A Healthy Workplace Based on Trust
The Psychologically Healthy Workplace poll asked a question that goes to a core issue for workplace health and productivity: I can rely on my co-workers when I need help at work. We didn’t ask whether people trusted anyone at work nor did we ask if they trusted everyone at work. Rather, the question went to whether they had a general sense of trust towards co-workers.
The good news. Of the 243 people responding, a solid 2/3, agreed or strongly agreed with this statement.
The not so good news. One third of respondents did not agree, with nearly 1/8 of respondents strongly disagreeing.
Trust describes a meeting of the minds: people are willing to reach out and others are willing to respond. Trust is a big issue when asking for help. It gives confidence that others have both the wherewithal and the willingness to lend a hand. Trust shapes how others respond to requests, as well: people share cheerfully only when they have confidence in the other person’s good intentions.
Mistrust of colleagues poses a serious problem in today’s work world. Mistrust separates people, introducing speed bumps in the flow of information, energy, and emotional support. People hesitate to ask and to respond.
As put succinctly in the Job Demands/Resources model the availability of effective resources is a major determinant of whether people will experience work engagement or burnout in the face of intense demands at work. In an information/service economy people find the most relevant resource in the energy, knowledge, and abilities of their colleagues.
Work today invariably involves teamwork. For example, in hospitals, high quality care for a single patient draws upon the talents of various providers across shifts. Individual providers cannot address every dimension of care over an extended period. This shared quality of work pervades every economic sector.
Good working relationships have implications beyond productivity. A career is more than a means of making money or an opportunity to ply one’s craft. Careers bring membership in a community. The richness of relationships within that community contributes a lot to a person’s potential for fulfillment.
The vision of my research and consulting focuses on enhancing workplace communities. Improving the quality of working relationships has huge leverage for both productivity and workplace health. Solid working relationships, worthy of trust, underlie anything a team strives to do. Civil, respectful working relationships are the infrastructure of worklife. They permit resources to flow without the hiccups of mistrust, resentment, misunderstanding, or fear. One potential approach is CREW (Civility, Respect, and Engagement with Work).
Recognizing Mistrust within a Workgroup
- Info Gaps. When talking with members of a workgroup, you find that they lack key information available to other members of the group.
- Complaints. When lacking trust, member of groups complain to people outside of a group. In time, those complaints circulate around an organization or even with outside partners.
- Low Morale and Energy. Mistrust is an unhappy experience. So much of what makes work fun occurs among people who enjoy one another.
What to Do about Low Trust?
- Talk about Relationships. When delivering progress reports, leaders can ask about working relationships. Working relationships become part of the conversation.
- Define Projects With Team Building Potential. Ideally, leaders can integrate team building experiences into their workflow, while dealing with actual tasks.
- Get Serious about Core Values. A group needs to make its commitment to a positive quality of worklife a top priority.
- How do you determine someone’s trustworthiness? Words, nonverbal communications, actions?
- Are most employers today deserving of trust from their employees?
- What has your organization done to build trust in the workplace?
Michael P. Leiter holds the Canada Research Chair in Occupational Health at Acadia University while also serving as President of Michael Leiter & Associates, an organizational consulting firm with a mission of enhancing the quality of worklife. A major initiative is Civility, Respect, and Engagement at Work (CREW) that leads groups to experience supportive relationships. A registered psychologist, he received degrees in Psychology from Duke University (BA), Vanderbilt University (MA), and the University of Oregon (PhD). You can read Dr. Leiter's full bio here. Additional information is available at www.workengagement.com and http://cord.acadiau.ca.
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