Thursday, July 10, 2008

When Distrust Sparks Backlash

Whenever I surface the issue of how signs of distrust can foster resentment, some HR-types and line managers look at me as if I've challenged the law of gravity. Don't I know, they argue, how much employees steal from organizations? Don't I realize there are predators out there?

Of course I do. And their comments have caused me to consider just what is it about some management actions and policies that I find objectionable. My conclusion is that the irritating practices are those that achieve little aside from insulting good workers.

Consider two practices:

A department store that has suffered from employee pilferage requires that its sales workers use clear plastic purse-like containers instead of regular purses, briefcases or handbags so, when they depart through the employee exit, the security personnel can spot anything that looks suspicious without having to search every bag. It's not my favorite practice but it's acceptable because it is one of the less obtrusive ways of addressing a problem and it is reasonably direct.

On the other hand, consider a firm that prohibits its sales personnel from giving out their direct telephone numbers because the firm wants to monitor all client contacts through a main number in order to ensure that sales people aren't making outside deals with customers. That firm has adopted an insulting but ineffective practice. The unethical sales person who is determined to work around the requirement can easily do so. All the requirement has done is to make legitimate client contact harder for the honest employees while reminding them that they are not trusted. It is a daily irritation for the ethical sales people because they find themselves having to follow a practice that is both insulting and useless.

Why have such a practice?


Kurt Harden said...

Occassionally we encounter an employee conduct problem that, on the surface, requires a new policy. If the attempts at writing an effective policy drag us down dead end after dead end, that is a giveaway to me that we have come across one of the tough cases that make for bad law. Your post is a great reminder of the cure killing the patient. Too bad lawmakers don't think about these things more often.

Anonymous said...

Isn't there a saying that goes along the lines of "suspicious parents just have more devious children" or "If you make a pail unbreakable it will be to heavy to carry"

Michael Wade said...

Good points. It is all part of managing to the dysfunctional. I encountered group punishment in third grade and didn't see it again until I entered the workplace.