An engaged workforce remains the ultimate goal for most employers. The reason for this is simple: engaged teams perform better. In fact, companies that beat the Culture Amp benchmark for engagement score 10% higher in customer satisfaction on average. And their customer service times are 3x faster.
Employee trust is the bedrock of engagement. But with work habits in a state of flux, earning that trust is more complicated than ever. This article explores the pandemic’s impact on trust in the workplace, the scientific connection between trust and job performance, and what leaders can do to earn employees’ trust.
The changing power dynamic around trust in the workplace
The shift to remote working during the pandemic created an urgent need for agile and hyper-transparent communication. The luxuries of localized memos, incidental catch-ups, and ad-hoc updates quickly disappeared. Leaders (in HR and beyond) pivoted to new modes and habits of interaction in order to keep people informed, protect productivity, and keep culture alive.
It worked. Between March 2019 and December 2021, Culture Amp surveyed 5,000 companies – 2.2 million employees – to get their perspectives on how well they were being kept in the loop. The data provides insight into what helped build trust during a turbulent period. Positive responses to being “kept informed about what is happening” and feeling that “[employees] are important to the company’s success” rose by a minimum of 6%.
Two years on, the trust dynamic between leaders and the workforce is changing again. On a recent episode of the Culture First podcast, Rachel Botsman, a lecturer on trust in the modern world, discussed how workplace trust continues to evolve.
In a nutshell? She says it’s not enough for leaders to talk about building trust. Today’s workforce is willing to place trust in their employer, but only if the business has earned that trust by demonstrably following through on its stated intentions. When trust is asked for, but not earned, a rise in employee activism means that teams will hold leaders to account more than ever.
Rachel explains that in any situation, there is a trust giver and a trust receiver, and it's the trust giver that decides whether to give you their trust. Companies may want to control the trust dynamic, but the trust givers – their employees – are the ones with the power. Healthy work environments are predicated on this new, more equitable, power dynamic.
The connection between employee trust and engagement
The bar to earning employee trust is higher than it used to be, but there are significant upsides for employers that get this right. Trust has a tangible effect on how people engage with your company and, ultimately, their performance.
Employee trust allows for better communication and better cohesion. In a trusting work environment, employees not only feel more engaged but also collaborate more efficiently and with less interpersonal friction.
According to Culture Amp data, engaged employees agree that they experience far better communication among both teams and departments (26 points higher than less engaged employees). They were also more likely to agree that there was open and honest two-way communication at their company (36 points higher than less engaged employees).
And it’s not just about communication. Perceptions of team cohesion and belonging also improve for engaged employees. Our research found workers with this label were more likely to feel part of a team (21 points higher than less engaged employees) as well as feel like their team “holds itself accountable for results” (22 points higher).
An engaged workforce is more likely to focus on mission attainment, strategic direction, and organizational outcomes – and encourage colleagues to do the same.
How leaders can earn employee trust
Today’s leaders face a plurality of expectations, many of them conflicting. From the right to work in line with personal preferences to greater demands of your words and actions, managing these expectations requires open communication and a flexible strategy.
The non-negotiable first step: Listen to your employees. Whether it’s through feedback surveys or ongoing conversations, building strong employee/employer relationships starts with understanding your employees and their needs. Once you understand their expectations, respond in an intentional way. Consistent two-way communication, followed by a willingness to take meaningful action, shows employees that you value their perspectives. This contributes to heightened trust and everything that brings with it.