Psychologist of Work and Organizations

Why does trust matter in organizational life?

There is an important aspect of organizational life that we often forget to consider: trust.
This feeling, if present or absent, can deeply condition the entire organizational life.

What is trust? How could we define it?
Commonly, in everyday life, we tend to use the word and the concept of trust as an extension or a synonym of “faith”. If we use this definition, trusting somebody would mean to have faith in her/him and in her/his actions and behaviours.

But there is something deeper in “trust”.
We really trust somebody when we are willing to be vulnerable in front of him/her. We accept being weak, or showing our weakness to the person we trust because we strongly believe that such a person will never act to damage us, and so we don’t try to control his/her behaviour.

We all know how relevant this sensation is in everyday life’s relationships.
The freedom to be vulnerable in front of somebody is one of the clearest indicators of the value and strength of a relationship.
Is it the same in organizational life? How does trust affect relationships in organizations?

A lot of research points out that the level of trust between employees and managers impacts several dimensions. Between them, one of the most relevant is the change’s acceptance.
We stated before that trust is the willingness to accept our condition of vulnerability in our relationships with others. We should consider, then, how organizational change generates in us such a condition. We don’t know what will happen to us, to our jobs, to the organization. At the same time we have less, or no chance to control what is happening and the direction things are taking.
When we don’t have control of events, and they are relevant to us, our trust in the person (or the group of people) managing the whole situation is the only resource we have.
There are several implications of such a condition.
When employees experience a low level of trust in their management and perceive, at the same time, a low level of control of events, their degree of organizational commitment decreases.
On the other hand, when employees feel they have low control over change interventions, but they trust their supervisors, they will remain committed to the organization.

For these reasons, trust plays a key role when events push us into a condition of vulnerability. And this is what generally happens during a process of organizational change.

Now we arrived at two central questions:
How can we create trust?
How can we prove ourselves to be trustworthy?
Apparently two variables contribute, more than others, to the generation of trust in an organizational relationship.

The first is the level of organizational fairness, that is the employees’ perception of fair treatment. This variable is positively related to trust.
The second variable is the perception of organizational support. Also in this case, the employees’ perception of support from their supervisor is positively related with trust.

If we think about these two variables, and how they affect our organizations, we can find the answer to the employees’ question: “Why should I trust you?”.