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In boss we trust: building confidence in management

12 August 2014

What are the risks of workers having low levels of confidence in management and what can employers do about it?

In iHR Australia’s May 2014 survey on workplace investigations, 69.7% of complaints by employees were made against their senior management, managers or supervisors. Three top ‘causes’ for these complaints were lack of or insufficient training (69.6%), performance management (50.7%), and interpersonal relationship issues (49.3%). While 74% of complaints in the investigations were not upheld or partially upheld, the complaints were made nonetheless, revealing the perceptions of employees and potentially the wider team.

Download iHR Australia’s Workplace Investigations: Causes and Cures report here.

From the above statistics we can see confidence in management is a big issue in today’s workplaces and is a key driver of workers’ perceptions when it comes to many areas, particularly lodging complaints. Obviously, when coming forward with an issue, workers need to feel confident in management and believe they will be taken seriously and that appropriate action will be taken. However, confidence in management is also important in other areas, performance management for one. Workers need to feel comfortable that the process is fair and is applied to all workers, to avoid the risk of workers feeling bullied or seeing underperformers in their teams slipping by unnoticed. But how can organisations build their employees’ confidence in management?

iHR Australia Training with actors - Workplace Reality Theatre

Imagine your workplace is the cockpit of an aircraft – how much confidence do you have in the pilot?  This question was asked of 36 senior pilots representing 12 major airlines in Australasia and South East Asia. The answers provided by the majority of interviewees reflected that ‘confidence’ was highly correlated with trust. In relation to leadership and management styles, trust was seen by these senior pilots to be present when chief pilots lead with action as well as words.  Leading with action includes a willingness to understand the jobs that people do by following up on reports, both positive and negative, from those who are doing the ‘flying’. Leading with action also involves being open-minded in relation to problems, rather than immediate reliance on disciplinary strategies, and being consistent and reliable in decision-making within a framework of ‘sticking to the rules’. Trust was also felt by these senior pilots when they perceived managers were interested in them as individual performers, rather than merely facilitators of flight schedules. 

An important aspect of a pilot’s role is to report what happened on a flight. Trust was also highly correlated with the respect shown to pilots by senior managers who are willing to listen, maintain appropriate confidentiality of their listening when receiving reports, and consistently giving a ‘fair hearing’ around them. Trust is also present, according to these pilots, when reported information is used for positive outcomes, such as learning and evaluation, rather than support for ‘political agendas’ about which little feedback is received.

A significant number of the 36 senior pilots stated that when investigations are undertaken by trusted line managers, they are not driven by a need to distribute blame, punishment or discipline. They contend that if a pilot is laid off after an incident, there is usually more involved in the situation than just that incident. Otherwise,

"If it’s trainable, we’ll train it.  If it’s a persistent problem, we’ll fix it.  And if it’s just one of those things, we’ll put out a notice."  [Chief Pilot]

iHR Australia offers a range of services to assist your organisation with people matters, including our on site HR partnering service which provides your organisation with a highly skilled resource to work on site on a temporary, ongoing or project basis. Contact us online or call 1300 884 687 to find out more about HR partnering and all our HR consulting, workplace training and workplace investigations services.

This article was written by Dr Verena Marshall, Senior Workplace Relations Adviser. Visit Our Consulting Team page to learn more about iHR Australia's consultants.

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