How betrayal can ruin your business; the healing role of good workplace culture

April 8, 2020
4 min read

Despite the world tending towards dependence on automation, the most important element in any business remains humans. To a large extent, this concept, as simple as it sounds, determines the survival of any company.

Workplaces, by construct, are communities, and communities are built on relationships. Given this, friction can be expected. Regardless, understanding what strengthens or weakens relationships is key to avoiding potential pitfalls.

A Harvard Business School review acknowledges that effective relationships between individuals and companies rest on employees' trust that goals are connected. Thus, there should be a continuous effort for the workforce to be consistently motivated.

Knowing that distrust can affect a business’ productivity isn't enough to stop it from occurring.  When this happens, who takes the blame?

How workplace culture contributes to betrayal

Without downplaying the importance of flexibility, boundaries have to be set to ensure sanity in the workplace. That is why it is ideal for companies to have tenets that are binding on every team member.

Emmanuel Gbolade, Termii CEO, maintains that building trust in the workplace has a lot to do with a company's culture.

"Poor company culture from my experience as a founder and investor has come to be the number one reason for employee revolt, distrust, and fractures."

Another startup founder, pleading anonymity, emphasises the importance of transparency if employees' trust has to be earned.

Suggested read: Some thoughts on company culture and how it translates to product adoption

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From both viewpoints, it is clear that if employees feel left out when major decisions that directly affect them are made, they consider it a betrayal. Ergo, they hold back and don't give their best.

However, what some consider an act of betrayal on the part of the leader may, sometimes, be decisions taken during difficult times. The truth is, though founders dare to adapt or make necessary organisational changes during demanding times, it is usually an enormous challenge – one they often prefer to face alone. Regardless, the team should be carried along.

A co-founder explains how the decision to slash employees’ salaries during the current pandemic was a decision unanimously taken by the whole team.

Subsequently, for Vivien (not real name), an employee, the deal-breaker is when superiors do not keep their word.

"One other thing I consider as betrayal at the workplace is when managers or superiors take credit for a collective work done by the whole team."

Unfortunately, some employees still engage in acts of betrayal despite leadership doing everything right.  This means that business owners can also be on the receiving end of distrust.

Brian (not real name), a serial entrepreneur and three-time startup founder, recounts how some team members consistently displayed varying levels of incompetence when delivering tasks, all the while offering lame excuses.

For him, any display of irresponsibility – missing targets and delaying tasks – translates to betrayal.

But all these have their effects.

Post-betrayal outcomes

Betrayal on the part of an employee appears easier to deal with in a small company. With proper communication, such an employee can be disciplined accordingly. Brian explains how he had to let the erring members go as the effect of their continued presence was having a negative effect on the business' overall productivity.

But what happens in a large setting when the pattern is not quickly noticed?

Mojisola Oluyide, a clinical psychologist, says that cases of betrayal may sometimes go unnoticed until corporate productivity is affected. At this point, the outcomes may be devastating.

According to Gbolade, "It cripples the very foundation of what the company stands for and, over time, affects the team's efficiency towards meeting the company's goals and serving customers effectively."

There are even extreme cases where the employee could expose the company’s secrets to competitors, or subvert clients for personal gain.

On the other hand, when an employee feels betrayed, "It reduces motivation, affects passion, and increases lip service. A betrayed employee's performance and attitude to work reduces drastically and the individual may influence other employees, thus affecting overall productivity," Oluyide submits.

Vivien could not agree more with this.

"I will become complacent if I'm doing work and another person is getting the credit. It will definitely affect my output."

The price to pay

Irrespective of the party affected, the onus is on individuals to be in charge of their emotions.

Oluyide proposes that "betrayal is usually not meant to build up but to break. However, an individual has the right to choose whether to learn from it and become better or be consumed by it. Your reaction is your choice."

Brian states that in a good way, he has been able to adapt in his current startup because of the cases of distrust he had experienced in the past. He knows so much now that he can get most things done without external help. He claims this reduces the possibility of similar occurrences.

For a company wounded by betrayal, it is necessary to restrategise and build new plans that haven't been exposed.

In the case of an employee, communication is important – seek redress. When in place conversational intelligence can stop betrayal from causing disruption.

Suggested read: Good-cultured companies are rare but they exist #TWBR

A fracture, when discovered in the workplace, reveals a weak link that requires attention. Gbolade believes that with a great company culture in place, cases of betrayal would be minimised.

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Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.
Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.
Human enthusiast | Writer | Senior reporter | Podcaster. Find me on Twitter @Nifemeah.

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