Distrust in the workplace

By Joanne O’Connell – 12 June 2015 

Signing a settlement agreement and leaving your job can be the step to a whole new career and a positive lifestyle change. However, in many cases, it’s nothing of the sort. Being laid off can come as a huge shock: it’s financially worrying as well as emotionally demoralising.

In fact, losing your job can make you distrustful of others for up to a decade, even after you find another job, according to new research. This news is bad enough for employees but if the feelings of distrust lead to stress and anxiety, a further recent study claims that many people find that employers are an unsympathetic bunch.

The first study, which was carried out by The University of Manchester, claims people who have lost their job are less willing to trust others. The loss of work can trigger a feeling of distrust and cynicism that can last for up to ten years and continue even once the individual finds new employment.

Dr James Laurence, the author of the report, says this can affect not only individuals but society as a whole. This is because trust can have significant benefits, from health and happiness, to social cohesion, efficient democratic governance and economic development. Therefore, lay-offs in the British workforce could, he says, lead to a worrying level of long-term distrust among the British public and have a detrimental effect on the fabric of society. 

“People’s willingness to trust others tends to remain largely stable over their lifetime,” says Laurence: “However, this work shows that trauma like redundancy can shift people’s outlook of the world and this change persists long after the experience occurred.

“Even a single experience of redundancy can lead to depressed trust and what is particularly concerning is that people reported less willingness to trust others even after they got another job.”

The study involved interviews with nearly 7,000 British adults, and it focussed on responses from 1991, when the individuals in the research were 33 years old, and again in 2008 when they were 50, looking at whether they had lost a job in the interim years.

At age 50, the probability of expressing trust was 4.5% lower amongst those who had experienced job displacement over the previous 17 years than those who had not. That figure rose to 7% among those for whom work forms a key part of their identity and sense of self.

One might imagine that the feelings of distrust would lift once an individual got a new job but, as Laurence’s study shows, the feelings can linger for years after a person has lost a job. And should the feelings of “depressed trust” lead to stress and anxiety, it can be difficult to convince a boss that you need time off work to recover.

According to a study by AXA PPP healthcare, two thirds of senior business managers and owners don’t believe that suffering from stress, anxiety or depression is a serious enough reason for employees to be off work. This, says the insurer, highlights the stigma surrounding mental ill health in British businesses.

One in five people who were asked how they would react if an employee they manage was suffering from a mental health issue, said they would worry about the employee’s capability to do their job. One in six said they would worry about the consequences for themselves personally, such as it reflecting poorly on their management style or having to pick up additional work. This is despite one in four managers acknowledging that they have experienced a mental health problem themselves – a finding that mirrors exactly the response of employees when asked the same question.

 Perhaps it’s not a surprise, then, that when asked if they would be honest with their line manager when calling in sick because they were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression, only 39 per cent of employees said they would tell the truth.

For those that stated they would avoid telling the truth, one in seven (15 per cent) said they were afraid they would not be believed, one in four (23 per cent) were afraid of being judged and 23 per cent preferred to keep their health issues private. Seven per cent said they feared their line manager’s reaction to being told the truth.

The survey also shows that nearly half – forty six per cent – of employees surveyed thought their employer didn’t take mental health issues seriously and just 12 per cent of bosses thought their industry was affected by mental ill health felt and that it was doing enough to address it.

Despite this, over half (54 per cent) of employers thought that attitudes towards mental ill health in the workplace have changed for the better in the past fifteen years.

Next Article: Been offered a settlement agreement? No wonder you’re stressed, says Cary Cooper. Read article.

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