The workplace offers an excellent example wherein the competitive nature of limited resources, promotions and firings can easily promote a sense of “healthy” distrust. However, as work has become increasingly complex and tasks increasingly more difficult to manage, the faith we place in our coworkers to help us succeed at our jobs has likewise become paramount. So how do we reconcile these two dilemmas?
A recent study by Lau and Liden (2008) sheds some light on the issue. In their research, the authors found that leaders were key linchpins in the development of trust relationships among coworkers. Of import, coworkers tended to place more trust in fellow employees who were more trusted by their leaders than those employees whom the leader did not trust as much. Furthermore, the relationship between leaders’ trust in their subordinates and coworkers’ trust in each other was greater when the work unit’s performance was weak, indicating that trust becomes even more salient and important during the “tough times.”
For organizations, these findings suggest three important implications. First, leaders have a strong impact on the attitudes and beliefs of their followers; thus, these important individuals must be cognizant of the message they are sending to their workplace and behave as though “someone’s always watching.”
Second, during times when performance is low, it behooves leaders to establish clear norms for
trusting capable team members. Lastly, the authors found that helping behaviors were positively related to coworker trust, suggesting that coworkers who offered a helping hand to others were generally perceived as more trustworthy by their peers. To help develop norms of coworker trust, then, leaders can therefore encourage such behaviors through informal or formal incentives.