27th Jan 2021
3 Min Read

Why organisational trust is 2021‘s hot employee engagement topic

Lindsay Kohler
Lindsay Kohler
Culture & Change

This article was originally published on 18 January 20201on Forbes.com

The annual Edelman Trust Barometer report was recently released, and the provocative headline is that business is more trusted than government in two-thirds of countries. With that trust comes responsibility. Responsibility to be transparent, authentic, fair, and equitable. That is much easier said than done.

Organizational trust is a complicated relationship. It‘s the willingness of employees to be vulnerable to the actions of their leaders. When we decide if we trust a leader, we‘re assessing his or her competency, benevolence, and integrity.

According to the report:

  • Business is the only institution seen as both competent and ethical
  • 62% of respondents believe Covid-19 has deepened inequalities around the world CEO credibility dropped fewer percentage points than academic expert credibility — a telling figure when the main news story is still Covid-19
  • Employer media is seen as the most trustworthy source
  • 68% think CEOS should step in when the government does not fix major societal problems
  • 84% of employees are concerned about losing their jobs.

If we zoom out even further, all the ways in which trust was broken in 2020 — for example, government inability to protect us from a pandemic — it‘s no wonder that this year what employees want most is to be able to trust in something again.

Employees in high-trust organizations are more productive, more energetic, more collaborative, and stay with their current company longer than those in a low trust organization. The differences between the two groups on these measures are staggering. 106% more energy, 50% higher productivity, 13% fewer sick days, and 40% less burnout. Therefore, building trust is a business imperative — and focusing these efforts on the areas highlighted in the Edelman Trust Barometer can serve as a smart prioritization tool.

Four ways businesses can maintain and grow trust

Trust is all about relationships. It‘s built up over time as positive encounters and mutually beneficial behaviors continue to occur. Individual trust looks different in a remote-working world. In the past, it could be assessed with a smile and a handshake or a confident demeanor. But, some of the old trust-building exercises for leaders still apply. Gestures such as making small talk, asking questions, using correct grammar, and showing goodwill goes a long way to maintaining credibility.

Employees concerned about losing their job will look to their leaders and trust that those leaders have their best interests at heart. This group will need frequent updates and certainty where certainty can be provided. Encourage leaders to be transparent about the state of the business, business goals, and the economy.

We know employer media is currently seen as a trustworthy source. To maintain that status, understand how misinformation spreads at work. When we repeatedly come across misinformation, we view it as more likely to be true. And when the subject is both important and ambiguous, rumors will fly.

Engage your people to co-create the message. We know that community attachment builds trust in government — why not apply that technique to the workplace? For example, designate passionate champions to both inform and spread important messages.

Trust will be 2021‘s north star

This is a chance for businesses and leaders to step up for their people. With trust and ethics as a guiding light, we can move forward at an accelerated rate.

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