Factors Harming Workplace Relationships: Building a culture of trust through HR/OD interventions
In a post-pandemic era where normals are being defined and redefined, well-being is the new psychological basic need, digital & tech-based designs/strategies are getting accelerated, hybrid workplace is new reality, the requirement for human beings becomes inevitable to have connection with each other, need to have trust in an individual and in a group, need to share information and receive information, rely/count on others and be relied/counted on.
Need for trust is a business need and more importantly a human need. One of the critical factors that leads to harming of workplace relations at interpersonal, interdepartmental and organizational level has been lack of trust.
Whether its a specific decision related to downsizing leading to large-scale retrenchments, refusal of worker demands, punishment on misconduct, refusal of recognition of a union, introduction of new strategy, structure or policy or a general decision of how performance management would be executed, rewards would be designed or promotion decision would be carried out, the art and science of healthy employer-employee relationship is to keep things as transparent as possible for maximising the trust factor in the process.
Without naming any specific organization, we may reasonably conclude that lack of trust has led to multiple problems, conflicts and disputes manifested through strikes, slowdown, protests, gheraos, sometimes even violence and deterioration in employee-employee relations due to factionalism.
Let’s examine with a solution-focused approach, the factors leading to harmful relations at workplace (both at the employer-employee level and employee-employee level) and role of trust—
Building and Reinforcing a Culture Where Trust is Perceived as an Essential ‘Value’ at the Workplace
The retrenchment exercise (for any reason introduced, maybe due to advent of new technology, or otherwise), VRS, or redeployment if planned, needs to be managed keeping the trust factor of stakeholders in mind, so that organization is able to maintain its credibility in the years to come. Such exercises are bound to have an emotional impact on employees at all levels within the organization.
Retrenchment, VRS or redeployment process being part of organizational change & challenge, if not handled and executed well may lead to dampening of employee morale and motivation and may lead to loss of customer loyalty towards the organization. The impact of the exercise on both the organization and its employees (those losing their jobs as well as those surviving) may be devastating.
The resulting vacuum, aggression, resentment, absence of trust and ill-feeling may trigger a chain reaction resulting in reduction in morale and motivation, low self-esteem and self-confidence in employees, increase in instances of interpersonal conflict, increase in court cases and writ petitions, increased absenteeism and turnover rate, feelings of disgust and cynicism about the organization’s future, and even incidents of IR breakdown, sabotage and strikes.
The responsibility for ensuring that the process is implemented effectively rests largely with the strategy and vision of the top management and its partnering with HR/OD professionals. Process of navigating the organisation by HR/OD experts through maintenance of trust by managing paradoxes & uncertainties, listening to the aggression and resentment of the displaced employees and managing change process leads to formation of cultural assumptions by stakeholders in the workplace.
Truthful & Clear Communication to Ensure Trust and Transparency
If the organization is clearly communicating the rationale behind the exercise, especially its long-term objective behind every strategy and action, it may help in retaining trust of the workforce.
It may also help the employees in understanding the strategic viewpoint and may lead to prevention of impulsive reactions within the workforce. Truthful communication on part of top management, communicated through HR may prevent a lot of unwanted incidents.
Even timelines of the events, likely to happen in near future, should be communicated so that employees know such events in advance (are prepared for it mentally).
Encouraging Productive Conflict
For healthy relations amongst employees or managers/leaders, HR/OD professionals may catalyse creation of an environment of mutual trust, respect and inclusion on teams by encouraging productive conflicts.
Productive conflict may be understood as exchange of dissenting ideas and diverse viewpoints in a process where all team members feel respected. Productive conflict may not be about pleasing all, avoiding out-of-the-box thinking/creative ideas, endless debates with no solution or disengaging with everyone who is not in agreement with solution.
It may be about encouraging behaviours, such as active listening to diverse perspectives, encouraging potential detractors to come up with their ideas early on and, keeping doors open to new and creative ideas. HR/OD professionals may facilitate such process interventions.
Leaders at All Levels to Identify Behaviours That Build Trust & Provide Feedback
Leaders at all levels of the hierarchy need to reduce inter-departmental conflicts, grapevines, unwanted competition within departments, and encourage role & goal clarity by providing effective feedback on need to work on behaviours that builds trust and the way practicing those behaviours may contribute to performance. HR/OD practitioners may catalyse such activities.
HR/OD Interventions on Diagnosis Of Factors That Break Trust
OD/HR experts may work on diagnosis of factors that break trust, lead to conflicting situation and on areas such as exploring change in systems/processes/norms & values to rebuild trust and maintain it (e.g.Development Programmes/Team Interventions/Intergroup Team-Building Interventions & Third Party Peacemaking Interventions/Comprehensive OD Interventions).
To conclude, as Marie-Claire Ross puts it, “Without trust, we generate a dysfunctional organization and teams. There is no meaningful connection between a group of people. It’s just meaningless coordination. It is trust that shifts a group of people into a team.”