Organizational change presents a new and difficult challenge for leaders. Change creates a higher level of uncertainty for employees. During organizational change, employees face new pressures, priorities, and often new work roles. Symptoms of declining employee trust include anxiety, rising cynicism, declining confidence, satisfaction and loyalty. Employees who feel threatened, insecure or vulnerable can grow inhibited and reluctant to make decisions or take risks. Leaders may find employees “staying under the radar”, willing to contribute nothing rather than risk doing wrong.
Change management research has largely ignored the effects of organizational change history in shaping employee trust. A history of poor change management result in a loss of faith and low levels of trust in the organization (Bordia, Jimmieson & Irmer, 2007). Employees may have developed skepticism about an organization’s ability to manage change based on experiences of poor change management. Lack of trust in the organization often leads to unwillingness on the part of the employees to place themselves at risk to the actions of the organization. Employee pessimism about change can create a lack of openness toward an organization’s change efforts. Low employee trust is linked to lower job satisfaction, intention to leave, and finally exit from the organization.
Employees accept change more readily in a trusting, supportive environment. Subordinates are more willing to take risks and experience with new ways of doing things in a psychologically safe environment. During organization change, employees become hungrier than ever for information and answers. Standard communication channels, habits and routines may not work as well as usual. Self-preservation becomes a major concern for employees during organizational change. Staff frequently becomes so preoccupied with their own situations they are unable to effectively focus on their work. Employees may agonize, worry, and trade rumors rather than concentrate on their jobs.
Trust has been defined as “a psychological state comprising the intention to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another” (Bordia, Jimmieson, & Irmer, 2007) In a high trust employee-organization relationship; the employee trusts the organization to look after his or her interests. Trust at any given time is a consequence of past experiences with the trustee. Literature reviews suggest that an employee’s previous experience of poor change management lead to low levels of expectancy regarding the success of an organization’s current change programs and lack of faith in the ability of leaders to implement change.
How does a leader instill employee trust in the midst of organizational change? Employees look for strong leadership when the workplace is confusing and destabilized. Providing employees with the reassurance of a clear and promising direction, equitable treatment, and...