are treated as grown ups, they’ll have more respect for the employer and be happier to stay. If asked to blindly trust, in a childlike fashion, there is only disappointment ahead. I think it is sensible to remind people not to be too attached, e.g. “Even if you work for someone else, always remember you’re a company of one”. (@jowyang)

    We all bang on about employee engagement, but look at the opposite to this; company engagement. How engaged and committed are companies back to employees when push comes to shove? I agree that there does have to be some trust, but this is best built by being realistic and grown up, not patronising people, and trying not to make promises that won’t be delivered.

  5. Darren Hoey permalink
    04/20/2010 17:48

    Simply Brilliant, I have been pondering, if not trusting some or most of by business colleagues
    was a bad thing. Well, of course it’s not…..I just need to remain objective, as the merecat said……simples , Well Done Mr Awesome 🙂

  6. 04/21/2010 08:21

    @Jon – My new name shall be Harold…..! Open and honest communications are absolutely bob on….but trust? I’m not convinced.

    @Ian Buckingham – Welcome and thanks for commenting. Loyalty; decency; fairness; ethical bevaviour and empathy all got a big tick in my book and I try to exercise them in my everyday life. I still don’t trust everyone I meet though. Why should the workplace be any diffferent?

    @Corporate Daycare – “Optimistically sceptical” is the new black!!

    @McD – Thanks for taking the time to contribute and welcome to my own slice of “cyber reality”. “Blind trust and faith from either side is naive” – totally. So why do companies seem to expect it?

    @Darren Hoey – Obectivity. Yep…..that is what it is all about. Simples.

  7. 04/21/2010 09:25

    Right….personally, I think trust is vital in the work place. I’m not talking blind, naive, ignorant trust. But rather mutual trust based on respect from both parties – having faith in each other to do the right thing and/or do their best in whatever circumstance – even if it’s bad news or something painful.

    Without that trust/respect/faith – in my view, company culture is flawed. To me, that’s what makes a great brand – something/someone you trust and respect to not let you down and always do their best – whatever. Trust/respect for me = advocacy.

    In times of crisis – whether that’s in the workplace or outside – trust and respect are vital. Otherwise, you end up with a load of detractors.

    There are so many great and awful customer service/experience examples to learn from here.

    I completely agree that workplace comms need to be open, honest and transparent – I’m not talking happy clappy, mutual masturbation here. But rather straight talking, no bullshit communication. Exactly what we’d expect as consumers.

    Bit of a hot button for me – I’ll get down off my box now 😉

  8. 04/21/2010 09:35

    @Abi – Debate is what its all about no? If we can have these debates then we can only be better for them. I struggle with any organisation that goes out to try and engeneder trust. It’s not a million miles from the Politician going out and saying, we need to get the people to trust us. Why? Brands are created predominantly to sell…..not for mutual benefit. As consumers we have less and less brand loyalty because we are starting to realise this. I wonder whether as employees we aren’t doing so too. And perhaps that’s a good thing.

    • 04/21/2010 11:42

      Do consumers really have less and less brand loyalty?

      I would argue that brands and corporations are usurping national identity, especially for Gen Y and especially when previously trusted establishment figures like business leaders; politicians and religious leaders are either badly letting people down or arguably being exposed by the information revolution linked to new media. In many respects brands have never been more powerful.

      But what’s the point of jumping on the “keep your head down” bandwagon and accepting defeat? Yes sketicism is healthy, but cynicism’s a pain in the arse and muddies the water for everyone. We can’t spend our lives at work or otherwise pointing the finger and not trying to change things if we don’t like the way they are. What’s the point?

      Brands are designed to sell, yes. But of course it’s for mutual benefit if what they’re selling is sustainable and gives value to consumers and staff alike.

      Come on – take some real risks and show a little vulnerability!

  9. 04/21/2010 10:20

    Did I imply that you should trust everyone you meet? We’re essentially self serving creatures but the point of joining an organisation is to achieve more as a collective than we could do on our own. Of course any sensible, experienced person keeps something back and has a backup plan should their investment of trust (which is what it is), fails (as it often does). But without trust, groups don’t function. Without trust there’s no freedom to operate, no real innovation, no rosk taking.In my view the HR function should be leading the way by promoting values which encourge helathy relationship building. Has anything really moved on since Dilbert invented the evil, scheming HR character? I’m interested in the HR professionals who’ll be brave enough to re-invent the model rather than silently watching it head off the cliff driven by process re-engineering “experts”.


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