A high-performing workplace culture can only be achieved when trust lies at the heart of that workplace. We know that great businesses powered by great people. It’s therefore imperative that trust is considered as part of an organisation’s overall employee engagement strategy in order to attract and retain those great people.

We’re firm believers of this ourselves at UKG and have seen the benefits of bi-directional trust over the past year. Shortly after we announced in February 2020 that Kronos Incorporated and Ultimate Software would be merging to create one of the world’s largest cloud companies, bringing together two award-winning, people-focused cultures, the world went into lockdown due to COVID-19. We always knew the merger would present difficulties, but against the backdrop of a global pandemic, bi-directional trust was imperative for establishing strong relationships and maintaining that people-centric culture. 

With trust being a foundational imperative to an efficient, engaged and happy workforce, we decided to look into workplace attitudes towards trust. In this recent global survey from The Workforce Institute at UKG, it was found that two thirds (67%) of U.K. employees and business leaders believe that trust should be earned. In addition, 60% of employees say trust has a direct impact on their sense of belonging at work, but only 57% feel that they are trusted to complete daily responsibilities.

Creating this idea of belonging is incredibly important because an employee that feels as though they belong at an organisation is an employee that will be more engaged, happier and ultimately more loyal.

With this in mind, leaders must be looking at how they can establish a bi-directional trust in the workplace.

The power of workplace trust

The insights revealed through the Workforce Institute survey highlight the impact trust has on the workforce, and therefore the overall productivity of an organisation. When employees feel like trust is lacking from their workplace relationships—whether with coworkers, their manager, or in the processes that define their daily work—it has many negative consequences.

As an example, employees who do not feel trusted are less productive: 61% say that the perception of low trust hurts their daily effort. This is a huge impact, and especially when we consider the current economic outlook—as many businesses look to rebuild in the wake of the pandemic—it becomes even more important that organisations instill trust. Put simply, it’s good business sense to put people first, focusing on their individual needs. Taking this approach creates a more harmonious workplace culture, which positively impacts on employees, and subsequently their output.

But productivity isn’t the only area trust impacts: Half of all employees surveyed in the U.K. (51%) feel a lack of trust impacts their mental health. We’ve sadly seen this is exacerbated by the pandemic as many organisations moved to remote working, with our research outlining that 57% think it is easier to trust colleagues in a physical workplace versus those working virtually. With this in mind, it’s critical that leaders ensure they’re demonstrating their trust for them to help reduce the impact on mental health. Crucially, managers must avoid micromanaging and be intentional in their communication with employees – having a more personal touch in messages and show empathy during tough times, as well as discussing business issues and topics that provide better insight into the happenings at the organisation can demonstrate trust in employees to obtain this information, show how their work fits into the larger picture, and help to reduce the negative impact on mental health.

A positive to take away from the pandemic is that over half (59%) say the period has positively reshaped perceptions about flexible and remote work arrangements. Ensuring these perceptions remain positive as we move into a new normal will be essential for leaders to maintain that trust with employees.

The building blocks for trust

As with most things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for establishing trust in the workplace. However, there are basic principles that apply, and interestingly, what’s most important for building trust differs between managers and employees.

Our research found that managers state that employees can earn their trust through producing quality work (46%) being dependable (39%) and by being good listeners (34%). On the flip side, employees state that their managers can earn their trust through being good listeners (57%), being dependable (46%) and being honest about projects or situations (36%).

There are clear alignments here in what both managers and employees need from one another, but it’s interesting to see that essentially managers trust employees based on the quality of their work first and foremost, but employees trust managers based on the softer, human skills that they demonstrate.

Leaders must ensure they are taking the time out to schedule catchups with their teams in which they provide an open space to listen and discuss any challenges they may be facing, connecting with them on both a professional and personal level. Conducting one-on-one meetings with the goal of listening to an employee about their projects, what they feel is going well and where they could use help or coaching to improve or move things forward. Forming an allyship between manager and employee can be extremely powering when it comes to trust in the workplace. 

Ultimately, leaders should create an environment where employees feel supported, valued, and listened to in order to build a foundation for di-directional trust. Trust is a two-way street and so leaders cannot expect to be trusted if they aren’t placing their trust in employees. Demonstrating your trust in teams will facilitate their trust in you.

Sustaining trust in an ever-changing world

Maintaining employee engagement throughout the pandemic and into the future is key for organisations to thrive, but with all elements of our working worlds having been turned upside down, there are new considerations when it comes to trust too. Remote working is just one area where leaders have had to work on trust and be purposeful about rebuilding any trust that may have waned as a result of the pandemic. With this in mind, it’s critical that organisations – and leaders in particular – take proactive steps to understanding what else could be impacting trust and ensuring it is still established.

The principles that employees believe to be most important in ensuring they trust their managers – listening, dependability, and honesty – can still be established in virtual environments, but managers need to take the time out to implement processes to support these.

Trust is essential in creating a happy, healthy and engaged workforce, and leaders should therefore be proactively establishing trust within their organisations. Those recognising the need for trust to be a foundational imperative will have a more engaged workforce as a result, and ultimately a more successful business.


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