Trust is Earned when Given

I was reading about a company, I believe it was in The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (Amazon Affiliate link), in which the owner of a company discovered a locked cabinet in one of the offices which contained office supplies. He immediately cut the lock, stating something to the effect of that in a company, we have to trust the employees. (The company might have been HP, but I’m not sure. Please inform me if you know the correct origin of this story.)

There are, in general, two attitudes that can be taken toward trust. The first is that you don’t trust anyone until they’ve earned it. The second is that you trust everyone until they lose it. Which attitude is correct?

There is, of course, the third attitude best expressed in the Italian Job: “I trust everyone. It’s the devil inside them I don’t trust.” It is this attitude that I believe best reflects reality in the workplace.

Ideally, an employer should trust the employees, and vice versa. Employees should trust their boss to tell them what they need to know, and to keep them informed about the environment in which they are working. On the other side, employers should trust their workers to do their jobs, not steal from the employers, and so on.

In reality, we’re dealing with people, and therefore with human nature. Not everyone is trustworthy, but in an environment in which we work together, there must be some level of trust. How you define that level of trust is a personal issue, but it must exist.

In a healthy work environment, people trust one another, but also look out for the bottom line. An employer will trust his employees, but he will also be careful balancing his books to ensure he is not being stolen from. This isn’t an issue in regard to a particular employee, but in regard to all employees as a whole.

Likewise, workers may express trust in their managers to keep them informed, but that doesn’t excuse them from keeping their eyes and ears open about changes that they have not been told about.

The issue of trust should not exist on a personal basis, but on an environment basis. When asked if you trust a particular individual in the workplace, the answer should be yes. (If the answer is no, questions should then be raised regarding why that person is still in the workplace.) When asked if you trust the organization as a whole, however, the answer should be along the lines of as far as I can see them.