A while back, I wrote a brief article entitled "How to Disengage your Employees in Seven Easy Lessons." The lessons were:
Recently, I have been thinking of an eighth "disengagement lesson": Make sure your employee feels not trusted. Let's start by what trust means. Trust is a multifaceted construct. For example:
The first set of examples has to do with the other person's characteristics (according to your perception, of course). Item 2 relates to your personality and cultural background. Item 3 relates to the cultural environment. When organizations have a low tolerance for even small mistakes, the result is often widespread mistrust.
Of course, the problem is that all these trust components interact with one another. For example, you could mistrust someone's competence because you are terrified of the consequences should the person make a mistake. You could be leery of a person's integrity because you tend to mistrust almost everyone.
What does all that have to do with engagement? William Kahn's landmark article Psychological Conditions of Personal Engagement and Disengagement at Work suggests that engagement relies on three critical components: meaningfulness, psychological safety, and resource availability. Kant argues that trusting relationships connect to psychological safety. He writes:
"Interpersonal relationships promoted psychological safety when they were supportive and trusting. Such relationships had a flexibility that allowed people to try and perhaps to fail without fearing the consequences" (Kahn, 1990, p. 708).
I would argue, though, that trust relates to all psychological engagement conditions. Meaningful work is one in which one feels valued and valuable. An employee is unlikely to feel "valued" in a low trust environment. In particular, one cannot have one's integrity questioned and feel "valued." Likewise, resource allocation depends on trust. If my leaders do not trust me, they will not share the critical information I need to perform my duties.
So, here are my questions to all of you:
I know it's not easy to trust a large number of employees. I am also a realist; I realize some people lie. The conundrum, though, is: Might you be disengaging your best employees to prevent those who - let's face it - you might not want in your organization in the first place?
I'm curious about your thoughts!
Dr. Cris Wildermuth
Dr. Cris Wildermuth is Linked:HR's Community Leader and an Associate Professor at Drake University, where she directs the Master of Science in Leadership Development. You may find out more about Dr. Wildermuth's leadership development, ethics, and intercultural development consulting practice at THIS PAGE.