When Bonfyre’s Jake Bernstein stepped into the spotlight at DisruptHR St. Louis 2.0, he had only five minutes to make the case for the hidden value of trust in the workplace.
Bernstein led his presentation to a packed audience of HR practitioners with a thought exercise:
- “How many of you trust your coworkers?”
- “How many of you trust your coworkers to babysit your child?”
- “How many of you trust the leaders of your company?”
While several audience members raised their hands, Bernstein pointed out research that tells us they may be exceptions to the rule.
A recent Ernst & Young study shows less than 50% global professionals trust their employer. In fact, the trust crisis is even worse for professionals in the U.S., where only 38% trust their employers, and nearly one in six feel “very little” or “no trust” at all.
Trust matters because it’s the first step toward building employee engagement–the state of elevated motivation that drives workers to do just about every aspect of their jobs better. Although the term “employee engagement” has really only been in play for the past 20 years or so, it’s been the elusive goal of leaders’ people strategies for much longer than that.
So how do you build trust in the workplace? “In short, it’s about relationships,” Bernstein said, “which are built on feelings of connectivity, a sense of belonging, and a shared interest that you have with anybody.”
Bernstein added that at the office, things like an employee’s seniority, titles, and conversations about doing work shouldn’t be the centerpiece of employee relationships. Rather, building bonds between employees means finding shared interests and commonality–also called relatedness–with colleagues. The more employees have the opportunity to interact and discover relatedness, the more they will be able to trust in the company.
Without trust in the workplace, communication breaks down. The strategic direction of the organization grows less and less clear as employees spend more cognitive energy overthinking mixed messages and missed signals from colleagues and leaders.
“Employee engagement is a $500 billion opportunity,” Bernstein said, citing a Gallup study showing disengaged employees cost U.S. businesses between $450-550 billion annually.
“When there’s a lack of trust, the numbers add up. Employees are less productive, they don’t stay as long, and there’s not as much money coming through the door.”
How can I start building trust in the workplace today?
Bernstein provided ten rapid-fire micro-tips to address deficits of trust in the workplace, particularly during times of change.
1. Mind the change curve
Everybody learns at different paces. When you have to introduce organizational change to employees, don’t assume they’ll get on board immediately. Give employees the time and opportunities to process and ask questions.
2. Consistent actions make for authentic cultures
“The more consistent actions that come from leaders, the more authentic your culture will be in times of change.” Bernstein said. In our Around the Bonfyre interview with Shawn Schukar, Chairman and President of Ameren Transmission, Schukar estimated 30% of people are really ready for change. Schukar recommend taking any chance to recognize and reinforce whenever employees adopt positive change behavior.
3. Follow through on your execution
A Robert Half study of 300 U.S. managers showed most organizational change efforts fail because of poor execution, not poor planning. That same survey asked what the most important behaviors were for leading in times of change. Nearly 65% of respondents emphasized frequent and clear communication, which will certainly drive understanding of what’s needed to execute change.
4. Put employees first
Especially when times are tough. Many employers thought this was impossible during the Great Recession, but Barry-Wehmiller proved otherwise. The manufacturing technology supplier firm managed to completely avoid layoffs during the recession by instituting a mandatory furlough program. The trust and goodwill built up from putting employee first in this way is paying dividends even today.
5. Embrace technology to support change
“Your leaders can’t be everywhere at every time and in every location to scale the change message and instill the company’s vision,” Bernstein said. “Use technology to bridge this gap.”
6. Two-way digital communication helps employees adopt change
All too often communication through change comes from the top-down, which isn’t always the best way to engage employee audiences. Using technology to drive bottom-up and two-way communications can help drive more buy-in from employees across the organization.
7. Create feedback loops
Drive an open dialogue with employees by collecting feedback from them as much as possible. Everything from pulse surveys to one-on-one dialogue between managers and direct reports can go a long way toward making employee voices feel heard. And don’t forget to share the feedback you get with employees, too.
8. Remember generational differences
Keep in mind the different upbringings and work experiences the five generations in our labor force bring to work every day. Baby Boomers will likely have different responses to change than millennials. Do your research to find the right ways to engage each employee group.
9. Keep remote employees engaged
Building and maintaining trust with this employee segment must become a priority for leaders as remote employees make up a larger segment of the workforce each year. “I myself work remote most of the time for our company,” Bernstein said. “I often feel sense of social distance when I’m out of the office without my coworkers.” Video communications help reduce those feelings in ways text, email, and chats can’t.
10. Recognize early and often
Fostering micro-recognition practices can reinforce positive behaviors and an understanding of company core values that can set your organization up for success. Make sure to spread the love too. Leaders should always be recognizing direct reports, but peers need to recognize peers for the best possible outcome.