· Features

Why workplace trust creates a productive and engaged team

Workplace trust has never been more important. To create and maintain a positive workplace culture across a digital workforce, it’s critical that senior management trust employees to get their work done while the office setting is de-matrixed.

But trust works both ways; it’s equally important for employees to trust in senior management. Trusting an employer to do the right thing and handle issues in a responsible way is key for promoting employee loyalty and company advocacy, as well as reducing staff churn rates.

Breathe’s Culture Economy Report investigated the importance of workplace trust in SMEs, and found that there is clear room for improvement. It uncovered only 43% of SMEs trust their business leaders and management, a 16% point decline (from 59%) since 2018.

Trust shouldn’t be taken for granted

Trust is an intangible, emotive quality which is often hard to describe, but its absence is acutely noted in the workplace. It’s powerful too - the 2020 Edelman UK Trust Barometer data showed that people are more likely to trust their employer to offer good advice during the COVID-19 crisis rather than the government. Trust entails a level of responsibility from employers and must be treated carefully.

In defence of leaders, a lack of trust is not usually the result of incompetence or lack of support and compassion. It's more likely down to the fact that leaders are distracted by their own pressures and haven't yet recognised the benefits of creating a culture of trust.

Interestingly, the findings of the Culture Economy Report didn’t indicate a shift from trust to distrust, rather that there was a marked increase in neutrality and ambivalence. So, these employees are here to be won over. Workplace trust isn’t a given, employers must work to cultivate it.

Positive culture creates trust

Employee trust relies on effective communication of authenticity and actions of employers. A cohesive working environment exists where trust forms the fundamental bedrock of an organisation's culture - this is what businesses should aim for.

It’s worth remembering that accountability is an essential part of a trusting organisational culture. When dealing with a dispute or an incident, procedures and regulations must be followed and enforced fairly, ensuring that everyone is held accountable for their actions.

If an employee cannot comfortably trust this is the case, then they are less likely to raise issues with their employers, leading to silences, resentment and a sense of injustice. Encouraging employees to talk candidly with senior management on a range of issues promotes open relationships driven by honesty which makes it easier to raise difficult issues should they arise.

Trust is reciprocal in nature. The more employees feel supported and trusted at work, the more personal responsibility they feel for the tasks set. This is particularly relevant at the moment as employers may be inclined to micromanage whilst everyone works remotely.

Avoiding micromanaging and adopting approaches grounded in flexibility is key for encouraging trust at work. Remote working during a pandemic isn’t easy. Instead of chastising people for not being chained to their desks for the typical 9 to 5, offer support for those who need to adapt their schedule.

Persistent monitoring and checking in can have adverse effects and be very demotivating, so it’s crucial employers take a step back and allow some breathing room during this time.

Culture as a strategic asset

Put simply, culture needs to be a leadership priority and not dismissed as simply a HR issue.

Everyone is responsible for creating an open, supportive and trusting company culture - it propels both personal and business growth. Our report found that as many as one in five people quit their job due to negative company culture which was ranked on par with salary as a reason for leaving a job. Toxic culture costs the UK economy £15.7 billion every year -- so the importance of treating company culture as a strategic initiative must not be underestimated.

Both in the traditional office setting and across a remote workforce, trust is non-negotiable if success is the goal. The truth is, businesses built without foundational trust risk crumbling when the dust settles.

Jonathan Richards is CEO and founder of Breathe