Chapter 11: Employee Relations and the Illusion of Trust
Kim Mather INTRODUCTION Power enables the few to minimize their dependence on the many. It enables the few to minimize the discretion of the many in the making of decisions deemed by the few to be important for their purposes. It enables the few, in other words, to manifest distrust of the many by imposing upon them work roles and work rules which leave little scope for important choices – including those determining the whole pattern of rewards, status, and privilege (Fox, 1974, p. 14) These words are taken from what is arguably the seminal contribution on trust in the sphere of employee relations. Embedded within Fox’s analysis of trust are the key concepts of power, the degree of discretional space afforded to employees and the regulation of work and wages. His contribution raises the possibilities of both cooperation and conflict in the workplace and the ways in which trust relations are both developed and violated. Importantly he notes that trust does not simply arise within existing social institutions and processes but is embedded within the principles that underlie these institutions, ‘for these too are devised, supported and operated by men [sic] who are capable of choosing differently’ (ibid., p. 15). It is within this context that this chapter is written. While trust has gained momentum in the literature it cannot simply be assumed into existence on the basis of an assertion of truths embodied in human resource management (HRM) prescriptions for managing high-trust relations. This is not to suggest that...
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