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To trust or not to trust?

Better Business | Business Insights | Corporate buzzwords and communication

The question of how much to trust your employees is a thorny one for any employer.

  • It’s not always easy to trust employees when your business is on the line
  • One company has gone as far as starting to microchip employees
  • A recent example from Google seems a better approach to the employee trust problem

Most know that they should trust employees – the ‘self-actualisation’ on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – but it is not always easy to do when it is your business and your clients. Two examples this week seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum.

The first is the news that a US company is among the first in the world to implant chips in its employees. The chip is voluntary for the time being and is currently for no more sinister a use than opening building doors and paying for food at the company’s cafeteria. However, there are more more difficult long-term implications, notably a loss of privacy and the prospect of the company being able to monitor its staff at all times.

"An employee had publicly expressed some uncomfortable sentiments about the company’s gender policy..."

It is tempting to say that this is just voluntary and staff can resist it if they don’t like the idea. That works in an environment where everyone is equally powerful, but organisations don’t work like that and it is easy to see how workers may feel compelled to be implanted.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Google, where the handling of a recent ‘anti-diversity’ memo was a study in elegant HR. An employee had publicly expressed some uncomfortable sentiments about the company’s gender policy, suggesting – and this is paraphrasing – that men mostly liked coding, while women preferred to have families and work short hours.

Google’s dilemma was to break faith with its freedom of expression policy or risk offending swathes of its workplace. The guy was fired, but with the following explanation:

Google’s dilemma was to break faith with its freedom of expression policy or risk offending swathes of its workplace. The guy was fired, but with the following explanation:

“Much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it. However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK."

“The author had a right to express their views on those topics--we encourage an environment in which people can do this and it remains our policy to not take action against anyone for prompting these discussions.”

The message? You can express yourself, but just give it a bit of thought beforehand. A good solution to a tricky problem.

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