This is Why Workplaces Don’t Work Without Trust

Here at EWS, we spend a lot of time thinking about the factors behind good employer-employee relationships. In March we wrote a post on workplace loyalty, whether it’s being eroded and who might be to blame. This month we’re following up by looking at the other side of the same coin: trust.

Trust and loyalty in the workplace are inextricably linked. Essentially, trust is the belief that drives the practice of loyalty. When trust is present in an organisation, people feel closer, more united and more willing to depend on each other. In its absence fragmentation, conflict and suspicion quickly fester. Colleagues become disconnected from a shared sense of purpose and often from each other. Loyalty inevitably suffers.

So, what if the erosion of loyalty in the workplace is actually a breakdown in trust? There is some compelling evidence in support of this idea, in the shape of a 2016 global study by EY into the topic.

Surveying over 9,800 full-time workers in eight countries, EY found that fewer than half of respondents had ‘a great deal of trust’ in their current employer, boss or team/colleagues. At the other end of the scale, nearly one in six had ‘very little’ or ‘no trust at all’ in their current employer.

These were the headline findings trumpeted by the report, but for us, there was a particularly alarming statistic buried on page 12:

A third (34%) of global respondents have “very little” to “no trust” in their current employer that if they “work hard” and “meet performance goals” they will be rewarded with “increased pay or a promotion.”

For some reason, these respondents no longer believe in the link between performance and reward in their organisation. Startlingly, they have lost faith in the employment contract.

This should sound alarm bells for employers everywhere, particularly when considering the four biggest consequences of lack of trust quoted in the EY report. Low-trust employees are most likely to:

  1. Look for another job
  2. Work only the minimum number of hours required
  3. Be less engaged/productive
  4. Make less of an effort to produce quality work

If one in six of your employees has this low-productivity, low-morale mindset, your organisation is in serious trouble. Not least because productivity and morale are only two factors affected by workplace trust. Creativity and ingenuity are two more, according to Jacqueline Oliveira in her illuminating TEDxCesena talk The behaviour of trust in the workplace.

So what can organisations do to safeguard trust and stop employees going on what leadership consultant Dennis Jaffe calls ‘an internal strike’? Fortunately, his excellent Forbes article on the topic of trust lists six building blocks of trust, which individuals or organisations can assess for in their relationships:

  1. Reliability and dependability – Are individuals, particularly leaders, true to their word? Do they fulfil their commitments?
  2. Transparency – Do managers and leaders keep their teams in the loop or do they meet in secret and withhold important information?
  3. Competency – Do employees believe that leaders, managers and colleagues are capable of doing what they are supposed to do?
  4. Sincerity, authenticity and congruency – Do employees believe that leaders say what they believe and believe what they are saying?
  5. Fairness – Is respect, recognition and energy evenly dispersed through your workplace, or are some areas noticed and listened to more than others?
  6. Openness and vulnerability – Are leaders and managers capable of apologising, admitting mistakes or being disagreed with?

Jaffe believes organisations that are able to assess the presence or absence of each of these six qualities are best equipped to build or restore trust. With prizes such as greater productivity, creativity, ingenuity and morale at stake, it’s well worth trying.

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