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Gethin Nadin


Chief Innovation Officer, Benefex

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Employee trust: a valuable commodity in times of crisis

In times of crisis, everything relies on trust. Find out why...

In our ‘new normal’, employers have staff working long hours, working from home and furloughed. Whether employees are key workers exposed at the frontline to the risk and anxiety of Coronavirus, or whether they are adjusting to working from home or on temporary leave, anxiety will be rife, and employees are turning to one of the most trusted sources in their lives for help and guidance. 

Globally, more than 73% of people say their employer is the most trusted institution in their lives. Trust is the foundation of human connection. Our community wellbeing depends on trust to succeed. In 2019, more than 75% of people said they trusted CEOs to take the lead on change instead of the Government

As we head into a recession on the back of the pandemic, being honest with our staff not only breeds trust, it gets them on board with how you are going to get through it. 

Trusted communications

Over the past few months, the best employers have realised that at this time, it’s not possible to over-index on communications. Employees are yearning to feel more connected to their organisation (and each other) as they struggle to adjust to a new working life.

It’s been incredibly important that these communications are underpinned by trust. Research has identified that when we communicate honestly, several purposes are served. It calms fears in employees, reinforces trust in an employer’s integrity and allows for emotional support. 

In 2019, a study by the Harvard Business Review found that among the highlighted elements that build trust, expertise, positivity and consistency rank highly. That last element – consistency – is having a hugely positive impact at the moment.

Delivering regular communications to employees gives them much-needed structure. Knowing they will hear from their employer on a certain date/time and knowing they can trust the content of those communications plays a big part in how well they will handle the current anxiety and stress they will be experiencing. 

While the coronavirus pandemic is a huge crisis for us to be managing, there are some secrets to be found in the practices of professional crisis managers. They tend to lead on three basic principles:

1. Admit the problem 

2. Tell employees how you are fixing it 

3. Inform comprehensively and continuously

A recent CNN article profiling businesses suggested that, as well as quelling employee fears and building trust in leaders, greater honesty and transparency in communications also makes employees much more conscious of the roles they play. This makes employees increase efforts to control waste and reduce spending.

As we head into a recession on the back of the pandemic, being honest with our staff not only breeds trust, it gets them on board with how you are going to get through it. 

What if we don’t have the answers?

The only certainty during the coronavirus pandemic is that we can’t be certain about much. The experts share their best guesses, politicians can’t commit to figures and employers just don’t know the answers to lots of their employees’ questions. So how can employers be the trusted source their staff need them to be when they don’t have all the answers?

Uncertainty about facts, numbers and science is called epistemic uncertainty. It is caused by a lack of knowledge about the past and the present. Science is full of epistemic uncertainty, but most of us just aren’t used to having as much of it in our lives as we do now. It can be a struggle for employers to communicate transparently when they don’t know what the right answer is. 

What happens when we acknowledge uncertainty sits behind a recent study. It explored “The Effects of Communicating Uncertainty on Public Trust in Facts and Numbers” and found that, when a source says it is uncertain about something, its trustworthiness only decreases slightly. 

The study’s findings suggest that being transparent about uncertainty does not harm the public’s trust in the facts or in the source. It’s ok for employers to admit they don’t have the answers – trust and honesty in our communications is about being as transparent as we can. 

In times of crisis, people turn to those who they trust. And when this is all over, they will remember who they trusted. 

Impact on wellbeing

In 2013, the UN’s World Happiness Report looked into how individual wellbeing was impacted by the global financial crisis. The report found that, in those countries that report high levels of trust and more social connections, people’s wellbeing was less negatively affected by the economic downturn. 

The 2020 World Happiness Report again shows how important trust is to our lives. It suggests that the difference in overall wellbeing between someone who lives and works in a high trust environment compared to someone in a low trust environment is as much as a third.

When they studied times of crisis like the Great Depression, World War II, 9/11 and the 2008 financial crash, Gallup found that there are four universal needs employees will want from their employer: trust, compassion, stability and hope.

In times of crisis, people turn to those who they trust. And when this is all over, they will remember who they trusted. 

We need trust in someone (or something)

These are uncertain and insecure times. Humans yearn for stability and we don’t like disruption in our lives. But when we put our trust in something or someone, we are able to relinquish some of the control we have over our lives.

It’s said that real leadership begins not when others trust you, but when you start to trust yourself. My advice to HR struggling to communicate well during this pandemic is to ensure your employees experience the real person behind the comms. Lead with empathy, logic and transparency, and communicate consistently and frequently. 

Are you creating a better culture for your organisation and its people?

HRZone has recently launched Culture Pioneers to support and celebrate the people practitioners dedicated to transforming company culture in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. If you’re doing good work in this area, we want to hear your story!

2 Responses

  1. Thank you for taking the time
    Thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment. We definitely need reminding of these things!

  2. Great article. Most of us
    Great article. Most of us know trust is important between employers and employees, but all of us need a reminder like this once in a while.

Author Profile Picture
Gethin Nadin

Chief Innovation Officer, Benefex

Read more from Gethin Nadin

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