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Monday, September 26, 2011

Does Trust Really Matter at Work?

The author is an Organisational Development Practitioner
With deep concern written on his face, the CEO looked at the staff during their monthly meeting and asked, ‘don’t you trust me?’ With that question, the room was thrust into dead silence as staff turned their eyes away from the CEO. No one wanted to lock eyes with him. They had all been copied on an anonymous email sent to the senior management team by ‘a concerned staff’ accusing the management of dishonor.
Apparently, the management had promised staff to work for an extra two months with half pay with the promise that the CEO and his team were burning the mid night oil to ensure the salary account was back on track. One of the staff had in the meantime written to the management indicating that staff did not trust the promise and were contemplating mass exodus from the company.
As the meeting progressed, deep thoughts went through the CEO’s mind and the more he thought, the more convinced he got that he should not after all worry about staff trust. He wondered, ‘with the intense battle for the few available places for work, should it really matter to me whether staff trust or not? Since many staff are stuck in the workplaces for lack of other places to run to due to the shortage of jobs, who would want to be concerned about whether they are trusted or not? Staff can never move away since there is nowhere to run to anyway and even if the current team that does not trust moves away, others will be waiting at the gate seeking to fill up their spaces and the machines will not stop running.
‘Is trust the energy that drives the company  car or operates the computer or is it the skill that makes awesome presentations to stakeholders? Whether we are trusted or not, won’t we have profits soaring since the clients still need our products anyway? Will staff stop participating in corporate social responsibility or will they cease wearing workplace designated uniform just because they don’t trust the management?’
Far from it, Mr. CEO. Trust is actually the glue that holds organisations and companies together. It is one of the most critical values that dictate staff performance and productivity.  It determines whether staff work from the heart or from the muscle. When staff trusts its management, there is an inertia that is generated towards better performance. The work environment is filled with hope and optimism even in the most difficult moments. Challenges are turned into opportunities and teamwork surmounts the highest of the barriers.
And trust is infectious. When staff trusts the management, the management ends up trusting the staff and vice versa. The organisation develops structures and systems knowing that staff will find pleasure in adhering to laid down rules since all know that the structures are inbuilt for the common good. Staff do not feel like the systems are implemented as a result of mistrust or to impede freedom at work. There is a general appreciation of the changes suggested by the management while the staff concerns and suggestions are taken into consideration since all operate under the spirit of good faith.


  1. This article touches on one of those areas that senior management and CEOs in this era face. Whereas in the past decisions by top management were to be followed to the letter without regard to trust issues, the current Generation Y workforce demands certain basics from employers and trust is one of them.

    Cultivation of trust can be done through certain consultative processes. It is however important for top management to remain accessible and open to discussions about the progresses of the consultative processes. Most importantly, radical deviation from outcomes of the consultative processes need to be communicated in a timely manner so that ownership can always be ensured.

    That having been said, in this era of cut-throat competition that has even percolated into the non-profit sector, building trust amongst one's workforce has become even harder

  2. I thought this was very much like a relationship piece- which is probably what work is about- the relationship between the employer and the employee. And back to your example of request to employees to make do with half pay- does this actually happen?

  3. Trust, just like loyalty is earned. Unfortunately, employers’ error in assuming that by handing employees a paycheck at the end of every month, that qualifies for them to demand employees' unwavering trust.

    The bulk of the workforce today work from the muscle and not the heart, hence company trust is a mirage in the horizon. In any case, employees are appraised on output and not whether or not they trust the company, or are they?

  4. Rose...during hard times, companies and other forms of organisations actually seek to have their employees agree to lower pay for a season as they seek for resources to remain afloat.At the end of a grant for instance for an NGO, the management can request staff to hang as they mobilise extra funds.


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