A Concerning Story of Workplace Trust (and How It Can Spiral out of Control)
Trust only goes so far where it pertains to employee and employer. It’s not a whole-hearted trust, but more like an “I trust you for now” sentiment.
I personally have experienced the strangest culmination of trust issues in the workplace. My issues with one of my employers began at the intersection of trust, insecurity and ambition.
I was the ambitious employee who saw the possibilities for my career in taking advantage of every educational opportunity this employer had to offer. It seemed reasonable at the time to take advantage and progress myself.
My relationship with my immediate supervisor started off with trust. She seemed supportive of my growth and in turn I believed she understood my motivation to be an asset to the organization.
To start my educational buffet, I requested clearance to take part in the company’s free offering of HR certification courses through Cornell. I was approved for one certificate to begin with. I enjoyed it so much that I continued to ask for clearance as I decided to pursue four other certifications. Additionally, I applied for the internal management program and was accepted.
Here is where my trouble began…
If you read clearly, it seems harmless enough that I was taking advantage of what was available. After all, we create programs like these in HR so that the employees can benefit from them.
At this time, I had been warned many times over not to trust my immediate supervisor despite her seemingly supportive demeanor. I kept what I knew in my back pocket, but continued to interact with her in our collegial, but jovial manner.
It was like one of those bright sunny days where the skies quickly turn black anticipating a bad storm. My supervisor just turned on me one day. A hiring manager claimed I didn’t send them candidates for a position and so she called me in to discuss. I expected to find the usually supportive supervisor and instead I found someone who didn’t care to find out the facts. She had an agenda to berate me - but why?
She thought I wanted her job.
My supervisor was the Director of Talent Acquisition, but the role she loved the most was Director of Gossip. She had a penchant for talking about her employees with their co-workers. In her head, she was sharing her thoughts with what seemed like close friends. She even went so far to ask for their confidentiality. Trust was being compromised at every corner of this workplace and no one was all the wiser.
Eventually, the gossip got back to me and it was about me. I was warned that she berated me that day and it wasn’t even a real issue. I was also cautioned that she felt intimidated by me and my ambition. My very benign intention of pursuing what this employer had to offer was seen as an undercover plot to dethrone her and take her job.
Seven years later it remains somewhat laughable, but this is the epitome of where trust, insecurity, a deviant mind and lack of communication gets a person in trouble. I can write a book about the endless bullying I endured from this woman from that fateful day forward.
For the purpose of this post let’s explore where she went wrong:
- It is never alright to gossip about your employees with their co-workers. In fact, gossip in the workplace is seldom contained. There is no trust where there are juicy office tidbits floating around. It always gets out and it is nothing pretty when it does. Avoid it at all costs.
- When we create training and development programs in HR, it is usually because we understand that a knowledgeable employee is not only an asset to themselves, but for the company as well. Why anyone would take offense to an employee wanting to better themselves is beyond me.
- Let’s talk about assumptions. We all know the saying. My supervisor made a lot of assumptions about me without any real proof. She assumed that because I pursued all of those certifications and passed – that I had a plan to take her job. The reality was I didn’t want her job at all. It was a thankless, high-volume output position with very few controls in place for anyone to be successful in it.
- Which brings me to my last insight; she was insecure in her abilities. If she had the decency to have a straightforward conversation with me about my goals – instead of gossiping - she would have found out that my only goal at that time was to work at one of the site hospitals closer to my home. I needed to be closer to my then infant daughter. Communication saves relationships and reputations.
Trust is important in any relationship. Workplace relationships are no different. Never assume you know what an employee’s intentions are. Actions are half the story, but motivations are internal and not readily visible. Communicate often, address issues and concerns with the pertinent parties and don’t discourage the ambitious of the bunch from bettering themselves because of your insecurities. Doing otherwise results in the demise of your own career as a leader. You’ve been warned.
Don’t Be Tempted to Persuade Your Clients
Recently, I've been seeing a lot of articles about Advisors persuading clients to move from active management to passive management. Persuading clients to follow the way you manage investments is a big mistake. Do this instead.
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