Lorelei Bowman

Lorelei Bowman

Social Media & Content Writer

“The employer-employee relationship cannot work without trust, it’s as simple as that. You have to start from a position of trust. If your default is not to trust your employees, then you need to ask yourself why. Working in an environment where no one trusts anyone else is exhausting, miserable, and disastrous for business.” – Kathryn Kendall, Chief People Officer

Only half of UK employees feel they are trusted at work – but the reality is even worse: as of 2019, research revealed just one-in-three managers say they do trust their employees. During the pandemic, employers haven’t had a choice; the move to widespread remote working meant they had to trust their employees.

At the start of the pandemic, many employers were sceptical about home-working– the worst of the world of work even saw employers spying on their people and buying secret software to monitor them. Fast forward to today, and remote working is here to stay. Hybrid working means employers must continue to trust their people going forward. So, what does this mean for businesses?

The business case for trust

Research shows the commercial benefits reaped by organisations with high trust in their employees; from better financial returns and productivity, to lower stress, burnout and sick days. It’s clear that businesses where employees feel respected and valued do better than those built on a culture of distrust.

Faith in our leaders
Just as we work harder for a manager we get on with, employees also work harder for businesses they trust and believe in. In fact, studies show that when employees don’t trust organisational leadership or its values, their chances of being engaged decrease to 8.3%. On the flip side, employees in a trusting workplace felt 76% more engaged than those in less trusting workplaces. Employers cannot underplay how powerful trust is in motivating and engaging their people.

Reputation matters
Another key aspect of trust in the workplace is that of employer reputation – in the internet age, business reputations are made and broken online. Prospective employees can fact-check your claims in an instant, review your reputation in seconds, and there will always be other job offers.

Employee review sites like Glassdoor put a huge amount of weight on employer trust, and 57% of employees say these reviews would impact their decisions over job offers. In other words, to the modern workforce, trust is the most valuable commodity so employers need to show employees that they trust their judgement and value their business contribution.

"Trust between employers and employees is fundamental when it comes to delivering a great employee experience and a great set of business outcomes; and yet there are still far too many employers out there with a demonstrable lack of trust in their people, as evidenced by the regulations and red tape they put around the employment relationship.” – Kathryn Kendall, Chief People Officer

How to build trust

“Trust is a bond formed by honest actions, consistently – and it is mutual, or it does not exist. Employees who feel trusted are empowered to get work done to their best ability. They know they’ll be supported in learning what they don’t know and in optimising what they know best.” – Gethin Nadin, Director, Employee Wellbeing

As with any kind of trust, when we are able to make a genuine, honest connection with employees, it creates loyalty and builds motivation. So, how can you do this?

Check how they are, not what they’re doing
In physical workplaces, a quick ‘walk around’ is a common management technique to see how employees are working and gauge workloads. However, translating this to an online workforce is trickier. As we move to a hybrid workforce, it’s less easy to check on employees without directly asking how they are – so it matters even more that, when we ask, we are asking the right things. Employers must trust their people to work without being checked up on, and employees must be able to trust their employer enough that they will ask for help when needed.  Ensure your employees know you want to see how they are, and if there’s anything you can help with, rather than chasing them on that piece of work that’s due or watching over their shoulder.

Don’t micromanage
Your employees are adults, they should be treated as such – trust them to get their work done; trust them to work to the best of their ability; trust them to work in the way that works for them. And above all, trust their skills and judgement – after all, is this not why you hired them?

Consider that if you do not trust your employees to get their work done on time and to a high enough standard, or if you truly feel you need to check every piece of work, then perhaps there is a more deeply-rooted problem.

“Every time we make the choice to favour micromanagement over the measuring of performance based on outcomes and delivery, we erode that trust further. We work hard to hire the best and most brilliant people out there: now it's time to ensure we put our trust in them, to enable them to give of their best." – Kathryn Kendall, Chief People Officer

Learn to let go
Significant research shows that if we give people autonomy, we fulfil a  a basic psychological need that helps humans to flourish. From a young age, being allowed to make our own choices is one of the key factors which helps children’s development – so why does this disappear when we enter the workplace?

Extensive studies show that higher levels of employee autonomy lead to higher engagement and job satisfaction. However a lack of trust will block autonomy. You hired your employees because you believe they are capable of performing the role;– so let them do it.

Employees working in production, customer service, or process-driven industries may have less space for autonomy in their day-to-day roles. Similarly, certain employees such as apprentices, recent graduates or those in training will need more guidance. However, a need for development, learning experiences or mentoring should not be mistaken as a need for micromanagement.  

Prove you trust them 
The research speaks for itself: employees who don’t feel trusted exert less effort, are less productive, and are more likely to leave the organisation. Employees who do feel trusted are higher performers and exert extra effort, going above and beyond role expectations.

One of the best ways to show you value an employee’s work is simply by saying ‘thank you’. Reward and recognition schemes have long proved the power of gratitude and recognition. Our report The psychology of workplace recognition explores this in depth, and the world of work already knows that when employees feel welcomed and included at work, and their contributions are recognised, they work harder and feel happier. This in turn feeds into workplace engagement and business success, fuelling a positive performance cycle. And what better way to show your people you trust them than by recognising their hard work?

Final thoughts

Trust is, inherently, a two-way street. When we trust one another equally, our interpersonal relationships thrive. In business-to-consumer relationships, trust is a motivator for where we put our money. Likewise, trust between employees and their employer is crucial for businesses to succeed.

When we trust our employees to work in ways that they want to, we are telling them they are valued and respected as equals in our organisation. When we ask our people how they are finding their workload, rather than checking their goals or deadlines, this does the same. This simple act of showing you trust them then forms an impactful element of the wider business culture and employee experience.

“For all the benefits flexible working has shown to employees and employers this last year, none of it could have happened without trust.” – Gethin Nadin, Director, Employee Wellbeing

Lorelei Bowman

Lorelei Bowman

Social Media & Content Writer

Lorelei is an avid proponent of iced coffee, video games and anything to do with outerspace.

Copywriter by day, filmmaker by night – Lorelei graduated from university with a degree in Film and Screenwriting, and continues to write and direct films with their production company. When not at work, you can probably stumble upon Lorelei buying overpriced cold brew in a hipster coffee shop or rewatching Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the 100th time.