Illustration of two people shaking hands across a divide

Illustration of two people shaking hands across a divide

The 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer report, a global trust and credibility survey, revealed that businesses are now the most trusted institution in the world, a role they assumed mid-way through the pandemic.

77% of respondents said their employer has become their most trusted institution, above their Government, the wider business world and the media. This is a very powerful statistic but also one that some business owners may find a little daunting. “With great trust comes great responsibility”, to misquote the famous line from Spider-Man!

As a company, this is hugely relevant as our people are at the heart of everything we do, so employee trust is key to us being successful.

So, how can businesses best respond and deliver on this gift of employee trust, to ensure we maintain this hugely important relationship post-pandemic? In this blog, I’ll share what it means to us at Progeny and how we’re building on what we’ve learned during lockdown.

Communication is key

Throughout the pandemic, from when we closed the doors to our offices and transitioned to remote working, we also responded by increasing the amount of information that we shared with our team members.

In the absence of day-to-day office interaction, we established monthly ‘Town Halls’ hosted by our CEO, as well as fortnightly Q&As with our leadership team, which all team members attend virtually. As Head of People, I have appeared frequently, taking live questions on everything from plans to return to the workplace and wellbeing, to hybrid working. Even if you don’t have all the answers at a certain point, you can still share your intentions. We have been very clear with our team members from very early on in lockdown that we won’t go back to our previous ‘normal’, we will only go forward, and we have shared these details as they have been agreed.

Even before the pandemic, a quarter of our team members already worked remotely and one of the challenges for us is how we ensure that they continue to feel as involved as their office-based colleagues. Along with a hybrid version of our current Town Hall and Q&A sessions, we are also introducing ‘Connect days’, where remote based teams can get together in an office to work collaboratively. Being able to interact socially is also key for us, which is why we introduced the Progeny League, which links team members across the country to compete in a variety of fun challenges.

The warts-and-all approach to honesty

I remember talking to Neil, our CEO, before my first Leaders’ Q&A appearance and him saying, “whatever comes up, just be honest”.

Of course, there is always some information that is confidential or sensitive, but as soon as we are able to share information with our team members, we do so. This level of honesty builds employee trust and we’re lucky to have a CEO who has always promoted this kind of open relationship with our team.

This means sharing both the good and the bad, warts and all. If things aren’t going well, your employees probably already know and the scenarios created during ‘water cooler’ chat are usually far worse than the reality.  Essentially, if you don’t trust your staff enough to be honest and open about where your company is heading, how can they trust you and work effectively towards a clear goal or vision?

When people get to hear about the ups and the downs, they are also much more likely to trust what they’re hearing. Everyone knows that life isn’t perfect and if they are only ever given good news then they know that some parts are being edited out.

By sharing the highs and the lows, you also take your staff on the journey with you and people feel invested in the outcome. Whether or not it’s the outcome you’d hoped for as a business, everyone knows how and why you got there.

Creating the tools for employee trust

I’m proud that we are introducing hybrid working for team members when we return to the offices. We ran employee forums and listened to what our team members were saying and we are trusting them to make it work. The majority of companies would not have trusted all their employees to work from home before the pandemic, but people have now proven that it can be done and demonstrated they can still be highly productive. However, it’s also important to recognise that trust isn’t always enough.

How we work is going to change permanently and we have recognised that we need to ensure our managers and leaders have the right skills to make hybrid working a great success too. Which is why we are developing a suite of management development modules to further enhance our leaders’ skills in this area and a range of hybrid working guides, to help everyone prepare for this important step-change. One issue our guide for managers highlights, for example, is that of ‘presence bias’, in terms of ensuring managers are not unconsciously turning to team members in the same room in relation to solutions and tasks. A simple solution could be to give homeworkers a quick call to invite their ideas too.

In summary, the pandemic has forced businesses to do things differently and we have had to react fast. Despite all the challenges, many positives have also come out of this for many organisations and individuals and this increase in the level of trust in employers is a fantastic example. The key now is that we keep communicating, moving forwards and building on this gift that these months of lockdown have given us.