RTÉ and restoring trust in the workplace



How does  working for RTÉ feel to the majority of its 1,800 or so staff?  Unfair at very least, I imagine. It’s not great to be in an environment with a ‘them and us’ culture. One where you are denied spending in order to do your job properly or have to make do with faulty equipment while the top echelons and ‘talent’ have salaries 10 times your take-home pay and get to head off on expensive junkets.

The revelations, as RTÉ Executives were grilled by the Public Accounts Committee and the Oireachtas Media Committee, have resulted in a loss of confidence in the national broadcaster. These may come as news to the public but for the disenchanted RTÉ workforce they are an everyday reality in an organisation where the lines between State-funded public service broadcasting and the commercial side suppoRTÉd by advertising and sales have become blurred.

Following the crisis of confidence remedial action is on the cards in three critical areas – RTÉ’s finances, the structure of the organisation, and its culture. The first will involve forensic investigation into RTÉ’s accounts, the second will involve a review about the future make-up of RTÉ and how it is financed. But just how do you go about creating a healthy culture and restoring it to one where, as Minister for Media and Arts Catherine Martin puts it, there is an environment of trust?

A big question and one that doesn’t only apply to RTÉ but in situations across the board from troubled companies to poorly performing sports teams. If the ethos isn’t right in a particular organisation, results fall short of what could be achieved by workers or team members. It sounds easy to say that, if employees feel valued, if there is equality and respect for diversity in the workplace employees will be more engaged and flourish.

But where on earth do you start restoring a culture that has become toxic? Go in with guns blazing, demand that the heads of top brass roll and engage in some serious retraining?

None of the above, according to Cathal Divilly, CEO of Great Place To Work. “Whether you like it or not every organisation has a culture and if you are looking to rebuild or build a culture you need to measure what that culture is and come up with hard data. You want to take the emotion out of it.”

Culture consultants Great Place To Work are involved with around 60,000 personnel a year in both public and private sector workplaces as they support organisations to build stronger cultures, with certification. Data gathering involves talking to everyone in the company to get a full picture. Situations change and evolve and there will always be areas where the organisation is doing better than in others.

“Once the research is done one of the non-negotiables is that leadership have bought into improvement. Often where things have gone wrong is that HR have tried to lead on improvement but have got no support. That support needs to be tangible and not just lip service,” says Cathal Divilly.

Consultants also need to look at the trust levels and communication in relations from top down and down upwards. “Then you have to prioritise what needs to be done and to have an absolute obsession with the basics.”

According to Divilly, these are:

Communication: how the information flows up and down the organisation where people are prepared to listen as well as speak

Rebuilding trust and  integrity: where people deliver on their promises. “The purpose of the organisation needs to be articulated clearly and honest leadership where it is stated that ‘we are going to improve’ is a great message.”

Regenerating a culture can take years and, as more revelations emerge about the carry-on at RTÉ, there is clearly a great deal of room for improvement. Public indignation ss down to ignorance about schmoozing of clients which is par for the course in some industries.

There isn’t room for Schadenfreude, for RTÉ is a cautionary tale with lessons to be learned for workplaces everywhere. Great Place To Work has found that many employees feel adrift in their organisations with only one in four strongly agreeing that they feel connected to their culture and only one in three strongly agreeing that they belong at their organisation.

Let’s hope that the crisis at RTÉ will be cathartic and that our public service broadcaster emerges on a sounder footing with a culture of trust restored.

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