June 12, 2020
Trust is a concept we often find hard to describe. It’s sticky, intangible and difficult to pinpoint but we know when trust is absent. When it’s missing from a workforce, a culture can unravel. According to the Culture Economy Report 2020, 43 percent of employees in UK SME’s don’t trust their employer to do the right thing – a 16 point decline since 2018. This is alarming. Working remotely over the last few months has highlighted just how important workplace trust is, between employees and management, and vice versa.
In practice, signs a manager doesn’t trust their staff include micromanaging activity. Constantly checking in and interfering with how employees get the job done can be disruptive, and has been exacerbated by COVID-19 restrictions. As the nation adapts to remote working and sets up offices in their spare bedrooms, it’s now impossible for senior managers to have an eye on what everyone is doing all day. Attempts to monitor productivity can feel overbearing and are unlikely to create a productive and inspired team who feel trusted – senior managers need to take a step back and feel assured that people can complete tasks in their own way.
Equally, a lack of trust in an employer might be evident through the absence of open discussion in meetings – staff may not feel that their contributions are respected and as a result, stay silent on key issues. They may not contribute opinions or offer feedback in fear that their criticisms may be dismissed, and an anxiety to share experiences and ideas prohibits business success. Elsewhere, staff may ask for permission when they don’t need it – constantly looking for reassurance on simple actions in an effort to protect themselves.
It’s important to note here that a lack of trust in employers usually isn’t the result of an ineptitude or the absence of compassion. Instead, leaders are often preoccupied with the pressures of running a business. These burdens are of course exacerbated by the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19.
The workplace can’t and won’t survive without trust – it’s reciprocal, key for employee loyalty and minimising churn rates. A cohort who trusts their managers and feels trusted themselves are more likely to advocate on an employer’s behalf and become invested in the business. So, given its undoubted importance, how do we ensure that trust is a fundamental part of the workplace?
Company culture is the key
Trust isn’t an asset we can take for granted. It’s a constant work in progress, that is attainable with the right actions. When reflecting on the issue of trust, The Culture Economy Report 2020 found that the absence of trust in employers didn’t necessarily result in a movement toward distrust, rather employees were overwhelming neutral. They can be won over. To do this, employers should make trust a fundamental part of company culture.
Making everyone accountable for culture rather than limiting it to HR is an important step in establishing trust
Making everyone accountable for the culture in an organisation rather than limiting it to a HR issue is an important step in establishing ongoing trust. When something goes wrong or there is a dispute at work, employees need to have the confidence that policies will be implemented fairly, and everyone will be held to account for their actions. If this is not the case, then they might stay silent, keeping their grievances under wraps which creates tension and resentment.
Accountability starts with open and honest conversations. Encouraging employees to talk candidly with other members of staff will develop a supportive environment which enables people to raise issues that are concerning them. From the boardroom to the shop floor, creating forums to talk about mental health, wellbeing and any issues of concern will establish what the company culture stands for and will allow employees to trust that their voices will be heard.
Accountability runs alongside flexibility in company culture – as we adjust to working from home, it’s imperative to embrace flexibility. Recognise the reality that employees now find themselves in. There’s been no dress rehearsal for those who now find themselves cast into the role of teachers and carers. This takes us back to the negative impact of micromanaging – frequently monitoring activity is counterproductive, especially for those who are navigating a disrupted routine. Offering support and breathing space to those who might be operating outside of usual hours or having difficulty adapting to remote working is hugely beneficial for creating a trusting environment.
The culture strategy
For a business to thrive, trust must be an essential part of any organisation and embedded into the heart of company culture. If employees don’t trust managers or feel trusted themselves, they’re unlikely to contribute meaningful and impactful ideas that allow businesses to flourish and succeed. Leaving a business will always seem like an easier option then speaking up and voicing some difficult concerns within a tense company culture, which is why so many view it as such.
1 in 5 people quit their job due to toxic company, this in turn contributes to an uncomfortable £15.7 billion in poor culture costs to the UK economy every year. There is a clear business case for investing in workplace trust. As the COVID-19 crisis threatens the economy, high employee churn is something businesses simply can’t afford.