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Trust Me: You’ll Want to Read This Article About Trust at Work

February 16, 2021 Employee Experience
Julie Develin
By Julie Develin

Some business questions are difficult to answer, some are easy to answer, and some are really, really subjective. One of those subjective questions is: What does trust mean to your organization? This is one of those questions where answers will run the gamut. If you ask 10 people what trust means to them, you will get 10 different responses.

Think about all the things we are asked to trust — or have been conditioned to trust — on a day to day basis. We trust that the brakes on our car will work. We trust that other drivers will stop at a red light. We trust the postal service to deliver our mail (maybe a bit slower these days). Imagine how stressful our day would be if our default position was not to trust in these situations?

When it comes to the modern workplace, that’s exactly the problem we’re facing. Employers and employees more often than not lack a healthy level of trust of each other. This is one of the key reasons organizations fail to achieve the employee experience they strive for. 

The Value of Trust in the Workplace

According to a recent study (pdf) of nearly 4,000 employees and business leaders in 11 countries conducted by The Workforce Institute at UKG, when it comes to trust at work, there are several things that employers and employees can do better.

Before we break those down, let’s talk about the cost of distrust. According to the researchers, more than a quarter of survey respondents globally (24%) say they’ve left a company because they did not feel trusted. One in five (22%) say they did not refer a candidate for a job opening because they didn’t trust their company. More than two-thirds (68%) also admitted that not feeling trusted hurt their daily effort.

Turnover, talent acquisition and productivity are three of the biggest — and most costly — people challenges every organization can face. They’re hard enough in the best of circumstances, but when you layer on institutional challenges like a fundamental lack of trust, even the best HR leader will be hard-pressed to build an engaged workforce.

Related Article: What's Trust Got to Do With It?

A Fundamental Question: Should Trust at Work Be Given or Earned?

Think back to your first day on the job. Did you feel trusted from day one? It’s clear that many do not. In fact, 72% of C-suite executives surveyed felt that trust needed to be earned by the employee, and only 25% of leaders said they trusted employees from day one.

This means that the employee experience is starting off on unequal footing for many. Instead of trusting employees who are hired because they were supposedly the best fit, most employers expect new employees to earn trust, despite their prior skills and achievements.

Sure, it takes time to truly get to know someone new, but if you don’t begin with a position of trust for all employees, how can the organization design workplace policies that empower an employee? Empowering employees is especially important at a time when work and life so closely overlap.

Related Article: What 2020 Taught Us About Being an Effective Leader

Training and Development: Do as I Say, or Do as You Want?

As part of employee empowerment, employers should prioritize lifelong learning for workers eager to acquire new skills. Today's workforce is hungry to succeed and prosper in their lives and careers, and expect their employers to provide them with ongoing opportunities to grow. While this drive to succeed is sought after by many segments of workers, millennials and Gen Z stand out in terms of their expectations that their employer will provide them the means to learn and grow personally and professionally.

Providing these opportunities for advancement can also work to further a trusting culture, but employers have more work to do to get there, according to the research. The study showed that a mere 24% of employees felt that they could select their own training and development opportunities, rather than opportunities chosen for them, or mandated by companies. While it is unrealistic to expect employees to have complete control in deciding their own course of learning at work, employers can show and build trust by allowing them to choose trainings tailored to their interests whenever it’s feasible.

Trust building may not be the first thing that comes to mind when discussing training and development in the workplace, but don’t discount its impact. Training and development initiatives are mutually beneficial for both the employer and the employees. Employees obtain new knowledge, skills and abilities, and also feel that the company is invested in their development and future, which fosters a sense of belonging and enhances the employee experience. Employers benefit from having a skilled and productive workforce, hence supporting the bottom line. Employers who fail to trust employees to control some portion of their growth risk losing top performers to companies that do.

Related Article: Boost Organizational Resilience by Expanding Your Knowledge of Employee Skills

Employees Need to Trust, Too

One element that’s clear from The Workforce Institute survey is that employees don’t trust their employer either. More than a third (38%) have no faith their employer will put people before profits. Similarly, nearly a quarter (24%) don’t trust they’ll be paid accurately, while 27% don’t trust they’ll be scheduled fairly. Nearly a third (32%) don’t trust their organization to apply equal standards for pay and promotions.

This is where the modern workplace is well-served by modern technology. Manual processes or outdated solutions make it challenging to instill fairness and equity across organizations, especially big ones.

Automation timekeeping, which is the start of the payroll process, is vital to ensuring an accurate paycheck. Self-scheduling allows each employee to build a schedule that works for them. And deep data visibility across compensation, performance and career pathing helps reduce the opportunity for discrimination in these areas.

The Bottom Line

Our level of trust with each other as humans has shifted, making our inter-personal trust potentially more fragile than ever.

As we begin to (hopefully) emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, now is a time to reflect on all that we have accomplished over the last year. Despite the hardships, workplaces rapidly responded to the pandemic and achieved gains in employee safety, digital transformation, and modernization that seemed insurmountable prior to COVID-19. (Unsurprisingly, those with high levels of trust were able to tap into the equity they had built with their employees to achieve this more quickly.)

Now, all organizations need to take a hard look at their go-forward plan to deliberately plan a path forward that will institutionalize trust as a foundation of their culture. When trust is the baseline, it becomes possible to innovate in ways that will enhance the employee experience — and customer experience — that were otherwise unimaginable. 

About the Author

Julie is a Sr. Partner, HCM Advisory for UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group), and an adjunct professor and co-coordinator of the HRM graduate program at McDaniel College, a school from which she also holds a master’s degree in HRD.

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