Trust in the workplace is a pretty big deal, because you can argue trust is the currency of modern business. Theory goes like this: if business is moving faster than ever (maybe true, maybe not), and digital is rapidly expanding the options available to people (definitely true), then what’s going to become the trusted source for business decision-making? Probably more and more referral. If you’ve got 25 different landing pages screaming free offers at you as you hunt down B2B options to prevent your boss from crapping down your throat, well, eventually you’re going to find someone you trust, ask them, and make the decisions that way.
Trust in the workplace is tied to efficiency, productivity, engagement, and a host of other things. Now, of course, many senior leaders could give approximately 0.12 craps about trust in the workplace — it’s all about the bottom line and the growth potential. Trust in the workplace is an also-ran issue; it’s a “soft skill” to many. Leaders typically aren’t worried about trust in the workplace. They want their lieutenants out there hitting targets and making moves for them. So long as they trust that’s happening, that’s all the “trust in the workplace” they really need.
And now we’re starting to see some global numbers on that.
Trust in the workplace: Research
Here’s a new article on HBR called “A Global Survey On The Ambiguous State Of Employee Trust.” The research was conducted by a company called EY. They surveyed 9,800 full-time workers, ages 19 to 68, in eight industrialized countries (the U.S. was included). Here were the key findings on trust in the workplace:
- About 46% of those surveyed had a “great deal of trust” in their employers
- 15% said “very little or no trust at all”
- 39% were in the middle — “some trust”
OK, so … normal caveats apply. This is one survey. More than 9,800 people work in the world. And “great deal of trust” was the single-highest, even if 46% means 1 in 2 people don’t have a great deal of trust.
In the little to no trust category (15%), the top five reasons for this gap in trust in the workplace were:
- Compensation is not fair
- There are not equal opportunities for pay and promotion
- Lack of strong senior leadership
- Too much employee turnover
- Not enough collaboration
We’ll get to those bullets later, but let’s wrap up this basic information. About 49% of those polled — 1 in 2 — had a “great deal of trust” in their managers and supervisors. That’s actually higher than I would think.
And in almost every age breakdown, the No. 1 issue for lack of trust in the workplace was compensation-tied. I like that, because you know people were answering honestly. When people say “lack of purpose,” that usually means “I am nervous to say I don’t get paid enough.”
Trust in the workplace: How did we get here?
I’d say it’s a couple of different things. Some of the biggest?
- Companies have no need to operate according to moral norms
- Ethics in the workplace has been declining for decades
- Employee loyalty is a set of ambiguous stats, but it’s generally in decline
If you believe the old adage that “people leave managers, not jobs,” well … here are a few more reasons.
- 82 percent of managers aren’t effective
- 60 percent of managers claim they “don’t have the time” to respect their employees
- 68 percent of managers don’t involve themselves in their employees’ career goals
- Most managers operate in a massive priority vacuum, as MIT Sloan has shown
- Stanford research has shown that most managers judge new ideas poorly
At some level, any discussion about “the future of work,” thought leaders be damned, is about two things. One is “respect.” The other is providing opportunities for growth. If you take all the above together, most managers aren’t really good at doing either. As a result, trust in the workplace will naturally decline.
Trust in the workplace: Bad managers, five reasons
Let’s go back to the five reasons given for limited trust in the workplace by those who said “little to no trust” on the EY research. Like I said, I’m a big fan of compensation-related topics being 1-2 here. Virtually no one understands their salary, but I like the surveys where people honestly admit that money is important to them.
The other three are interesting:
- Lack of strong senior leadership: This is a problem virtually everywhere. One of the quickest fixes? Stop making senior leadership be individual contributors. It just muddies everything.
- Too much employee turnover: Yep. The yin and yang here is interesting, though. Executives tend to care about turnover as a cost item. Regular employees tend to care about it differently. For them, it’s “Shit, my workload just blew up because people are leaving!” So execs perceive it differently than the rest of us.
- Not enough collaboration: This is a bogus reason to me. Read this.
So what do we do about trust in the workplace?
Well, the most ideal thing would be to move businesses off of a quarterly system. Trust and relationships take time. When you’re only thinking three months out re: finances, well, that’s going to diminish trust in the workplace.
The “end of the quarterly system” thing will never happen, though. So … what else could we do?
Promote managers better: Use science. Use data you have. And try to only promote people to managerial ranks who have people skills. This is hard because in most companies, you can only make more money by becoming a boss. So the Type-A douchebags want to be managers for the increased salary, and then … they make everyone’s lives hell for 8-10 years. This still could be improved.
Break down the barriers: Silos are a huge barrier to trust in the workplace. (“Marketing doesn’t know what they’re doing!”) Technology is another one. We think technology made us more connected, but at work, it’s often the opposite. One team is using Google. One team is using OneDrive. Another team is on Slack. One is on Trello. This happens all the time. The lack of connection hurts trust in the workplace. People whiff on assignments because they can’t find a resource. Now they dislike/distrust another department, team, or person. This probably happened in your office in the last three hours.
Think about employees like customers: We often treat customers really well, then treat our employees like pieces of human garbage. Maybe we could close that gap a little bit?
Reduce the deification of executives: You could lower their salaries a bit, or tie their bonuses to something different. You could also have them stop being individual contributors, as noted above. When the executives of a place are too involved, trust in the workplace is almost assuredly going to decline.
Do you trust your boss/company? What’s your take on trust in the workplace?