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Pete Monaghan: Rounding up the trust

Tuesday 02 December 2014

Three top tips on rebuilding trust in the workplace from Acas North West Area Director Pete Monaghan.


Pete Monaghan

Pete Monaghan is Area Director for Acas in the North West. He has worked for Acas for 20+ years in a variety of roles. He retains an active interest in the development of Employee Voice in the context of the Engagement debate.

Peter Monaghan, blog author

Most economies, like most people, crave stability and yet constantly seem to hatch schemes that will bring about change.

One thing that is certain is that organisations that are agile enough to respond positively and effectively to change will emerge in a better place than those that find change difficult to handle. Sometimes this change is small - a minor alteration to our routine perhaps. At other times it is profound and makes us yearn for normality again.

Researchers at Bath University have found that, in order for this cycle of predictability and upheaval at work to be manageable, we need to come to terms with our own sense of vulnerability. And to be able to do this, we need to learn to 'trust'.

But trust can be hard to win among employees who may feel anxious about their future job prospects or frustrated by their levels of pay, or just generally disengaged. And it can be equally hard to win among line managers charged with the onerous task of laying off staff or bringing in new working patterns.  

In her report, 'Where has all the trust gone?', Professor Veronica Hope-Hailey quotes an old Dutch saying: "trust comes on foot, but leaves on horseback". Much of the work Acas does with organisations is about dealing with the aftermath of this departure of trust.

So how do we do it? Here are my three tips to rebuilding trust.

Firstly you need to be open and honest, and share as much information you can as soon as you can. This includes bad or difficult news - the plain fact is that people hate being kept in the dark, it just makes the rebuilding relationships process much harder.

Developments in Social Media have undoubtedly aided communications but such platforms also provide an easy outlet for gossip and rumour where there is an information gap. Don't hide behind the curtain of confidentiality - is it really confidential or is it just difficult to say?

Once everyone is in the same place at more or less the same time, you can make a start, slowly at first, getting dialogue going again. Confidence is the key: why should someone believe that this is the best way to go if you have led them astray before? Managers need to be honest about mistakes they have made in the past.

Secondly, there is often much work to be done with the way leaders lead - how they communicate their strategy and vision.  Research suggests that leaders who regularly "walk the floor" and deliver regular face to face, future focused, "state of the nation" type briefings contribute much to levels of employee engagement.

Thirdly, remember that the people who know most about the business you work in are those that do the work. You're more likely to find the best way to resolve problems by collaborating and working together.

Ask people what options there are to resolve the problem, genuinely take suggestions on board and feed back to those that contribute whether you take up their ideas or not.  And if not, explain why - it may be to do with factors beyond your control such as budgetary pressures, new legislation or government policy.

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