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Rebuilding trust in the workplace

Trust is crucial for any organisation to grow and succeed, and damage to trust at any level can have serious and far-reaching consequences. As recent research demonstrates a crisis in trust in many of today's workplaces, how do we go about rebuilding it?

Trust is essential for creating a secure environment where innovation and new thinking can flourish. It's also key to improving performance and reducing levels of conflict in the workplace. Obviously, too, on a practical level the greater the level of trust within an organisation, the less need there is for surveillance and monitoring of staff. Recent research from the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) has identified an ongoing deterioration in trust at many different levels across organisations. Where has all the trust gone? looks at the different ways in which trust can be damaged and what can be done to repair this valuable asset.

The study demonstrated that trust in leadership depends largely on the degree to which senior managers inspire the following perceptions among their colleagues:

  • Ability - belief that their leaders have faith in their employees' competence
  • Benevolence - belief that leadership is concerned about the wellbeing of their staff
  • Integrity - belief that leaders have strong moral principles and high standards of behaviour
  • Predictability - belief that leaders behave in a consistent and dependable way

Crucially, though, the research found that repairing trust in leadership is only part of the story. Direct line managers also play a pivotal role in building and maintaining trust at all levels. The study showed that the most serious erosion in the trust relationship tended to occur in cases where trust between line managers and senior management had broken down - particularly where middle-management had 'sided with the troops' and openly laid the blame for a company's woes at the door of senior management.

In conclusion, the study suggests that repairing trust should be a collective process across all levels of an organisation, supported by HR policies and practices. It's 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. And while middle management has a key role to play in re-establishing trust between staff and leaders, it's also important for employees to demonstrate their faith in the ability of senior management.

Acas runpractical training coursesto equip managers and supervisors with the necessary skills to deal with employment relations issues, build trust and to create more productive workplace environments.

Visit the Acas training and business solutions area for more information.

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