Integrity will prevail over trust lost
By Christine Keong
Occupational safety is and has always been a top priority for workers in high-risk organisations where they are more vulnerable to risks including physical harm and injury. Workplaces do set out safety protocols and measures but essentially, they need to be followed to be effective and to ensure that accidents are minimal. In other words, workers have to be committed to their own safety by adhering to the safety protocols and measures that have been set out. This commitment and genuine intention towards their own safety is achieved by gaining their trust; Workers need to trust and have confidence that the organisation has their interests and safety as a number one concern. However many organisations have found that trust is difficult to earn but distrust is also just as easily gained. Therefore risk communicators need to tread carefully by having a knowledge of the factors that can help them gain, maintain and then strengthen that trust but also know about the factors contributing to a loss of trust.
Open communication between both management and workers has long been the recommended strategy to gain, maintain and build trust. It involves a two-way forum where risk communicators present their current safety processes to workers and by also listening and being receptive to the occupational safety concerns of workers, without shifting the blame to them for any safety accidents that have occurred.
While open communication can be effective in gaining trust, it can also backfire as Conchie and Burns (2008) have found in their study. A high-risk organisation that practiced open communication saw a lost in trust when negative risk information was given to workers. This trust asymmetry effect can be attributed to a “negativity bias” where individuals are more affected by negative information than positive information due to a greater confidence that the negative information is true. The trust asymmetry effect is further amplified through a “confirmatory bias” when workers already have existing impressions or opinions of an organisation. Even if positive risk information is released, workers who already possess a distrust of the organisation they are working for will still distrust the positive information given.
That said, the authors found that even though trust was reduced in face of negative risk information, a lack of open communication created even more and stronger distrust among workers. Thus, although trust may potentially be lost when negative risk information is given, open communication still needs to be practiced. Organisations should focus on the circumstances of the negative information and then propose steps to handle and deal with those circumstances that have arisen.
So while trust seems easily lost, organisations should not be deterred from pursuing good and open communication with their workers. Essentially workers are human who will respect integrity and trust can be earned again. Like Eudora Welty, a 1973 Pulitzer Prize Winner once said,
Integrity can be neither lost nor concealed nor faked nor quenched nor artificially come by nor outlived, nor, I believe, in the long run, denied.
Reference: Conchie, S. M., & Burns, C. (2008). Trust and risk communication in high-risk organizations: A test of principles from social risk research. Risk Analysis, 28(1), 141-149. doi:10.1111/j.1539-6924.2008.01006.x