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TRUST IN THE PUBLIC SECTOR
Individual and Organizational Determinants
Trust is of major theoretical and instrumental significance for the study of public organizations. Despite an extensive literature detailing the implications of trust in organizational life, there has been little systematic research on its individual or organizational determinants. This article develops and tests a model of trust formation in public organizations. Results of this research show that organizational trust is a distinct work-related attitute. Trust is based on individual demographics, psychological and individual predispositions, attitudes and beliefs, and affective responses to organizational factors. The most important determinants of trust, however, are found in the organizational climate established by supervisory relations.
Trust has major theoretical and practical significance for the study of public organizations (Nachmias, 1985). For example, scholars have suggested that trust is an integrative mechanism that creates and sustains solidarity in social systems (Barber, 1983; Blau, 1964) and provides the "lubrication" that makes it possible for organizations to work (Bennis & Nanus, 1984). Specifically, research shows that groups possessing high levels of trust are more effective in problem-solving situations (Zand, 1972). Trust enables effective performance because it encourages the exchange of relevant information and determines whether team members are willing to allow others to influence their decisions and actions (Boss, 1978). In short, trust is essential for facilitating group accomplishment (Friedlander, 1970).
Trust also fosters democratic values (Bernstein, 1980), plays an integral role in achieving macro-organizational effectiveness (Culbert & McDonough, 1985) and is a crucial factor in the efficiency and effectiveness of any social group (Golembiewski & McConkie, 1975; Rotter, 1967). The literature recognizes trust as a condition that allows individuals to realize satisfactory human relationships (Gibb, 1964). Finally, scholars associate trust with several significant features of organizational life, including cooperation and conflict (Deutsch, 1973; Loomis, 1959; Sherif, 1966), leadership styles (Likert, 1967), managerial assumptions about workers (McGregor, 1960), need satisfaction (Maslow, 1954), organizational change and development (Golembiewski, 1986), participation (Miles & Ritchie, 1984; Rosen & Jerdee, 1977), communication (Mellinger, 1956; O'Reilly & Roberts, 1967), stress and burnout (Golembiewski, Munzenrider, & Stevenson, 1986), participation in unions (Fox, 1974), and psychological contracts (Argyris, 1960; Levinson, 1962; Schein, 1980).
Despite linkages between trust and these significant organizational dimensions, there has been little systematic study of the determinants of trust in organizations (Barber, 1983; Culbert & McDonough, 1986; Nachmias, 1985; Peters, 1984). In this article, we address the gap in the literature by developing and testing a model of the determinants of organizational trust. First, we review the literature and develop a theoretical framework. Then we describe and present the results of a study of public employees that tested our framework. Finally, we discuss the theoretical and managerial implications of our findings.
Because the literature identifies utilitarian exchange as a principal basis for participation in work organizations (Etzioni, 1961; March & Simon, 1958), trust could be considered a desirable, but not prerequisite condition for effective individual and group performance. Trust, however, represents a "source of legitimacy and diffuse support" (Nachmias, 1985, p. 134) that extends commitment and motivation beyond utilitarian grounds and mitigates the ambiguity and uncertainty endemic to many bureaucratic settings (Pascale & Athos, 1981). Trust is a resource that can be drawn on to accomplish organizational purposes; the loss of trust is a loss of system power (Nachmias, 1985).
Contemporary workers demand more trustworthy behavior (Barber, 1983); they want to trust co-workers and superiors (Pascale & Athos, 1981); and they prefer to work in environments that promote trust rather than ones that engender suspicion and distrust (Hage, 1980). Trust provides a basis for security, confidence, and faith in the intentions and actions of supervisors, managers, and organizational leaders.
French and Bell (1984) maintain that levels of trust are much lower in many groups and organizations than is desirable or necessary. A recent survey reported that fully 43% of the U.S. work force is cynical and mistrustful of others (Kanter & Mirvis, 1989). The same study described public employees as more cynical than their private sector counterparts. This finding suggests that many public employees come to work with guarded, suspicious attitudes and with little faith in organizational agents. Behaviors fostered by such attitudes inevitably debilitate those who harbor them as well as the organizations they serve.
THE CONCEPT OF TRUST
For many organizational researchers, trust is elusive and difficult to comprehend; it is a conceptual morass (Barber, 1983; Bennis & Nanus, 1985). A review of contemporary usage, however, suggests a pattern of meaning: Trust involves faith or confidence in the intentions or actions of a person or group, the expectation of ethical, fair, and nonthreatening behavior, and concern for the rights of others in exchange relationships (Cook & Wall, 1980; Hrebiniak, 1971; Rotter, 1967). Trust also involves a willingness to place oneself in some jeopardy, to risk vulnerability, to take the chance that one's dependency will not be exploited (Eddy, 1981). In general, employees experience trusting environments as "benign and tractable," permitting high self-esteem for group members, a range of enrichment or growth possibilities, and qualities that reduce fear and related defensive behaviors (Gibb, 1978).
The development of trust in a relationship is reciprocal, so that individuals respond in kind to the trust or mistrust directed toward them (Garfinkel, 1964; Golembiewski & McConkie, 1975; Luhman, 1979). In other words, experience creates a "cycle" of trust that can be "self-heightening" in both positive (high trust) or negative (low trust) terms (Golembiewski, 1979, 1985). Individuals give meaning to their experiences with co-workers, supervisors, managers, and others outside the organization and, based on those experiences, construct their beliefs about the trustworthiness of the organization (Strickland, 1958).
There are, of course, multiple objects of trust for employees within the organization; trust is a highly differentiated attitude for most individuals depending on their experiences and belief systems (Fox, 1974; Nachmias, 1985). For example, employees can trust co-workers, but not supervisors. Or, they can have confidence in upper management, but not in …