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Monday, October 12, 2009

Loyalty and Trust

@tetradian and @kvistgaard pick up an interesting statistic from the Economist.

"A survey by the Centre for Work-Life Policy, an American consultancy, found that between June 2007 and December 2008 the proportion of employees who professed loyalty to their employers slumped from 95% to 39%; the number voicing trust in them fell from 79% to 22%." [Hating what you do, Economist 8 Oct 2009]

So the figure for trust is much lower than the figure for professed loyalty. Perhaps this is not altogether surprising. You'd probably find a similar disparity if you asked married people if they were loyal to their husbands/wives, and if they trusted them. Clearly professed loyalty is not the same as actual loyalty.

I found another related statistic in the same edition of the Economist.

"According to a survey last month by TNS Sofres, a polling agency, the French have less confidence in their employers (32%) than do either Germans (47%) or Americans (54%)." [Suicide in France, Economist 8 Oct 2009]

Comparing the US figures from these two surveys, I find it curious that the figure for "confidence" is more than double the figure for "trust". Has the mood in America shifted radically in a few months - Obama's election perhaps? Have large numbers of distrustful and non-confident employees lost their jobs, therefore not being included in the later survey? Or is it simply that the two surveys were asking different questions in different ways?

A more serious aspect of the story is the alarming number of suicides in French companies, most recently in France Telecom.

In the bad old days (known as Theory X) employers didn't expect loyalty or trust, they simply demanded hard work. Employees didn't love the work, they only performed when closely supervised, monitored and measured. Trade unions were formed to represent the collective interests of the workers, and got into regular disputes with management about pay and working conditions.

In the brave new world (known as Theory Y) we are all expected to love the work and treat our co-workers as a second family. Trade unions have lost much of their former power, and the individual employee is "empowered" to "go the extra mile" to serve the interests of the company and its customers in a fulfilling and career-enhancing manner.

The trouble is that most companies send mixed messages to their employees - some Theory X, some Theory Y. In some cases, these mixed messages amount to a double bind, obliging workers to adopt an irrational position, and putting them under sometimes intolerable psychological stress.

A few paragraphs ago, I suggested the hypothesis that large numbers of distrustful employees might have lost their jobs. We might think that workers who lost their jobs had been right to distrust their employers, if it wasn't for the cruel fact that distrusting your employer may be a contributory causal factor to losing your job. If you want to keep your job, you must suppress all hostile thoughts towards your employer, including distrust or disloyalty. That's the kind of double bind that can send people over the edge.

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