Employees WILL assume the worst!

Here’s one of my favorite quotations: “In the absence of trust, everything you do for me I consider manipulation.”

Think about these scenarios:

  • The division manager in this organization has closed her door to have quiet time to work on the budget.  It’s a tough year because, to make her budget balance, she will need to move some of her staff to other locations to keep from laying anyone off.  She’ll also have to cut the overtime and training budgets, but she’s pleased that she’s able to keep every employee.   When she finishes her work she calls a staff meeting and happily announces that next year there will be no layoffs.  However, there will be a 75% reduction in the overtime budget, a 50% reduction in the training budget, and some people will be moved to other locations.  There’s a lot of grumbling during and after the meeting because many people identify strongly with their current work locations and want to stay there.  They have also come to rely on the extra money from overtime and feel entitled to it.  Some staff members were counting on receiving training to prepare them for promotional opportunities.  There’s a lot of bitterness and negativity.  Hearing this, the manager is completely shocked: she thought her staff would be thrilled there would be no layoffs! 
  • In another organization, a lot of seasonal hiring has been going on.  Current employees were asked to recruit hard-working, trustworthy people they know and recommend them for the seasonal jobs.  Many did so.  About 15 people were hired.  Some of them had worked there seasonally before, while others were new.  Several former seasonal employees (with no right to the job) who were friends of current employees applied but were not hired.  When the names of the new seasonal hires were announced there was a fair bit of grumbling.   Some employees felt that their friends should have been hired, and that there was a conspiracy to exclude them.  Some of those who were not hired felt they were discriminated against because of their age or ethnicity.   The hiring manager was very surprised by the fallout.  He had thought long and hard about whom to hire, and really felt he had hired the right people.  Some of the former seasonals who were not hired were poor workers, and others had been a pain to work with and he didn’t want them back.  He hadn’t told them that at the time because he didn’t think he needed to.  He just wouldn’t hire them again.  He also felt he did not owe an explanation to the regular employees.  After all, it was a seasonal job and he could hire anyone he wanted, couldn’t he? 

 Both of these managers were right in their assumptions: they had no legal  obligation to share their thinking about budget development or hiring criteria with staff.  However, by not sharing this, staff naturally made their own assumptions about their boss’s motives – and those assumptions were almost all negative.  Lacking information, we all make assumptions about the reasons behind the actions of others.  And those assumptions are almost always negative. 

 Neither manager understood the almost inevitable likely fallout from not communicating.  There is no obligation to communicate about budget development or hiring criteria – but without at least some communication, negative fallout is virtually always predictable.

What to do?  Provide information – lots of it, frequently – to employees.  Drop the “need to know” screen.  We all hate it when we’re on the receiving end, and generally assume the worst when information is withheld.  No, you can’t (and shouldn’t) share everything.  Share as much as you can, and publicly acknowledge (to your employees) that there are some things that need to be kept confidential.  Your staff members aren’t stupid.  They’ll understand – and they’ll trust you more for telling them what you can and sharing a lot of information.  Then, over time the extent to which employees feel manipulated will decrease and the extent to which they trust you will increase.

Have you found yourself in a similar situation, either on the management or the employee side?  Let us know what happened!  ~Daphne Schneider


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s